Saint John's Main Street to get major facelift

·4 min read
An image showing the proposed bike lanes and walking path for the Main Street active transportation project in Saint John. (City of Saint John - image credit)
An image showing the proposed bike lanes and walking path for the Main Street active transportation project in Saint John. (City of Saint John - image credit)

Saint John city council has given its approval for a major overhaul of Main Street and the viaduct leading into the city's uptown core.

The Main Street active transportation project is an effort to make the major thoroughfare more friendly for cyclists and pedestrians.

When presenting the plan to council Monday night, transportation director Tim O'Reilly was clearly excited about the project.

"I really feel great to be here in front of council in person, for sure," O'Reilly said as photos of the new design flashed across the screen in council chambers..

Joseph Tunney/CBC
Joseph Tunney/CBC

"It's an awesome change."

There has been a push to redesign Main Street for almost a decade.

Once a thriving neighbourhood, most of the buildings in the area were knocked down during urban renewal efforts in the 1970s.

Main Street became an auto route, widened to six lanes, which critics say encourages higher speeds and more lane changes.

That makes riding a bicycle there more dangerous.

Back in the summer of 2020, avid cyclist Nick Cameron told CBC News the street was a prime candidate for a "road diet."

City of Saint John
City of Saint John

"We need to ask ourselves if we really need six lanes on Main Street and if there's a better way to use that space that would provide more value to taxpayers," Cameron said.

He said road diets actually improve traffic flow by focusing people in the direction they need to go, which means fewer lane changes and fewer close calls.

But putting Main Street on a diet is no simple task.

It leads into the bridge that crosses over Highway 1, and that bridge has six ramps that allow cars and trucks to enter and exit the viaduct.

O'Reilly said the problem was how to get cyclists and pedestrians safely past those ramps.

City of Saint John
City of Saint John

"The option that we looked at early on was actually eliminating that interaction altogether by installing a multipurpose lane down the centre of the street," O'Reilly told council.

"For multiple reasons which are laid out in their staff report, we recommend against that approach."

The biggest concern was getting bikes and pedestrians into that centre lane safely at the various intersections along Main Street.

City staff decided to close the two right-hand lanes to traffic and redesign the ramps to calm traffic flow.

The slow curves of most ramps will become tighter, more angular turns, forcing motorists to slow down.

City of Saint John
City of Saint John

Yield signs will be replaced with stop signs, and one ramp that exits off the Harbour Bridge beside the Red Rose Tea building will have a set of traffic lights.

"There's lots of justifications why we need to look differently at how Main Street functions," O'Reilly said.

"First, when you look at common council's own priorities, it tells the story, talks about the need for active transportation, safe routes for multiple modes of transportation, and achieving a new balance for how the transportation system works for citizens."

For their part, the councillors were supportive of the idea, including Coun. Joanna Killen, an avid cyclist.

"You know, I think it puts us on par with other places that have networks like these that are so attractive," Killen said, "Biking through Fredericton is fine. It's not traumatizing, like going through some of our intersections here. So I do think that will spur growth."

"So I'm really excited for this and to not feel like I'm going to perish biking on Main Street."

CBC
CBC

Deputy Mayor John MacKenzie was happy to hear the unanimous support for the plan.

"The comments around the table tonight are music to my ears. As Coun. Hickey said, you know, I've been looking at this since 2012 … and so, you know, you have to be patient. We've been patient and here we are today."

Then there's the question of money.

City council set aside $435,000 for the Main Street project, but the price tag on the work is estimated to be about $2 million.

Council's approval means it is committing $200,000 for the detailed design work.

O'Reilly said it's a bit of a risk because there's no guarantee the province is on board.

The city will have to work with the province, because the many exit ramps are part of the provincial highway.

O'Reilly said the city has a meeting scheduled with the province next week to try to secure its endorsement of the plan.

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