New plan for Nelson’s Hall-Vernon intersection unveiled

The intersection of Hall and Vernon streets could be moved slightly south and turned into a four-way stop.

Proposed revisions to the downtown Nelson traffic flow would affect portions of Vernon

Proposed revisions to the downtown Nelson traffic flow would affect portions of Vernon

The latest conceptual plan for Nelson’s Stores to Shores downtown revitalization proposes a new solution to address blind spots at one of the city’s knottiest corners.

The intersection of Hall and Vernon streets would be moved slightly south onto level ground and turned into a four-way stop, with “bulb outs” on the corners to shorten pedestrian crossings.

Revised sketches presented to city council Monday also show two-way traffic returning to Hall Street between Baker and Vernon, presently a southbound one-way. The rest of Hall would also be open to two-way traffic.

Currently east and westbound traffic on Vernon stops at Hall but it’s hard to see vehicles coming up the hill from the south, which don’t have to stop at Vernon.

Under a previous proposal, vehicles heading up Hall would be forced to turn right on Vernon. However, public works director Colin Innes said that would have affected traffic flow and reduced accessibility to some downtown buildings.

The new plan “will give much better flexibility and isn’t forcing everyone down Vernon,” he told reporters. “The overall concept is to improve visibility for drivers and with bulb outs improve it for pedestrians so crossings are much shorter and safer.”

The redesigned intersection is part of the project’s first phase, expected to begin in February, pending a final round of public consultation. However, Innes said it’s not expected to increase costs: “Instead of making concrete medians to make vehicles go one way, we’re just changing the approach. We may go through some growing pains, but we’re certainly eager to see how this unfolds.”

Other traffic modifications are proposed for portions of Park, Cedar, High, and Baker streets. Improvements are also planned for the intersection of Hall Street and the community complex parking lot.

While he had some concerns, councillor Michael Dailly praised the plan on the whole.

“I’m really happy about the redesign of Hall and Vernon and making it more pedestrian friendly,” he said. “We have a large number of people in town who walk and ride bikes and it’s time we design  streets and sidewalks to consider them so it’s not a mad dash across as cars speed up the hill.”

However, two other councillors panned the concept: Janice Morrison said she supports infrastructure upgrades along Hall Street and associated beautification projects, but isn’t sure she can endorse “massive change” in traffic. “The goal in my mind was to make it pedestrian friendly. Leave the roads alone,” she said.

Councillor Bob Adams agreed. Among many concerns, he questioned the reversal of traffic flow in the one-way section of Baker Street: “It doesn’t help anything. In fact, it makes it harder to get to that block.”

Innes explained the idea is to bring cars up Cedar Street and access Baker, but Adams thought it was unnecessary. He was also critical of parking being removed from the west side of Park Street.

Overall, the project is expected to result in 65 new parking stalls and the elimination of 56 others, for a net gain of nine. The bulk of the new stalls would be on Victoria Street and the west end of Baker, while 35 stalls would be lost on the north side of Vernon.

Pam Mierau, manager of development services (pictured above with Innes), said city staff are in the midst of meetings with adjacent business owners to discuss traffic flow options and parking configurations.

“I think they’re happy about being consulted, but they have lots of concerns about parking,” she said. “Everyone’s concerned about losing parking in front of their establishment. We need to make sure everybody is able to get their deliveries. I think for the most part [the plans accomplish that], but we might have to make a few tweaks.”

Last week the city also distributed a letter to all property owners, tenants, and business owners directly affected by the proposed changes, providing an overview of the project and inviting them to a public session on Monday from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Adventure Hotel.

Mayor Deb Kozak said the latest design is the result of a “very vigorous process. I don’t think council thought the revitalization of one street would cause so much uproar, interest, and discussion.”

The project, which has been in the works for three years, was originally supposed to begin in earnest last fall but was delayed until this spring. The first phase, which includes aesthetic improvements between Herridge Lane and Lake Street in addition to traffic and parking changes, will return to city council next month for budget approval. It’s expected to be sent to tender in February or March, with construction to begin in April and continue through the end of the year. Phase two, which focuses on Lake Street to the waterfront, would likely occur next year.

The project is budgeted at over $3 million, with two-thirds going toward water, sewer, and electrical upgrades, and the rest to other improvements. The city says the project is key to attracting new development and investment downtown.

Traffic report

A summary of proposed traffic changes at the east end of Vernon Street contained in phase one of the Stores-to-Shores downtown revitalization project:

• Cedar Street: will remain two-way traffic from Front Street to Edgewood Avenue. It will change to one-way traffic from Edgewood Avenue up to Vernon Street.

• High Street: will become one-way traffic leaving downtown with a designated bike lane from Vernon Street to the intersection of Edgewood and Park. Two-way traffic will resume after this intersection.

• Baker Street: will become one-way traffic for the last block of Baker Street into downtown.

• Park Street: will become two-way traffic from Edgewood to Vernon. Parallel parking on the west side of Park Street will be removed.

• Front Street: dedicated opposing left turns will be created at the intersection of Front Street and Cedar Street.

• Hall Street: the 400 block of Hall Street will be converted into two-way traffic.

• Traffic flow on Vernon west of Hall to be determined