Prince Albert’s downtown core will have fewer traffic lights after city council voted to remove five of them in a 6-3 vote on Monday.
Of those five lights, three are on Central Avenue, with the others located on 12th Street. City workers will begin removing the lights in the coming weeks. The intersections on Central Avenue will become two-way stops instead.
Mayor Greg Dionne said the move would improve traffic flow without hindering pedestrians.
“We don’t like change, but if change doesn’t happen, we don’t move forward,” Dionne said during Monday’s city council meeting.
“I support (the removal) strictly because we did commission that (traffic) report and that report says it should go,” he added.
Traffic light removal has been a thoroughly debated issue since June, when city administrators requested an additional journeyman electrician to help maintain Prince Albert’s 62 traffic lights. At the time, many council members suggested removing unneeded traffic lights instead of funding another position.
Although taking out traffic lights was a popular proposal, deciding which ones to remove took some time.
Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller was the most vocal critic of the plan. She said it made more sense to hold off on any changes until they saw how the new University of Saskatchewan campus changes pedestrian traffic patterns. The campus is scheduled to open on Central Avenue in 2020.
Miller also wanted to wait until the city started the Downtown Streetscape Project before removing any lights, and said removing the lights now would make downtown less pedestrian friendly.
“I have been a pedestrian down Central Avenue with my granddaughters here lately, and I won’t bring them downtown for sure if there is nothing to help us walk across the street,” she said.
There were also disagreements over removing the lights at First Avenue and 12th Street East. However, an amendment to only remove lights on Central Avenue failed to pass.
Traffic light removal supporters said the decision would immediately improve traffic flow, and argued that if it did hurt pedestrian traffic, the decision could easily be reversed.
“It’s our staff who are going to go up there and take the lights off,” Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski said. “If we see a change in traffic patterns they can go up during the work day, as part of their duties, and put them back up again. It doesn’t cost us anything extra, and at this time I believe they need to come down.”
“When it comes to pedestrians, I dodge more pedestrians in between controlled intersections than I do at the intersections,” Dionne added. “We don’t have a jay-walking bylaw, and on Central Avenue, when they decide to cross, they cross. They don’t go to the corner, so I think it’s a learning curve.”
Zurakowski also argued the city wasn’t going to start the downtown redesign project soon, so it didn’t make sense to hold up traffic light removal.
“We could be a decade away from making that happen,” he said during Monday’s meeting. “A decade. Nobody advocated for spending those millions of dollars (at budget meetings) a year ago, and I’d be interested if they’re going to do that tonight, and increase the mill rate for the residents. I think that’s a bit of a red herring.”
The five lights scheduled for removal are located at the 11th Street, 13th Street and 14th Street intersections on Central Avenue, and at First Avenue East and 12th Street, and First Avenue West and 12th Street.
City administrators completed an assessment of all traffic signals as part of the 2017 Transportation Master Plan. That assessment identified six intersections with traffic lights that did not meet the required 100-point minimum threshold, four of which were on Central Avenue.
All of the five lights scheduled for removal failed to meet the 100-point minimum.