A new direction for the Wilson Street reconstruction was unveiled Wednesday evening at Guelph City Hall.
City engineers believe traffic flow at the south end of short, two-block Wilson Street should flow in the opposite direction than it currently does, shifting the current from north, to south.
There were cramped quarters in a meeting room at city hall, as city officials invited the public to view current plans for the street and to offer feedback on proposals.
A series of graphs and street design diagrams were set up for the occasion, and officials from the city mingled, answered questions, and encouraged feedback.
In an interview, Ian Panabaker, Guelph's general manager of downtown renewal, characterized the project as “Tier 1,” one of this year’s three most important city projects, on par with the Victoria Road Community Centre renovations, and the Guelph Police Services headquarters renovations.
The project combines the reconsideration of a road, the replacement of an aging pedestrian bridge, and the building of about 400 new and “long overdue” parking spaces in the downtown, Panabaker indicated.
Wilson Street is adjacent to Market Square, a beloved community space, he added, and there is an opportunity to make improvements on Wilson that enhance the integration and character of the area.
But while the meeting involved the overall plan to a degree, it was the traffic flow component that was the focus.
“Tonight is a substantial discussion about some traffic operations,” Panabaker said. “In analyzing the traffic impact of bringing the parkade on to the Wilson parking lot, some 400 spaces of parking, we’ve had a hard look at the traffic impact. The purpose of tonight is to talk to the public about a preferred option that we’ve come back with to change the direction of the south leg of Wilson.”
The south leg is a one-way section, while the north block is two-way. Traffic from Waterloo Avenue and Gordon Street now travels north on the one-way section, but officials want to turn that around.
Early traffic impact studies showed that the flow from the parkade would cause traffic problems at Wilson and Macdonell Street, especially during busy times, if flow remains the same.
A host of options were studied, but changing the direction of the flow is preferred by officials.
“That allows us to distribute the traffic far better from the parking garage,” Panabaker said. “That’s a substantial change for the public to get their mind around.”
The traffic flow issue is not etched in stone, Panabaker said. “But what is etched in stone is that we do have a funded capital project, so we are actually out for a RFP (request for proposal) tender for the design/build of the garage.”
Staff hopes to have winner of the RFP process to present to city council by September. The parkade has the potential to have seven levels, two of those underground.
The city is gearing up for the underground reconstruction of Wilson this fall.
“Regardless of how the road goes in terms of direction, we still need to replace the infrastructure no matter what, and we have to do that ahead of the construction happening on the parking lot,” he said. “There will be road construction happening this fall on Wilson, etched in stone. And then finally replacing and repairing the road in the spring of next year.”
The city is hearing that the public finds the project long overdue, but wants the work done as fast as possible, and with as much quality as possible within a reasonable cost, Panabaker added. The plan is to have the parkade complete by the end of next year.
Jared Ferrall is planning to open his new restaurant Crafty Ramen soon at the corner of Wilson and Macdonell. He was at the public input session Wednesday.
“I think it’s nice to beautify the neighbourhood, and the change in the flow of the traffic at the end of Wilson Street, I think is a great idea,” he said. “The fact that they are putting in a parking garage there is a fantastic idea.”
But Ferrall sees a disadvantage in the plan, in that it calls for a reduction of parking spaces on the west side of Wilson across from his location.
“I don’t see any advantage in an already congested downtown with doing away with eight parking spaces,” he said. “The preferred plan is to put parallel parking in there. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Ferrall added that he is concerned about disruptions to businesses on Wilson during the construction period. He had heard that the reconstruction of Carden Street was detrimental to many businesses. He hopes that construction moves along a good clip.
Marty Williams, executive director of the Downtown Guelph Business Association, said construction is always disruptive.
“But it has to be done,” he said. “You can’t just hope that the pipes aren’t going to fail under the road. Infrastructure repairs have to be made. It’s just a fact of life.”
Williams said downtown partners are figuring out how to work with the construction company and city to ensure that everyone knows what is going on, what to expect, and precisely when the stages of the work will happen.
“The goal is to keep the impact of the construction as low as possible,” he said, adding that Downtown Guelph wants to see “maximum pedestrian flows” through the area during construction.