Roundabouts, Fast Ferries, and Downtown Density
3D View of Chapel Street Downtown (Google Street View)

This was a big week for urbanist news in Nanaimo! Downtown, the Vancouver Island Ferry Company (VIFC) broke ground on a new welcome centre, and a set of low-rise towers were approved behind the courthouse. And, in the North End of town, the Mary Ellen roundabout is finally complete.

Completion of the Mary Ellen Roundabout

Nanaimo’s dreaded Mary Ellen Drive is now complete! Barring some minor landscaping and road markings, this neat new roundabout is ready for use. This busy intersection is dreaded by most residents; both drivers and pedestrians can now safely navigate the area without needing to cut across five lanes of highway traffic.

New Mary Ellen Drive Roundabout Is Already In Use (Strong Towns Nanaimo) New Mary Ellen Drive Roundabout Is Already In Use (Strong Towns Nanaimo)

Roundabouts reduce the number of conflict points on the road. Traditional intersections have up to 32 conflict points, where two or more vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists can collide. In contrast, roundabouts typically have only eight conflict points, reducing the likelihood of accidents. Moreover, by eliminating the need for traffic lights or stop signs, roundabouts keep traffic moving, reducing the likelihood of accidents caused by sudden stops or starts. Roundabouts also eliminate the possibility of high-speed, head-on collisions. In traditional intersections, drivers often run red lights or fail to yield, leading to high-speed, head-on collisions. Roundabouts, on the other hand, require drivers to slow down and merge, reducing the risk of head-on collisions.

Upcoming Hullo Fast Ferry Downtown

Buckle up: The Vancouver Island Ferry Company (VIFC) is preparing to launch their fast-ferry service connecting downtown Nanaimo to downtown Vancouver. On Wednesday, the VIFC debuted their new branding and broke ground on its new welcome centre at 100 Port Drive downtown. VIFC also highlighted Hullo’s modern high-speed catamaran vessels. Each vessel can accommodate over 350 passengers. The VIFC also noted that passengers will be able to reserve seats in advance on either economy, premium, or business class.

VIFC's New Hullo High-Speed Catamarans (Vancouver Island Ferry Company) VIFC’s New Hullo High-Speed Catamarans (Vancouver Island Ferry Company)

While locals are skeptical given the numerous failed attempts at a fast-ferry service in town, the VIFC are confident that they’re here to stay. Here’s what you need to know:

  • A trip is estimated to take 70 minutes, downtown-to-downtown
  • Both catamarans can carry 354 passengers
  • There will be free WIFI on both catamarans
  • They’re anticipating roughly 7 round-trip sailings daily
  • Vancouver terminal is located at 1055 Canada Place
  • Nanaimo terminal is located at 100 Port Drive
  • There will be parking available on both sides

It’s incredibly exciting to see a modern fast-ferry come to Nanaimo. Hullo will provide a much-needed alternative to BC Ferries and the floatplanes. Funding for the project came from Conqora Capital Partners, a private equity firm, as well as both the Port Authority and the Snuneymuxw First Nation.

Three New Downtown Residential Low-Rises Approved by Nanaimo City Council

Lastly, Nanaimo city council approved three new six-storey residential buildings downtown. Located at 77 Chapel Street behind the Nanaimo Courthouse, these buildings would add an additional 157 housing units to our growing downtown. The approved design also includes two public plazas which would help improve the urban fabric of downtown.

Layout of Three New Six-Storey Towers Downtown (City of Nanaimo) Layout of Three New Six-Storey Towers Downtown (City of Nanaimo)

Two of the three buildings would be condos while the third would serve as a purpose-built rental comprising 84 of the 157 units proposed. This spot downtown is currently a surface parking lot, so it’s reassuring to see Nanaimo city council approve a more financially resilient and pleasant urban space to replace it. Surface parking lots can have several negative impacts on downtown areas. They take up valuable space that could be used for other purposes, such as retail, housing, or public spaces. This can result in a lack of diversity and vibrancy in the downtown area, which can make it less attractive to visitors and residents. Surface parking lots also increase traffic congestion and make it more difficult for pedestrians to navigate the downtown area. Large parking lots can create barriers that pedestrians must navigate, and cars entering and exiting the parking lot can create safety hazards for all residents. In short: this new development is a welcome addition to our growing downtown and we’re excited to see it built!

Roundabouts, Fast Ferries, and Downtown Density
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Roundabouts, Fast Ferries, and Downtown Density