Opinion| City’s Oligarchs Indifferent on Albert-East Streets Gaffe

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I pretty well had the idea CIMA, the firm the city’s traffic people went to for advice after the line painters back in 2015 screwed up the lane configuration at the Albert-East intersection, wasn’t going to provide me with its thoughts when it didn’t reply to my emails.

But all doubt vanished when I saw it in writing, in an email from Brian Malone, partner and vice-president transportation, to Susan Hamilton-Beach, director of public works with the city.

Having forwarded my emails to Hamilton Beach he said, “It is not my intent to provide a response to Mr. Millroy’s attached emails. I will, however, keep you informed if he continues communication with us.”

Ouch.

I obtained Malone’s email to Hamilton-Beach through a Freedom of Information request I filed with the city’s legal department. I just had the feeling that Malone would have had some contact with the city after I suggested to him in an email that he hadn’t had all the material necessary to make an informed decision, having only a drawing of the East-Albert intersection rather than one that showed the interaction with the Wellington-East intersection.

I described the information CIMA received from the city as “flawed” and provided him with the original drawing, which I got from the city only through an FOI request, and two drawings that I extrapolated from the original showing how traffic had flowed smoothly through the area for 50 years and how it was to flow now.

But in his email to Hamilton-Beach, Malone stands by his firm’s decision to support the new configuration.

His email, interspersed with some comments in parenthesis from me, follows:

“I am writing to keep you informed regarding ongoing communications we receive from Mr. Millroy to CIMA. Copies of his most recent emails are attached. I also would like to provide a clarification regarding his prime allegation that CIMA did not have full information before proposing the change.

“We accept that the information provided to us did not formally show the intersection of East and Wellington. We also confirm that the drawing delivered to the city (from CIMA) only showed the intersection of East and Albert. However, contrary to Mr. Millroy’s comment, CIMA was fully aware of the overall area configuration including the interaction between the two intersections and the East St. road section between them. We do not believe that the information provided to us by the city was ‘flawed’. We maintain our view that the revised layout is suitable for the location.”

(CIMA might be “fully aware of the overall area configuration including the interaction between the two intersections and the East St. road section between them,” but that is from information obtained from drawings and illustrations. I suggested in a follow-up email to Malone that he or a representative, by actually driving the area, would get a much truer picture of what motorists in the Sault are facing on a regular basis.)

“We are fully aware that the design is a change from a previous configuration. We also realize that the design is not to Mr. Millroy’s preference.”

(Or, for that matter, of anyone else who drives the area.)

“We disagree with his suggestion that the design is ‘stupid and dangerous’. The new configuration modifies traffic operations in the area. It potentially necessitates changes in driving behaviour as right-of-way rules are different than they were previously. This layout, like the previous one, requires interpretation and compliance from drivers of the rules it defines.”

(Malone does not address the fact that the change in the lane configuration was not of the city’s making but rather came about because of a mistake by the line painters, R&N Maintenance of Guelph. In my follow-up email I asked him if he didn’t find it strange that he and the city were defending a lane configuration that wasn’t planned by the city but instead was the result of a mistake. In regard to his claim that “this layout, like the previous one, requires interpretation and compliance from drivers of the rules it defines,” I’m sorry, but the previous one didn’t require any interpretation.)

“If one aspect of this dialogue is clear it is that changes in traffic controls can be unsettling to some. There can be issues in that regard, particularly when changes are not identified equally by all users. It is important to monitor for this potential. Mitigating treatments to address that situation using “NEW” signing may be appropriate in some situations, for an introductory period.

“In this particular instance however it would appear that awareness of the change is not the problem. We are not recommending the use of a NEW sign or other modifications at this time.

We would, of course, recommend that the city continue to monitor the operational and safety performance of the location and make appropriate determinations of adjustments, if any, you deem necessary based on findings. If you need any input from CIMA in that regard we would be pleased to assist.”

In regard to Malone’s comment that changes in traffic controls can be unsettling to some, that is indeed the case, even when they are planned, such as the new one at Bay Street and Queen Street. But they become even more unsettling when they are not planned, not given any thought, just coming about through a mistake by outsiders that people high up in the hierarchy of the city decide to live with, rather than order an immediate correction.

Yikes.

I also had put in an FOI request for any correspondence the city had with R&N Maintenance as Hamilton-Beach had told me the city had asked it for the rationale behind the lane change, which some staff agreed with but some didn’t. In her written reply, which I received through the legal department, Hamilton-Beach said all communication with Knapp was verbal and in the field.

And, I gather, what was said in the field is going to stay in the field.

Knapp has not replied to my fax seeking to get R&N’s rationale directly.

In his email to Hamilton-Beach Malone did not address his suggested removal of the yield sign on East Street, which would allow for the free flow of traffic up East right into that coming from Albert, as many motorists still follow the old route. Removal of the yield sign would be confirmation of my comment that the new configuration is “stupid and dangerous.”

In my email to Malone I asked whether he saw anything wrong with the previous configuration that had been in place for 50 years. Did he see this one as an improvement?

I suggested that surely the easiest way out of the situation, and which would have been the most pleasing to those who use the intersection, would have been to return the configuration to the way it had been.

But with heels dug in all over the place by the city and CIMA and with a council that doesn’t care, I don’t expect that to happen.

And I don’t, as you probably have surmised, expect a reply from Malone.

However, in the large scheme of things, maybe a change back to the way the intersection was isn’t required anyway.

After all, both Hamilton-Beach and Andy Starzomski, manager of traffic, and Sgt. Ray Magnan of the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service told me when I got into this issue last year that the paint lines are only a guide and have no authority under the Highway Traffic Act.

That being the case, I suggest we can simply navigate the area the way we did before by using our right-turn signals to indicate a lane change as we hit the turn at East Street.

This will depend, of course, on the city leaving the yield sign on East Street in place.

It has ignored CIMA’s recommendation that it be removed for at least 15 months; we can only hope sanity prevails and that remains the case.

Doug Millroy can be reached at dmillroy@gmail.com.

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