For a number of reasons, replacing the four-way stop on Baker Street near Railtown with traffic lights is a step backwards for Nelson.
First, this is a waste of tax dollars. The government of British Columbia plans to increase trips taken by walking, cycling and public transit by 30 per cent by 2030. To support this target, they have established another target of reducing kilometres driven by personal vehicles by 25 per cent within the same time frame. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) enjoys an annual budget of $9 billion but only planned to spend $30 million on active transportation in 2022. The price tag for this traffic light installation meanwhile has increased from $3.1 million to $4.8 million.
Second, MoTI claims that traffic lights will improve safety. This is not true. We already know, from recent studies, that the more traffic congestion in an area the safer it is. I know it’s counter-intuitive, but think about it. When you’re driving through a busy area where the lanes are narrow, pedestrians are crossing streets and cyclists riding on shoulders, we instinctively slow down and pay attention. We don’t want to hit anything.
Third, traffic lights will not improve traffic flow. The four-way stop may seem like a bottle neck but traffic does keep flowing. Yes, you do have to slow down and wait your turn but everyone is allowed to keep moving. Traffic lights can cause excessive delays, annoying drivers and encouraging disobedience of signals and diversion of traffic to inadequate alternate routes. Installing traffic lights prioritizes driving over all other modes. It gives priority to drivers yet does not actually improve flow.
Finally, the installation of traffic lights requires more public space be prioritized for cars. The intersection is being enlarged as I write this. Land is expropriated from people for cars making way for slip lanes and traffic light posts.
By prioritizing cars, we undermine our personal health and make everything else more expensive. The only way to make Nelson a better place to live and visit is to prioritize other forms of getting around. That will require using more space for people walking, riding bicycles and taking public transit, not cars.
It is not a wise decision to replace the four-way stop with traffic lights. For $4.8 million we could do a whole lot better.
West Kootenay Cycling Coalition