'No surprise': Rawlins Cross intersection tops list in City of St. John's collision report

·5 min read
The intersection at Rawlins Cross is regularly the site of collisions, and the City of St. John's council has voted to move ahead with commissioning detailed analysis for their riskiest intersections to come up with solutions. (Lisa Sells/Twitter - image credit)
The intersection at Rawlins Cross is regularly the site of collisions, and the City of St. John's council has voted to move ahead with commissioning detailed analysis for their riskiest intersections to come up with solutions. (Lisa Sells/Twitter - image credit)

A new report to the City of St. John's that shows Rawlins Cross as one of the riskiest intersections for collisions comes as no surprise to two people who live in the area.

The collision report, presented to the city this month, looked at collisions that were reported to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary between 2012 and 2019 to establish the most dangerous intersections in the city, with Rawlins Cross — a hub which connects several downtown streets — topping the list.

Kathie Hicks, who lives on the doorstep of Rawlins Cross, said that doesn't come as a shock.

"It's almost over-studied now and it's still unbelievable that the collisions are still happening," she said. "It's no surprise."

Area resident Rhona Buchan also said she's not surprised, and noted that the period of data collection doesn't include a chunk of a pilot project that saw Rawlins Cross turned into a traffic circle for 15 months, ending last May. The traffic lights were covered up, a section of Military Road was blocked off, and the intersection was essentially transformed into a roundabout.

The city voted last year to bring the traffic lights back, restoring the intersection to its previous format. There was a serious crash two days later.

Coun. Ian Froude, lead on transportation for the city, presented the report at the committee of the whole meeting Wednesday morning. Council voted 8-0 in favour of moving ahead with recommendations in the report that will see consultants hired to do detailed analysis of the intersections named in the report and advise on changes that can be made at the start of the 2022 construction season.

This diagram shows the early proposal for the traffic circle pilot project at Rawlins Cross. In May, the traffic light format was restored.
This diagram shows the early proposal for the traffic circle pilot project at Rawlins Cross. In May, the traffic light format was restored.(City of St. John's)

"I don't actually think the public will be that surprised by any on the list. It's similar to what we hear from the public when people bring forward concerns," Froude told CBC News.

"We saw in this report, and of course the previous work, shows that Rawlins Cross is an area of concern and that's why we tried to address it with the pilot project, and we did see results from that project that were favourable."

Froude said he wasn't in support of switching the intersection back to nearly the way it was before the pilot project, but there are improved crosswalks and lighting for pedestrians, and there is a followup plan to look at vehicle entry points.

"There's a next phase of work coming up to address the geometry of how vehicles are entering the intersection," he said, adding he isn't certain about the timeline for that work.

"In particular it's about improving the entry points, and making sure people driving vehicles or people walking [or] biking know exactly where they should be, and that any of the the conflict points are resolved."

Opinions torn on traffic lights or roundabout

While the Rawlins Cross traffic circle wasn't ideal for pedestrians, Buchan said, the return of the notorious intersection to its exact previous form was also not ideal.

"It seems that one of the things that was addressed during the traffic circle was the high risk of T-boning that happened when people when straight down Military Road, and they opened that back up again, so we'd like to see them remove the T-junctions and reduce that risk there," Buchan said.

"So returning to the circular flow is fine; we just feel that it's really important that the lights stay — it's absolutely essential for pedestrian safety that there be lights at that intersection."

While opinions vary on whether residents want a traffic circle or traffic lights, they agree: Rawlins Cross is a dangerous intersection.
While opinions vary on whether residents want a traffic circle or traffic lights, they agree: Rawlins Cross is a dangerous intersection.(Ted Dillon/CBC)

Buchan added that nearby Bishop Feild school was closed for a portion of the study, as well, meaning there were fewer schoolchildren using the intersection.

"We absolutely have to keep the lights, all these schoolchildren going through that intersection … we can't risk the lives of the kids at that intersection," said Buchan.

Hicks, meanwhile, says the traffic circle method could work better than traffic lights to improve safety in the area and would like to see a return to a roundabout, but with some changes.

"I would like to see at least that section of Military Road shut down because then you get a true traffic circle and it is a roundabout almost, instead of having to cut right through the roundabout, which only serves a purpose for people travelling east to west.… They can easily go around the building," Hicks said.

"I'd like to see that section of Military Road closed off, and I'd like to see beacons for pedestrians."

'Old traditional layout' a challenge

After Rawlins Cross, the other two intersections topping the list for most collisions were Thorburn Road at Goldstone Street, and Kelsey Drive at Kiwanis.

The report also lists top 10 "mid-block" intersections, listing heavy commercial spots where there are a high number of entry and exit points to access businesses. Those locations include sections of Kenmount, Torbay, Topsail and Thorburn roads.

The presence of those heavy-traffic commercial areas on the list was also not a surprise.

Coun. Sandy Hickman said during Wednesday's meeting that a lot of four-lane roads in the city were expanded decades ago, without accounting for today's high traffic volumes.

The biggest challenge facing transportation in the city now, aside from driver education, Hickman, said, is to turn traffic designed around from the "old traditional layout."

The report also recommends continuing to make improvements for cyclist and pedestrian access, with city staff adding that the data suggests incidents involving cyclists and pedestrians are due to a lack of dedicated facilities — no bike lane or no crosswalk, for example.

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