New U-turn lane coming to ease traffic pressure on Bow Trail

Drivers who use Bow Trail to get downtown and to access Sarcee Trail north will see improvements this year in the form of a new U-turn lane to ease congestion.

Left-turn wait at Sarcee Trail is proving to be a nightmare for drivers during rush hour

Traffic starts to back up during the rush hour after 3:30 p.m. on Bow Trail heading east toward Sarcee Trail. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Drivers on the west side of Calgary who use Bow Trail S.W. to get downtown and to access northbound Sarcee Trail will see improvements this year with a new U-turn lane to ease congestion.

The U-turn lane will be added just east of Sarcee Trail next to the community of Westgate, about 30 metres before an existing pedestrian crosswalk.

Currently, while drivers wait for a left-turn signal to access Sarcee Trail from eastbound Bow Trail, traffic backs all the way up the hill as far as Old Banff Coach Road.

That leaves backed-up cars sitting stationary in lanes that are supposed to be moving. Other motorists choose to head farther down Bow Trail to 45th Street S.W. to make a U-turn before doubling back to merge onto Sarcee Trail northbound from the other direction.

This shows the new U-turn lane being constructed this summer, marked in yellow. It will allow traffic to cross Sarcee Trail and continue north on that road after making a U-turn. Currently, some drivers make U-turns farther east at 45th Street. (City of Calgary)

The City of Calgary says the Bow/Sarcee intersection is one of the most congested in the city. It's long been a source of frustration for drivers living in communities west of Sarcee Trail, including Coach Hill, Patterson Heights, Strathcona Park, Cougar Ridge and West Springs.

"It's awful," said Marcie Miranda of the Coach Hill Patterson Heights Community Association, which has been raising the issue with the city along with current and past Ward 6 councillors.

"You can sometimes wait through three lights. In fact, that's the norm, and not only is it irritating, it's quite dangerous," said Miranda. "It's an awful experience."

"The new U-turn is not the best solution, but it's a solution and we're happy about it," Miranda said.

A lineup of vehicles grows all the way up Bow Trail S.W. in the afternoon rush hour, waiting to make an eventual left turn onto Sarcee Trail at the bottom of the hill. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"Our immediate reaction was: 'Really? That's the solution?'" said Paul Ghazar, president of West Springs Cougar Ridge Community Association.

Ghazar says increasing the left turn light for a few seconds more during peak times could have been a cheaper solution to get traffic moving.

"It seems like an odd solution and I'm hoping it doesn't just shift the problem," he said.

But Ghazar said something needed to be done about the congestion.

"You could be there up to 11 minutes waiting for a light in really bad peak times," he said.

Under the new initiative, which starts construction this spring, vehicles will have to wait for a green signal to complete a U-turn, with westbound traffic coming to a stop. 

Ward 6 Coun. Richard Pootmans says a new U-turn lane will alleviate congestion and make the commute safer for drivers who live on the west side of Calgary. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"People that do the commute and take their kids elsewhere off the hill after school every day are looking at three-, four-and five-light delays," said Coun. Richard Pootmans of Ward 6.

"The U-turn is going to make a difference, taking off a lot of pressure for eastbound Bow Trail traffic. There'll be a lane dedicated on Bow Trail to enable the cars to get into a waiting lane, and when the lights change, cars will be able to scoot onto Sarcee Trail, saving two to five minutes," said Pootmans.

The new U-turn lane will benefit residents from Strathcona Park, in particular, providing a more direct connection to northbound Sarcee Trail than exists now.

Pootmans says the issue has been on his radar for some time but an overpass is his real goal, calling the U-turn lane an "interim measure." He says there's a lot of discussion about the impact of the west ring road on Bow Trail traffic once it opens.

The U-turn is expected to be constructed over the summer and be ready by fall 2022.


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