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Circular logic 

The city has big changes planned for the Armdale Rotary, but not everyone likes the new spin. Laurie Bodley reports.

The HRM plans to convert the Armdale Rotary to a roundabout and add a third, reversible lane on Chebucto Road in order to improve the efficiency of the rotary.

Andrea McQuillin, a homeowner in the area, says, “I think this is short-sighted. I don’t even think it’s a solution,” adding she and her neighbours would not oppose the expansion if they thought it would really make a difference to local traffic.

According to Ken Reashor, the municipality’s Traffic and Right-of-Way Services manager, the biggest differences between roundabouts and rotaries are the yield rules and angles of entry.

Last September the provincial government revised the Motor Vehicle Act to clarify confusion about who has right of way in rotaries or roundabouts. Now, vehicles trying to enter must yield to traffic already in the circle, and sharper entry angles (30 to 60 degrees) force them to slow down.

After the new legislation came into effect, the city posted some yield signs at Armdale Rotary, but the majority of drivers still seem to follow the every-other-car rule.

Although previous studies and traffic models offer no projected numbers, Reashor believes the changes listed above will reduce congestion within the circle. The theory is that cars with right of way inside the circle will drive through more quickly, while reduced entry speeds create traffic gaps that make room for new vehicles to enter.

“The rotary lanes sometimes get tied up because people are starting and stopping for people trying to enter, rather than having a free-flow type situation that maximizes the capacity of the roundabout itself,” explains Reashor.

Reashor says expanding Chebucto Road is key to the success of the roundabout because exit problems cause traffic to back up within the circle. When asked why extending the third lane on Chebucto is a higher priority than extending the third lane on St. Margaret’s Bay Road, Reashor says, “We are not trying to increase traffic on St. Margaret’s Bay Road. We’re not intending to upgrade St. Margaret’s Bay Road to handle more traffic…What we’re trying to do is allow Chebucto to handle the flow that’s already there.”

Ultimately, Reashor would like more people to use Highway 102 and Bayers Road to get onto the peninsula. Although there are planned improvements for Bayers Road, Reashor says the Armdale/Chebucto change is happening first because “this one is a fairly easy expansion,” and must be done to help drivers use the roundabout properly.

David McCusker, the City’s Regional Transportation Planning manager, admits that the roundabout conversion and Chebucto Road expansion may not improve traffic flow significantly. “Obviously we think there’s enough value to the project to make it worthwhile, otherwise we wouldn’t be suggesting it,” says McCusker. “But it’s not a really major change.”

So far, the city has budgeted $3.3 million for design and construction. Construction may not start until the spring or summer of 2007, because the roundabout is still in its preliminary design phase. The Chebucto Road expansion also depends on acquiring land from property owners who oppose the changes. A petition with 197 signatures was submitted to Halifax Regional Council on February 28. The petition requests public discussions with the city regarding the proposed changes, and lists specific concerns, including a potentially increased danger to pedestrians, complications for homeowners, and more noise and air pollution.

McQuillin also wants to know why the city intends to proceed with a plan that encourages more traffic, instead of focusing on approaches that reduce existing traffic—things like express buses, transit-only lanes, encouraging carpooling or adding a Northwest Arm ferry service.

“Only 60,000 people live on the peninsula and 300,000 live off the peninsula,” says McQuillin. “So there’s tremendous pressure to open it up. But I think we’re not opening it up to people, we’re opening it up to cars. We’re just making it a big parking lot.”

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