University Bridge Repairs, Emergency Services, and Transit

The University Bridge is scheduled for repairs this year and as discussed here the City’s plan (so far) is to keep one lane open to all vehicles, eastbound only.

Based on the presentation at the Standing Policy Committee on January 12, 2015, the City didn’t appear to consider any other options, other than allowing the successful contractor to close all four lanes completely if that meant they could get the work done more quickly and minimize the disruption to automobile drivers.

This decision appears to have been based entirely on the average traffic volumes on the bridge, with the eastbound volume slightly higher than the westbound. So of course the one available lane should be allocated to the westbound traffic only. University has the least seasonal decrease in volume though volume and capacity of the other bridges doesn’t appear to have been considered.

No consideration appeared to have been given to allowing the one lane to be bidirectional and restricted to transit and emergency vehicles only. In a late agenda item (page 10) for today’s City Council meeting there is a report of the City’s consultation with various emergency services as well as Transit. Why these consultations were not done sooner, and before the unidirectional lane decision was made, I cannot understand or explain, except to say this is the City of Saskatoon and City Council we’re talking about.

The results of these consultations indicate that M.D. Ambulance uses eastbound University Bridge a dozen times a day (between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.) for emergencies alone, plus another dozen inter-facility transports (either direction).

“All stroke, pediatric and severe trauma patients require immediate service at Royal University Hospital. University Bridge is always utilized in this cases as it is the shortest, quickest route possible.”

If the bridge is open to all eastbound traffic with only one lane it seems doubtful that M.D. Ambulance will be able to use it. That one lane will be constantly congested, and any ambulance needing to get to RUH would be stuck in that congestion if they tried to use that route. Other vehicles in that lane would have nowhere to pull over to let an ambulance get by, it would have to wait in traffic and only be able to proceed as quickly as the rest of the eastbound vehicles and the traffic lights at Clarence and College drive would allow. I’m not sure which would be faster, waiting in line or diverting to Broadway. I’m pretty certain a restricted lane would beat either of those options, even if they had to wait 90 seconds for a westbound bus to clear the bridge.

Saskatoon Transit also prefers the restricted lane option.

“Maintaining the use of the University Bridge would significantly reduce the impact on Transit operations as all other options would require an increase in fleet and budget in order to preserve a similar level of service.”

This is key, any option other than a restricted lane would require more buses and more money to maintain “similar” service. As it is, the work on the bridge will undoubtedly result in a disruption of service, but at least the restricted lane option would help minimize the disruption.

We all know City Council is unlikely to approve spending money on more buses and the operating costs that would be needed to re-route the significant number of bus routes that use University Bridge over to Broadway and Sid Buckwold bridges.

More likely they would force Saskatoon Transit to make due with the resources they have, adding to whatever congestion does occur on  the other bridges and likely increasing the interval time of buses on all affected routes.

And you thought now that the lockout was over they couldn’t make things worse for Transit users.

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