BANFF – The Town of Banff is building a dedicated express transit lane and separated multi-use trail on Mountain Avenue between Spray Avenue and Middle Springs in a bid to reduce congestion.
The municipality has been seeking public input on the project, with another in-person presentation scheduled for Sept. 14 and an online questionnaire open on the municipality’s website until Sept. 24 at https://banffviewpoints.ca/mountainexpress.
Town of Banff officials say the three-metre wide multi-use asphalt trail and an express bus lane aim to improve travel times for Roam public transit and other buses, while also encouraging more people to use buses rather than drive personal vehicles.
Adrian Field, director of engineering for the Town of Banff, said by providing faster service for buses with a dedicated bus, it is hoped more people will take transit and leave their vehicles parked at hotels, campgrounds or the train station intercept lot.
“We want to make the whole experience more pleasant for everyone involved,” he said.
“If visitors don’t drive, then there’s less traffic for residents who must drive.”
Banff council, which has a priority to reduce traffic congestion in Banff by scaling back reliance on personal vehicles, will review the final design during budget discussions in November and December.
The estimated cost of the project, to be built in summer and fall of 2024, is about $1.5 million, but that will also be finalized at budget.
In 2022, council approved funding sources of $620,000 from the federal Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program and $930,000 split equally from visitor pay parking revenue and existing road overlay budgets from capital reserves.
The project involves widening the Mountain Avenue roadway in several locations on public land dedicated to roads and utilities to make way for the express bus lane, with no private land being impacted.
The dedicated express lane for tour buses, gondola shuttle buses, and Roam public transit – and for cyclists heading downhill if they want – will head northbound down the Sulphur Mountain hill from the town boundary just south of Middle Springs Drive to Spray Avenue.
“What we’re not doing is taking away any driving lanes, so the existing driving lanes are kept and are narrowed a little bit to help slow traffic down,” said Field.
The Town of Banff has also recommended Parks Canada consider extending the multi-use trail from Middle Springs Drive to the Sulphur Mountain parking lot at the popular gondola and hot springs tourist attractions.
With free parking on Sulphur Mountain, the spaces often fill up quickly, forcing drivers to return immediately back down the mountain into town, making traffic congestion worse.
The municipality’s traffic data from 2019-21 shows that up to 50 per cent of the vehicles that drive up to the gondola parking lot during peak summer periods turn around immediately and become part of the traffic line-up heading back downtown.
Field said Mountain Avenue continues to be most affected by this traffic congestion, creating delays for visitors returning into town, and all residents who live in neighbourhoods on either side of Mountain Avenue.
“We know that congestion delays are still an issue on Mountain Avenue and we know those can be improved by removing some visitor vehicles,” he said.
Field said the project would lead to a safer experience for pedestrians and cyclists.
From a mass transit perspective, he said the goal is improved travel time.
“We feel when those buses are stuck in traffic, then that’s not a very good use of taxpayer money,” he said, noting it costs about $200 an hour to run transit buses.
“Visitors are having a miserable time when they’re stuck in a bus, on transit or in a car.”
Field said Roam buses on Route 1 spent about 84 hours stuck in traffic in this travel corridor in summer 2022.
“These are significant numbers and we feel we can do better,” he said.
Brennan David, the municipality’s manager of the project, said two pedestrian crosswalks will be added across Mountain Avenue.
“The intention with inclusion of crosswalks is not only to get pedestrians across the road, but what we want to try to do also is slow down traffic,” he said.
“Residents recognize it is a problem coming down Mountain Avenue and most residents up here know that because of the ongoing presence of our bylaw officers trying to get people to reduce speed.”
An existing crosswalk near Park Avenue will also be enhanced.
“What we’d like to do is light that as well in order to bring drivers’ attention to that. Right now it is problematic because a lot of people don’t even stop at the crosswalk even with people and kids waiting there,” said David.
“We will make that a little bit more obvious and try to help out with the safety perspective there.”