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Bow River bridge lane reversal trial to ease congestion unsuccessful

“Based on this trial, it’s unlikely we will recommend further pursuing this idea of a lane reversal on the Bow River Bridge.”
Banff Town Hall 2
Banff Town Hall

BANFF – The Town of Banff has slammed the brakes on moving ahead with a lane reversal on the Bow River Bridge as one solution to traffic congestion in the tourist town.

Municipal officials say a trial that changed one of the two southbound lanes into a northbound lane on the vehicle bridge on Saturday (Aug. 13) between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to see if it helps ease traffic congestion on Mountain Avenue caused by visitors to tourist attractions on Sulphur Mountain, did not produce the desired results.

Jason Darrah, director of communications for the Town of Banff, said monitoring data from the test showed there were no travel time benefits for northbound traffic, where most congestion usually occurs, and significant delays for southbound traffic.

“It really didn’t improve the northbound traffic and we know it significantly made it worse for southbound,” he said.

“Based on this trial, it’s unlikely we will recommend further pursuing this idea of a lane reversal on the Bow River Bridge.”

Banff’s 2013 transportation master plan recommended against the lane reversal, but based on calls from residents and businesses to see if it would help ease congestion on the south side of the river, the municipality decided to give it a go.

“We really expected this negative impact for southbound,” said Darrah.

During the trial, there were significant backups on Norquay Road and Lynx Street as well as Beaver Street and Buffalo Streets.

“The monitoring team knows that some of the backups in the residential areas created a very slow moving traffic jam that must have been very frustrating for motorists as well as the people who live on the streets,” said Darrah.

The traffic data shows that travel time from the east entrance of town near the Banff Avenue/Lake Minnewanka highway interchange to the Buffalo Street/Banff Avenue intersection reached 16 minutes, while the average travel time in that period was 10 minutes.

“It probably felt like a lot more,” said Darrah.

“The normal travel we have right from the east entrance to Buffalo-Banff Avenue intersection is 7.5 minutes, so it was more than double.”

At the west entrance on Norquay Road, travel time from the train tracks to the Buffalo Street-Banff Avenue intersection reached 13 minutes, while the average was seven minutes.

“It’s normally three minutes, so that’s a significant jump,” said Darrah.

“Thirteen minutes probably felt like half an hour because it’s normally so much quicker.”

As a result of traffic backing up on Norquay Road to the Trans-Canada Highway, the exit at Norquay was temporarily shut down and traffic was forced to divert to the Banff Avenue interchange for about 10 to 15 minutes at peak traffic, starting at about 3:40 p.m.

“Our biggest concern was vehicles backing up all the way to the highway, and if a train came we were even more concerned because it was already saturated,” said Darrah.

“At least on a normal day, it’s moving, but it was moving so much slower.”

According to the municipality’s traffic monitoring data, maximum travel time for northbound traffic from the Rimrock Resort down to the Banff Avenue-Buffalo Street intersection was 9.5 minutes and the average was 6.8 minutes.

“The normal travel time is six minutes. It was worse than the normal travel time for some reason,” said Darrah, noting cutting the green traffic signal overrides during that period likely played a part.

“Even though we created two lanes going north, people coming down Spray Avenue, which then turns right onto the bridge, didn’t really use the centre lane; they stayed with the normal approach.”

There have also been some calls for removing a sidewalk on the vehicle bridge to create four lanes – two in both directions; however, the transportation master plan recommended against this option too.

Darrah said administration will also recommend against this approach to council.

“Not only does it not provide significant benefits, but it goes against council’s goals of increasing active transportation,” he said.

“We really don’t want to take away sidewalks.”

The Town of Banff plans to continue working on ways to reduce the number of vehicles that cross the bridge.

For now, they encourage visitors to park at the intercept lot at the train station, use public transit or shuttles. Signs indicate when parking lots on Sulphur Mountain are full and flaggers are deployed at major intersections on weekends to keep traffic flowing.

Education campaigns in Calgary to encourage people to leave vehicles at home or park and take transit continues.

“We will continue to look at other things,” said Darrah.