January 9, 2018

Thankfully, St Albert City Council put the brakes on spending under the budget name of 'smart city'. However, some funds are still going in that direction.

From a recent Gazette story: "One example is the Intelligent transportation systems strategy, which received funding for $300,000 in 2018 and will cost the same amount every year thereafter in the 10-year capital plan. In 2018, it aims to help streamline traffic flow on St. Albert Trail by installing equipment to allow traffic lights to change based on actual traffic levels."

This is an interesting proposition. One that, based on past experience, has a high likelihood that taxpayers will be paying for equipment which will never be properly utilized.

For example, there are 'cameras' on almost every set of traffic lights in SA. Someone budgeted for these, spent a great deal of money to have them purchased and installed, and paid for them to be integrated into some sort of traffic monitoring function. All the feeds from these cameras are alleged to be directed into a traffic management office in the bowels of City Hall.

The puzzling aspects of these cameras are; what they were intended to accomplish; who views the feed; what steps can be immediately taken as a result of the obvious evidence provided every day; and how has traffic management along the St Albert Trail (SAT) been adjusted as a result of this information. Given the continued traffic flow mess along the SAT, it is easy to conclude that new technology won’t actually help the problem at all. The cameras have been in place for several years, with no obvious benefit. Why would we believe ‘intelligent transportation systems’ would be any different?

During the 2017 election campaign, most if not all candidates spoke of the public dissatisfaction with traffic flow along SAT. The topic was among the top 4 or 5 of every voter’s list of concerns. It’s a serious problem that could have been fixed long ago if there was any will to do so.

To date, I have not heard of any council member taking this issue on. Someone - anyone - needs to grab this file, do a little homework, and start pushing for the immediate and permanent improvement of traffic flow on SAT. 

I intend to work on this file as a concerned taxpayer and roadway user. To help traffic management fix specific problems, I’m collecting examples of poor and ineffective traffic light sequencing to share with any interested councillor and/or traffic management staff. 

For example, southbound (SB) on the SAT wishing to turn east (EB) on Bellerose will often line up 10-12 deep for the left turn. At times, these lights are timed to allow 3-4 vehicles to complete the turn. When drivers realize they are going to be waiting another 3-4 light sequences before they can complete their turn, they pull back out into SAT SB, at significant risk to themselves and traffic travelling SB at normal speeds. This entire set of lights is poorly managed, but the left turn described is quite ridiculous.

The light sequencing at SAT - and to a slightly lesser extent at Ray Gibbon Drive (RGD) - where they connect with Anthony Henday Drive (AHD) are each terribly managed. In both cases, high volume traffic flow is stopped immediately after ‘getting going’ from the previous lights on both RGD and SAT to allow the entry of one or two vehicles coming off AHD. Particularly on the SAT, this stop/go exercise constricts flow, increases vehicle emissions, adds unnecessary travel time, and generally disgusts the driving public who expect much better. Although the AHD is a provincial road, there should be no reason why light coordination is not better managed between the City and the Province. 

Obstructed traffic flow northbound (NB) on SAT approaching SA in afternoon rush hour is inexcusable. EB and WB on Gervais/Hebert apparently takes priority over the thousands NB on SAT, causing delays NB of 3-5 light sequences - depending. All the while, EB/WB at Hebert is accommodated to the point where no-one waits even for a second light sequence. This arrangement fails every level of common sense, as many are obstructed for the benefit of the few. Eliminating the bumper to bumper crawl from 156 St NB through SA must be the highest priority.

I am aware of many examples where traffic avoids the SAT for the reasons described, and instead uses residential roads not designed for either the traffic volume or speeds. Many, instead of feeling safe near their front street, are dealing with high speed/high volume traffic. Tragedy is inevitable.

I’ll collect and tabulate other examples in SA. I invite you share your examples, give reasonably detailed specifics of location, direction, times and observed problems that impact the smooth efficient flow of traffic in SA. Periodically I’ll make sure council knows what we are talking about.

Please add your observations here or on my fb page.