New 'complete street' standards aim to make Nanaimo roads safer for pedestrians, cyclists

Nanaimo’s streets are heading in a new direction.

A new “complete streets” bylaw passed by council means when new streets are designed, the requirements of all users — not just motorists but pedestrians, cyclists and transit — will be taken into account.

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In the past, street design was focused on vehicle movements, but the goal of the complete street standards is to make all users feel safe.

Poul Rosen, Nanaimo’s director of engineering, said the updated engineering standards will change the look and feel of roads, as well as improving the safety and quality of buried infrastructure the community relies on.

Complete street standards will be adopted as much as possible when existing streets are retrofitted, Rosen said, adding it will take many decades to see streets transform, since road infrastructure lasts a long time. In addition, some existing streets may not be wide enough to incorporate complete street standards.

Not every street will look the same under the new standards. For example, a new major arterial road with heavy traffic might have a separate lane dedicated for cyclists, while that may not be required on a low-volume street.

The complete street approach also takes into account the needs of commercial vehicles and other traffic, said Rosen. The new standards are already being rolled out in Nanaimo’s Metral Drive project, which is in the works and is scheduled to be finished by June of next year.

Used by about 6,500 vehicles every day and deemed a major collector road, Metral Drive runs from Mostar Road to Aulds Road.

The project now underway, aimed at making the street safer, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists, includes new sidewalks, a fresh road surface, designated and separated cycling tracks on both sides of the road, benches, boulevard trees, upgraded street light and underground utilities. A total of seven raised intersections will be built to calm traffic. New underground utilities, such as water mains, are also going in.

The Transportation Association of Canada has awarded the city a 2020 National Sustainable Urban Transportation Award for development of complete street guidelines, new road standards and the Metral Drive project.

Nanaimo has spent 18 months developing changes to its manual of engineering standards and specifications, in consultation with the public and the construction industry, to develop its new standards.

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