Roundabout, lights likely to cost the same at troublesome intersection
BY DENNY SCOTT
The intersection of County Roads 4 and 25, London and Blyth Roads, respectively, continues to be a concern for the Blyth Business Improvement Area (BIA), according to Chair David Sparling.
During the BIA board’s Oct. 29 meeting, he broached the issue with several representatives regarding the proposed restructuring of the intersection, including Public Works Manager Mike Hausser and North Huron Reeve Bernie Bailey and Director of Public Works Jamie McCarthy.
Sparling said that, while the BIA isn’t dealing with traffic count statistics, there does seem to be many negative incidents occurring at the intersection. He also said that, while there may be a need for traffic control, the BIA’s major concern is pedestrian safety for both the employees and customers that travel to and from the developments at the south end of the community.
Recently, Huron County Council directed its staff to find a solution for the controversial intersection, which Sparling said was appreciated by the BIA.
“The general sentiment is to make it safer,” Sparling said to Hausser, adding that people seem to prefer the idea of a traffic light over a roundabout.
Sparling also said that with the recent influx of cyclists thanks to the Goderich-to-Guelph Rail Trail (G2G), the concerns of cyclist safety should be added to the county’s discussion and decision-making process.
Bailey said something needs to be done and he would prefer a roundabout.
That said, he said he was fine with any solution that resulted in not having to “pick people up off the road.”
“Roundabouts can be scary if you’re not used to them,” he said. “They are the move of the future, though. They slow traffic down but keep it flowing.
He said there were examples of roundabouts that work and roundabouts that worked but have been hampered by other development in the area, pointing to Listowel.
Listowel’s roundabout is less effective now, he said, because a traffic light was installed nearby, causing traffic congestion at the roundabout.
From a financial standpoint, Hausser said both the roundabout and the traffic lights will cost approximately the same to install. With the amount of work that would need to be done to expand and extend the roads for a light-controlled intersection, he said, the costs would even out.
“Actually, a set of signals costs more than a roundabout, but it all depends on the geometry,” he said.
Hausser went on to say that two- or three-lane roundabouts can be confusing, but a one-lane roundabout, like what would be considered for Blyth, is simple and straightforward.
In addressing concerns about transport trucks and agricultural implements, he said the Listowel roundabout can manage both and it’s a smaller roundabout than what he expected would work with that kind of traffic.
“There’s no problem there,” he said. “It’s surprising how much a small roundabout can accommodate.”
Pedestrians and cyclists will be a future consideration, Hausser said, as that hasn’t been part of the planning process yet. He said the project will need to go back to the feedback stage to make sure those concerns are being addressed.
He did say, however, that roundabouts will slow traffic, making it easier for pedestrians and vehicles to notice each other.
The project could go ahead as soon as 2022, Hausser said, as he’s pushing to put study and planning funds in the 2021 budget for the site. Bailey said the project isn’t just a county initiative, but will involve North Huron and Central Huron. The two municipalities will be responsible, Bailey said, for pedestrian concerns.
Hausser said the process would likely include consultation, though technically, that’s not required for intersection upgrades.
After the county seeks feedback, feasibility will be considered for the different options. After that, construction will happen and, when asked what kind of impact it will have on the community, Hausser said County Road 4 will likely never be fully closed, despite the additional time and cost that results from keeping the road open during construction.
“We’re going to be looking at a staged approach,” he said. “We don’t want to close the roads [involved]. I know others have done it, but our intent is to stage it to maintain traffic. Whether that’s what will happen, I don’t know. If we do have to do closures, we’ll try and minimize that as much as possible.”
BIA board members asked if the project could be pushed to the shoulder seasons to avoid impacting Blyth’s summer traffic, and Hausser said it was possible, saying the only time he wouldn’t expect to see construction is in the winter.
Hausser said there are two views on road infrastructure: an engineering view that says the incidents at the corner are driver error and can’t be considered the fault of the intersection and the more holistic approach he is taking.
“The safe-systems approach asks how we can make our roads safer by design,” he said.
Hausser explained that, in the safe-systems approach, engineers are assuming “drivers will be drivers” and there will be some who are good and some who aren’t.
“The question then is how do we design roadways so it is more resilient to that kind of driver error?” he said.
The idea, he said, is to make it so driver error leads to fewer incidents or less dangerous incidents.
Safe-systems approaches are already used throughout the county, he said, pointing to guardrails as a perfect example.
“The guardrails are there to protect drivers from the most severe hazards,” he said. “Drivers will hit guardrails instead of a hazard or other vehicles.”