How to Make a Bad Intersection
You have likely walked by it or driven by it many times. I walk by it twice almost every day. It is at least the worst intersection in North Park and one of the worst in the city from a pedestrian point of view. It is also pretty awful from a drivers and a cyclists point of view too, especially during rush hour. Today I am having a look at the intersection of Vancouver Street and Caledonia Street.
Everyday when I am walking through this intersection, whether it is from the south walking up Vancouver Street or from the west walking along Caledonia, as I get closer I can feel myself getting apprehensive. It might be the unique land uses, with the ballpark on one side and the city parking lot on the other or the transition nature of the streets with a busy cross street combined with the end of a long secondary street. It is truly a bizarre and in my mind, a dangerous intersection. Here are a few of my thoughts on why.
This is a tricky place for a car. Despite the fact that Vancouver carries through, for northbound traffic, this is a t-intersection and only cyclists can go straight. Also those same drivers are driving up a road that has either had them have the right of way or have been in a four-way controlled intersection. These drivers now have to wait.
Cars driving along Caledonia, especially eastbound, have to be careful as cars from Vancouver often nose out blocking a clear view of the one crosswalk. Westbound cars have a clear path but can be caught off-guard by cars coming from the north side of Vancouver, as this is primary a bike street and cars can only turn onto Caledonia to the west. Just a couple of weeks ago there was an accident in the morning due to this specific issue.
Despite the fact that Vancouver is designated as a cycling route, you would have no idea as you approached this intersection from any direction. The only clue is the traffic diversion sign that you see as you approach from the south that indicates a t-insection "Except Bicycles". I see cyclists try to edge out from cars here and often think that if I were in their shoes, I would likely hop off and walk across the intersection.
As an interesting sidebar for those unfamiliar with the history of Vancouver Street, this street has perhaps heritage worthy cycling infrastructure. Most of the markings have worn off years ago, but if you look at the sidewalks between Caledonia and Pandora Street you will see a secondary paved sidewalk that uses asphalt instead of cement. It weaves in and out, sometimes connected to the sidewalk, sometimes separated by a grass boulevard. This was originally supposed to be the bike lane. As silly as it seems now, at one time this would have been cutting edge street design for North America. While I am sure at some point it will all be torn up, it is so silly it almost deserves a plaque.
Despite how bad I have said this is for drivers and cyclists, I am fairly sure that it is the worst for pedestrians. This is an intersection, so technically, there are four legal crosswalks here. It should be easy to get through here as you cross the two legs easiest depending on your destination, but as I said, especially as traffic backs up during rush hour this is not what you can actually do. So while there are technically four crosswalks, only one is marked. What I usually do is walk east along Caledonia, usually annoying the driver that has nosed out off Vancouver and then once across the street annoy them a second time as I cross Caledonia to walk north. While I have done nothing wrong, I feel like I am putting the driver out. This is not the drivers fault, this is a fault of the design of the intersection.
As a pedestrian, I should be able to make two choices from each corner depending on the traffic flow. This means that most of the time I will not be walking in front of the same car twice. With less choices provided I lose this opportunity.
Vancouver Street flows north from Beacon Hill Park in Fairfield. It can be a little busy, but for the most part it is a quiet secondary street because it is narrow and has a lot of controlled intersections. As a driver choosing Cook or Quadra Street over Vancouver Street is an easy choice. While it may be perceived as a concession to cars, I think the solution is to take out the Vancouver Street traffic diversions, allowing cars to drive through to Bay Street.
The second piece is that the intersection needs to be controlled. Either a four-way stop which may be a bit extreme or a signalled crossing to allow people to cross north and south. When you do this I would also paint four way zebra markings.
What do you think? Would this make a difference to this intersection? Is there another intersection that drives you crazy just like this?