When it comes to moving traffic, Mayor Christian Provenzano says he is always going to defer to the professionals and their studies because he has no expertise in such matters.
He also worries about legal liability.
I can go along with this, but only to a point.
When it comes to the controversial new lane configuration that the line-painting contractor put in at the intersection of Albert and East Streets last year, and which the city traffic people have agreed to live with because the large consulting firm, CIMA+, they contacted said it was OK, I have to disagree.
I think there is a point where common sense overrides someone who, according to Public Works and Transit officials, has seen the scene only from historical drawings and the 2015 drawing of the new configuration, telling us this is the way to go.
I began writing about this matter in January of this year and, leading up to a column in June in which I reported how the line-painting contractor changed the configuration without input from the city, I began copying the mayor with all of my correspondence with officials in Public Works and Transit.
As a result he met with officials in the department and later invited me to discuss the matter, something we did last week.
“I get it, I drive it too,” Provenzano said about travelling Albert to its intersection with East. “It was easier before; that’s the way we did it for 40 years.
“It was the same thing when the changes were made on Bay Street going up to Queen by the Bush Plane Museum. There were problems there for three or four months.”
He said the first time his wife came home from work after the lines had been changed at Albert and East she said she didn’t know what they did on the street but that it didn’t make any sense.
“I think it was what people were used to,” he said. “I think it is much different now. I don’t think people are having the same problem that they were five or six months ago.”
This, of course, led me to voice disagreement as I had a problem only a short time ago. A vehicle travelling in the north lane of Albert, which under the new configuration leads to Wellington West, cut sharply in front of me after we both turned north onto East Street wanting to go east on Wellington.
But the crux of the matter of whether to change back to the old configuration is, as far as Provenzano seems to be concerned, liability to the city if there is an accident.
He believes, because of the advice PWT got from CIMA+ after there were complaints about the new configuration from the public and some staff, that the city could be held liable if the lines were returned to their original configuration and there was an accident.
This is also the view of the traffic department, Larry Girardi, commissioner, telling me in an email for my June column that, “In this case we are obligated to take the advice of our experts and protect the city from liability.”
I disagreed with that notion from Girardi, pointing out that he seemed to be saying the traffic department had it wrong for the previous 50-plus years.
I disagreed with the notion from the mayor as well, countering that if there were an accident now that there would be a far greater case for liability since the previous lanes were laid out so much better.
However, truth be told, I don’t think the lines would be a cause for legal liability in either case; I believe this would boil down to the motorists, which one was in the wrong, not which line was wrong.
For a quick rehash of the old configuration and the new: The old had the two lanes from Albert travelling up East Street to go east on Wellington, with easy split-offs to Wellington West and East Street south. The new configuration has only the south lane on Albert leading north on East Street to Wellington East, with the north lane acting as u-turn onto Wellington West.
The latter is confusing, to say the least.
As I began looking into the situation after coming close to rubbing fenders with another vehicle following a Soo Greyhounds game in January, Andy Starzomski, manager of traffic and communications with the city, emailed me a video of traffic in the area which he said had been forwarded to police services for stepped-up enforcement.
“What is truly disturbing in the video is the lack of driver knowledge on how to safely and properly change lanes and how to stay in your lane,” he said, adding that some of the actions of the drivers using East Street “are careless and reckless.”
But I believe that rather than the drivers being at fault, the fault lies with the line painters who, for some unfathomable reason, instituted the unneeded and indeed unreasonable change in lane markings and the traffic people and their experts for going along with it.
And if you will take some time to watch traffic there now, you will find cars still weaving in and out, a clear indication that even with the changes being in effect for more than a year motorists are still having a problem with them.
And as I said when writing about this in June, I challenge anyone to provide information in regard to any other time this city, or indeed any other city, has paid a consultant to review how lanes should be laid down at an intersection.
In my meeting with Provenzano, I wondered aloud what the stand would be if our traffic people disagreed with what was done by the line painters (not all agreed which was partially why the experts were called in) but the experts agreed with the line painters.
Would the traffic people actually go with the experts or what they themselves thought was a more sensible solution – such as restoring the lines to their original configuration?
The mayor said he didn’t want to speak for Girardi but he “got the impression that people will get used to this, that it will work well with proper signage. I don’t know why the contractor didn’t lay down the lines the way they were.”
Girardi had told me earlier that the contractor identified what he considered to be a non-conformance with the original line-painting and proceeded to correct it.
But wouldn’t a corrected non-conformance with the original line painting have restored the lines to their original configuration?
In any event, I don’t think any of us on the outside have any thought about proper signage being the solution, as the mayor suggests. The only proper solution is to return to the original configuration.
And you may recall that I quoted Starzomski in January as saying that road markings would be added on Albert Street to ensure drivers are in the correct lane. Road markings have been laid down, big white letters on the pavement showing north lane traffic is to go west and those in the south lane can carry on to Wellington East. They do little to help the situation, being Mickey Mouse at the best.
But then even overhead signage wouldn’t help this bizarre situation.
The mayor agreed to get me a contact at the line-painting company and also one from the experts. I later emailed him asking if he could get me a copy of CIMA+’s review.
I had asked Starzomski in January for a copy of CIMA+’s review or a contact there but never received either.
The mayor said he would not direct that the lines be changed back to the way they were but that he would not be surprised if something comes from council asking for an explanation about how it all came to pass.
I think that is something most of us would like to see, an airing in the open of how this came about and what can and should be done about it.
Maybe, just maybe, common sense will prevail and those who drive the route on a regular basis will again be able to do so in safety.
Doug Millroy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.