Safety concerns expressed about west Saint John street

Click to play video: 'N.B. transportation advocate pushing for change in traffic flow' N.B. transportation advocate pushing for change in traffic flow
Some in Saint John say it’s almost impossible to cross a section of road near the Reversing Falls Bridge on foot and a transportation advocate is pushing for a change in traffic flow. Tim Roszell has more – Jul 14, 2021

Pedestrians in Saint John say it’s increasingly difficult to cross safely a section Chesley Drive near the Reversing Falls Bridge.

There is no crosswalk at the Douglas Avenue intersection, prompting some people to try to cross whenever they see an opening.

But Katelyn Steen isn’t one of them, at least not when she has her child with her.

“It’s basically impossible,” Steen said of crossing Chesley Drive. “You have to walk all the way down to the Falls restaurant and cross down there to backtrack.”

She said she feels like she’s taking her life into her own hands when she does make an attempt.

“This bridge isn’t very safe to begin with for pedestrians and having to run across isn’t the most ideal. It would be great if we had a crosswalk here.”

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Meghan Morris lives in Milldgeville, but said she is constantly walking dogs in the area of the bridge. She said she keeps the dogs on the inside portion of the sidewalk, away from traffic, when walking along Chesley Drive.

“And we haven’t once been able to cross yet in a safe situation so we’ve stuck to the one side of the highway but I haven’t been able to explore the other side, which is where we want to go to see the reversing falls.”

Saint John Cycling government liaison Nick Cameron said his organization has been advocating for years for changes to traffic flow in the area.

READ MORE: Saint John cyclist dies of injuries after hit and run, charges expected for driver

He said cyclists tell him they don’t want to ride in the area because they don’t feel safe, even with bike lane markings, known as “sharrows,” in place.

“What we’ve been advocating for is a road diet,” Cameron said. “That would be a conversion from four lanes on Chesley Drive to three lanes.”

He said having four lanes converge at a two-lane “pinch-point” at Reversing Falls Bridge doesn’t make a lot of sense.

“A three-lane conversion makes it much more orderly and organizes that traffic more,” Cameron said. “It also reduces the number of conflict points for cars. So a road diet is very good for cyclists because it makes room for things like bike lanes but it’s also a much safer road for motorists because there are fewer conflict points on a three-lane road.”

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A cement walkway under Reversing Falls Bridge in Saint John, N.B. A provincial spokesman says the walkway is for maintenance staff, not pedestrians. Tim Roszell/Global News

Part of the challenge for Cameron and others is that Chesley Drive is also provincial route 100, meaning any modifications to traffic flow would be a provincial responsibility. Cameron admits discussions with the province have produced little results for cyclists.

He said he knows of at least one crash involving a cyclist from 2019 where an individual was seriously injured. He also noted the death of a Saint John man in late May, who was injured in a hit-and-run while riding his bicycle and later died in hospital.

“It’s very difficult to encourage this mode of transportation as a health option, as an option that’s good for the environment, when people are getting harmed or even killed for doing it,” Cameron said.

READ MORE: N.B. cyclists continue to push for Motor Vehicle Act amendments

For pedestrians, Cameron pointed to a possible solution: a cement walkway under the Douglas Avenue end of the bridge that would allow for people to get from one side of Chesley Drive to the other without impacting vehicle traffic.

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Cameron said he used to use the walkway when he was younger and living on the west side, but said the fenced entries on both sides have been locked for several years.

A spokesman for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure confirmed that the walkway was not intended for pedestrian use, but rather for department staff performing inspections and maintenance.

“We are aware of the issue,” Mark Taylor said of street-crossing challenges at Chesley Drive. “We recently completed a traffic study in the area. We will continue to look at the issue and how we can resolve it as best as possible.”

Cameron is calling on the province to live up to its commitments in its Climate Action Plan.

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