Intersections and irate drivers: How Calgarians are creating their own illegal solutions

There are those bits of road in Calgary, most of us know some, that we just love to hate. It's that "intersection from hell" sorta thing. And some people who use the Shaganappi Trail-Hidden Valley Drive intersection on a daily basis say this is theirs.

This confusing intersection in northwest Calgary has people scratching their heads and breaking the law

This is one of two signs that tell drivers on Hidden Valley Drive not to turn right at the Shaganappi Trail intersection. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

There are those bits of road in Calgary that we just love to hate.

You know, that "intersection from hell" sorta thing. And some people who use the Shaganappi Trail-Hidden Valley Drive intersection on a daily basis say this is theirs.

This is the kind of story where you're going to need a map to keep all the spaghetti strands straight. So here's the map.

To avoid the confusing intersection, some drivers on the west side of Hidden Valley Drive head toward the Beddington Trail entrance to the community, but that means going through three school zones on the way. (OpenStreetMap contributors/CartoDB)

On with our story.

No right turn. The sign is right there, on Hidden Valley Drive. Actually, it's there twice before you pull up to the Shaganappi intersection in Calgary's northwest.

There's also a huge sign saying, "No access to Shaganappi Trail North or Stoney Trail."

It's big. It's yellow. And it's often ignored by Calgary drivers. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

But this is Calgary, with our car culture and libertarian attitude, and so people are deciding that yes, yes there is access. Or at least, they're going to say screw it and turn right anyway.

Police know it happens. Local resident Chris Macleod says it's a target for patrols.

Macleod says it's also just a bad intersection with bad design and bad signage. He's launched formal complaints to the city and province about it.

Design dilemmas?

There are a couple problems, according to Macleod.

Hidden Valley resident Chris Macleod says the intersection creates a lot of traffic headaches for locals — and for others first experiencing it. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Let's say you're on Hidden Valley Drive. And at the intersection you want to turn right onto Shaganappi and head north to Stoney. You can't. It's forbidden, according to the signs. But people are doing it anyway. Lots of them.  

And to do it, not only are they making an illegal right-hand turn, but then they have to speed up incredibly fast to match traffic, and then very quickly take the Stoney off-ramp. That's one problem.

The second is if you want to get onto Shaganappi southbound from Hidden Valley, you have to cross two lanes of very busy of traffic with no lights to help you. Even though there's a dedicated turn lane on Shaganappi, drivers seem to be confused about where exactly they should be.

"It's apparently, to them, not marked clearly enough, and it creates traffic jams here," said Macleod.

But wait. There's even more.  

This confusing intersection at Hidden Valley Drive and Shaganappi Trail in northwest Calgary has people scratching their heads and breaking the law. 1:06

If you are going southbound on Shaganappi, and want to turn left onto Hidden Valley. You can't. So what people are doing is heading down to Country Hills Boulevard, making an illegal U-turn, and heading back up northbound, where they can make a right-hand turn into the community.

There are only three ways to get into and out of the community of Hidden Valley. This is one, and there's one on 14th Street N.W.

The other access point is off Beddington Trail. And that has its own problems. Depending where your trip starts, it can lead to driving through three school zones along the way to get out of Hidden Valley. School buses also drop off students in the area, which creates backups while the kids cross the street. This, according to Macleod, means there's a lot of traffic at rush hour, which happens to be at the start and end of the school day.  

"It puts a lot of stress on basically two entrances into Hidden Valley," said Macleod.  

Macleod says there's a simple solution.

"I don't see why they just couldn't have a right-turn lane onto northbound Shaganappi," he said. "The number of cars that make the illegal right turn anyways is a very high volume. Just give them a dedicated turn lane and it would alleviate a lot of the traffic issues through the community."   

But officials say there's a reason there's no right-hand turn. 

Bigger problems

Road design is a science. No. Seriously.

The reason there's no right-hand turn from Hidden Valley onto Shaganappi is that it's at the start of the off-ramp to Stoney, and the distance is just too short to that main interchange.

There's not enough time to get up to the speed for the off-ramp, as you are essentially already on the exit. And getting one lane over to northbound Shaganappi in order to cross Stoney is even tougher to match the speed of traffic.  

Besides, this isn't a city issue. The intersection falls under provincial jurisdiction.

"This particular intersection ... is actually within the provincial transportation utility corridor, so it is under the jurisdiction of the Province of Alberta," said Pat Grisak, a leader on the traffic division of Calgary roads.

Pat Grisak, with the City of Calgary roads department, says the intersection is controlled by the province and is out of their hands. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

So the city says call the province to complain. But the the city is tracking problems like this particular intersection. It uses the Transportation Association of Canada's traffic signal warrant procedure. There's a website.

It measures the number of cars that use an intersection, the number of pedestrians, the number of lanes, the speed limits, and it takes into consideration local land uses, too, when evaluating if a traffic light is needed.

It weighs it all, and gives it a score. If the score is high, then it recommends changes:

  • 100 or higher: A traffic signal is warranted.
  • 80-99: A traffic signal isn't warranted at this time. However, the intersection is put on a watch list and the study is repeated each year.
  • ≤0-79: A traffic signal isn't warranted at this time. The study won't be repeated for at least two years unless conditions change.

So what about our intersection at Hidden Valley Drive and Shaganappi Trail? It's a 26.

The road ahead

Adam Johnson, a public affairs officer with Alberta Transportation, says the existing access at Shaganappi Trail and Hidden Valley Drive is "consistent with the City of Calgary's Area Structure Plan, which was approved prior the development of the community of Hidden Valley."

So what does that mean? Johnson says the intersection most likely was designed by the city with input from Hidden Valley developers, and then the province checks if that design works within the confines of the transportation utility corridor. 

But....

"The construction of the interchange at Stoney Trail and Shaganappi Trail resulted in Hidden Valley Drive being too close in proximity to a connection between a provincial highway and a city-controlled expressway to allow for safe access for the public," he said when asked about the lack of a dedicated turn lane on northbound Shaganappi.

The interchange was built in the fall of 1998.

The shaded section shows the area that is controlled by the province, since it's deemed a transportation utility corridor. (OpenStreetMap contributors/CartoDB )

Johnson says Alberta Transportation has discussed the existing access with the city's transportation department several times in the past six years.

"The city supports the existing access arrangement," he said in an email to CBC News, but added the city has indicated it's open to discuss changes — and how to fund it, which is worked out between the province and city on a case-by-case basis.

Johnson says the city has proposed the twinning of the bridge over Stoney Trail at the Shaganappi Trail interchange, with work tentatively scheduled to begin in 2022. That could potentially allow for a northbound exit.

Johnson says Alberta Transportation will continue to work with the city. They have to determine who would pay for the work, whether it would be approved and when the work would be done.

"When the City of Calgary, or any municipality, identifies a road access they believe needs to be upgraded, the municipality brings a workable plan to Alberta Transportation," he said. "This plan must meet our safety standards while also fitting into the long-term plan of the provincial transportation network. Working with the municipality, Alberta Transportation uses that workable plan and identifies an option that can meet the needs of the travelling public that does not create safety risks."

Quite a process.

In the meantime, Calgarians will have to cope. But for now, they will probably just keep turning right.


Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions, as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at calgarytheroadahead@cbc.ca


More stories from the series:

With files from Monty Kruger

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.