Banff, AB - Traffic volumes were unprecedented in the town of Banff over the August long weekend. Sunday, August 3, saw the greatest volume of traffic ever recorded in town, with 30,677 vehicles entering and exiting the townsite over 24 hours. Saturday was at 29,195 and Monday at 25,842.
"We are experiencing a record number of vehicles in town this summer," says Adrian Field, manager of engineering. "Our road network was not built to handle this volume of traffic. At 30,000 vehicles, we are well beyond capacity and as a result, on Sunday, we saw delays outside the normal 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. window.
The Town has been trying a number of tactics to minimize delays to under 15 minutes. "We’ve extended the timings on traffic lights," he added, "and we have emergency plans in place to manually extend northbound green times in exceptional circumstances like this. However, we all need to be aware that these actions will likely cause east-west travel to back up." Signs at both entrances also warn motorists to expect holiday traffic delays and to walk, cycle or take transit.
The threshold for the onset of congestion is considered to be at 20,000 vehicles entering and exiting the townsite per day. In summer 2013, the town experienced 33 days with the daily vehicle count over 20,000, compared to 16 days in 2012. So far this year, the count has exceeded the threshold on 30 days, including 27 days in July, compared to 10 days in July 2013. Total traffic volume for July was up by 12 per cent to 682,363 in 2014 from 609,108 in 2013. August is also expected to be busy. Volume was 7.5 per cent greater this past weekend compared to August 1 to 3, 2013.
Most tactics employed rely on technology. Flaggers managing one intersection are often an effective choice. However, Banff has five intersections synchronized to permit travel down the main corridor without interruption. The northbound signal pattern is combined with lengthy green times specifically designed for high traffic volumes, while traffic cameras support each direction. The cameras trigger a signal change if there is no traffic facing the current green light, and associate the extra, unused green time to that movement. There is no point in time when the signals are not feeding traffic onto the bridge.
"With this technology and the other tactics, we've been able to push the threshold to about 24,000 vehicles before traffic flow is significantly affected and delays exceed 15 minutes," says Field.
Maximum delays are determined through GPS travel time readings between Sulphur Mountain and downtown Banff, compared to the travel time of an off-peak day in October. Northbound traffic from Sulphur Mountain to the vehicle bridge experiences the heaviest volumes in the afternoon as visitors return from the hot springs, gondola and Cave and Basin to hotels, campsites or the highway. The maximum delay on Saturday was 28 minutes and on Monday, 23 minutes. On Sunday, however, with the parking lot at Sulphur Mountain overflowing down Mountain Avenue (outside the town boundary), northbound traffic was at a crawl. The maximum delay was 1 hour and 38 minutes. Daily traffic data is posted to banff.ca.
Prior to this weekend, the busiest day was Sunday, July 27, with 25,899 vehicles and Canada Day, at 25,475 vehicles. The maximum delay on July 27 was 15.5 minutes. Because of the Banff Avenue closure, the maximum delay for Canada Day is not available.
The congestion raised concerns among some residents about access for emergency vehicles across the river. Fire Chief Silvio Adamo said the department has procedures in place for a variety of scenarios, and the pedestrian bridge was built to carry emergency vehicles such as ambulances and first response fire vehicles.
The Town will continue to employ mitigation measures on weekends. The Town also advises visitors and residents to plan ahead, avoid travelling by car in peak hours, and to use public transit, walk or cycle to their local destinations when possible.