An open letter about a fatal crash

2015 05 10 crashThe following letter was sent by email on May 18, 2015 to Doug Bing, member of the British Columbia Legislature for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.

Dear Doug,

Re: Fatal crash on the Haney Bypass

On Sunday afternoon, May 10, 2015, two vehicles collided at the intersection of the Haney Bypass and Callaghan Avenue  near our home in Maple Ridge. A 14-year old passenger died in hospital the next day.

I was reminded of the letter I wrote to you in February 2014 about the frequent crack-ups and near-misses at this corner. Our elderly neighbour had just walked away from a pile-up that he was lucky to survive.

This is a provincial road, built in the 1980s to speed traffic through the city. Callaghan has always been a tough intersection, with southbound drivers on the Bypass accelerating down the hill. A partial widening a few years ago made conditions worse. The new 600-metre curb lane ends abruptly at a concrete island, leaving inattentive or erratic drivers to swerve unexpectedly into the centre lane at the last moment. This randomizing of driver behaviour puts all traffic directions at risk.

I said in my 2014 note that overhead and pavement signage was needed to signal that the curb  lane is not a through lane.  A couple of small “Right Lane Must Exit” signs were tacked up. They may have helped slightly, but it’s not enough.

Your assistant responded at that time that you are reluctant to meddle in highways operations. The point is worth noting, but is counterbalanced by the reality of the provincial legislator’s local role, which is to accept public input and pass it on to the government. I would ask you again to take this forward because lives are at stake, and because the junior highway officials responsible for this stretch of road lack the budget, the mandate and the job permanence to make a real difference. We are now on at least our third area manager for highways in 18 months.

The problem here is that drivers turning on to or off the highway must guess the intentions of drivers travelling  down the curb lane. This uncertainty compounds driver risk at an already busy intersection.  None of the options for improvement is perfect, and all of them may meet resistance from highway engineers because they will compromise the goal of keeping traffic flowing as quickly as possible.

A cheap and obvious fix would be to return the road to something like its pre-2005 condition by blocking the curb lane at the top of the hill. This would force the drivers into a single lane and (mostly) eliminate the guessing game at Callaghan. Unfortunately it would also slow traffic, making the westbound left turn even more difficult than it is now.

Another step, the expected step, would be to combine the blocking of the curb lane with the installation of a signal light at Callaghan. This would slow traffic even further, and partially defeat the original purpose of the Bypass. However, it would largely eliminate crashes except for those caused by people who choose to race the lights.

On Highway 9 near Chilliwack, where crashes were common at the Popkum corner, the Ministry chose to install B.C.’s first provincial modern roundabout. Highway planners might see this as tool as too costly for the Haney Bypass, although online data suggests that traffic volumes at Callaghan are in the order of three times the volume at Popkum. A roundabout would keep traffic flowing and eliminate serious crashes altogether. But it would requiring the acquisition of property on east of the Bypass and negotiation with the City; and in the end it might be rejected because of unacceptable impacts on the residential development the Ministry has recently permitted west of the Bypass.

As a final option, the Bypass could be realigned to allow the extension of the curb land through the Callaghan intersection. This would require the purchase of property on the east side of the bypass and the installation of a signal light.

A contributing factor in all this is the “anything goes” mentality among many motorists on B.C. roads. It is past time to step up the level of traffic enforcement by police. The number of people dying on our roads appears to be declining in recent years, from a reported 319 in 2010 to 245 in 2013, but the reported number of injuries increased in the same period, to an estimated 85,000 in 2013. ICBC reports 1,430 vehicle-related injuries in Maple Ridge in 2013.

In other words, the average B.C. resident has a one in 50 chance of being injured in a vehicle-related crash in any given year. Surely this is justification enough for robust action to crack down on dangerous driving. You or your office may respond that this is a municipal matter, but it’s a challenge that is shared by all municipalities, and the province could take the lead by designing initiatives and imposing stricter penalties.

I hope this is useful. Please accept my best wishes, and thank you for your hard work.


Thomas Ian McLeod

Transit use is highest among lower income households

The University of British Columbia and health authority partners recently published a snapshot of transportation habits in Metro Vancouver based on an online survey of more than 28,000 people.

Transit mode shareAmong respondents, 29 per cent said they commute by public transit, compared with 55 per cent who travel in personal vehicles. A high-level map suggests that transit use is above average in tower-dominated Skytrain nodes and in many urban villages, even remote spots like downtown Langley and  downtown Maple Ridge.

Demographically, transit users are likely to be lower income, or recent immigrants, or people from visible minorities, and often all three. There’s a sharp drop-off in transit use even in households that have risen above the $40,000 per year level.

Transit use

These findings resemble survey results from other North American jurisdictions. The American Public Transportation Association, for example, found that fewer than half the transit users it surveyed in the U.S. owned a private motor vehicle. The issue of transit use and income was considered in a February 25, 2014 post on

Step onto a bus in any American city and you’ll find riders who are poorer and more likely to be minorities than those traveling by car. It’s a socioeconomic gap that’s persisted across most of the nation’s cities for decades.

Some transit operators have responded in recent years by trying to broaden their base, shifting their marketing and service priorities to middle-class populations. The countervailing strategy — the businesslike strategy — is to keep service focused on  people who’ve shown they will use transit, and who choose to live in places that can be easily served.

Michael Terry, president and CEO of Indianapolis Public Transportation Corp., said attracting such riders will require extending service to revitalized neighborhoods, greater frequency of service and longer operating hours. “We’re not trying to be a social service safety net,” he said. “We’re trying to develop a system that supports economic development focusing on the areas of density.”…

UCLA’s [Professor Brian] Taylor points out it’s generally more cost-effective to improve existing bus service than establish new transit lines to potentially reach another cohort of commuters. “We need to focus more on how to get bang for the buck and not necessarily on the next ribbon cutting,” he said.

Public transit provides widespread benefits for workers and employers, and for students and trainees, and so helps to drive the labour market and the economy. It also brings seniors closer to services and activities, and delivers customers to merchants in transit-friendly commercial zones.

In Metro Vancouver, unfortunately, we can’t find a consensus on how to distribute these benefits, and we may be headed for the worst of scenarios. There is resistance in this region to any formula that would lead to increased transit funding, on the presumption that efficiency gains should allow the system to keep pace with demand; but there’s also an expectation, sometimes from the same people, that the system should serve every neighbourhood. To meet this second expectation, buses are sent to run empty through the most affluent, dispersed, and transit-indifferent communities. One likely outcome is that as financial resources are squeezed, we will have less and less service for the people who actually need it.

Lonsdale bus cropped


Revisiting fabulous Cloverdale

Street 1

I recently returned to Cloverdale for a solo Sunday afternoon tour, three years after my first report on this historic commuter railway village in Metro Vancouver.

A local paper had suggested the business association might be falling apart, with the cancellation of major public events in 2015 due to a “lack of sponsorships.”

The eastern side of Surrey, British Columbia’s second largest city, has developed rapidly in recent years. Cloverdale’s special status as a somewhat self-contained urban village is acknowledged in the city government’s area plan (2000) and updated land use map (2013). Eight or 10 blocks of adjacent medium-density housing provide the beginnings of a customer base for local merchants and professional services. A minor campus of Kwantlen University is a 10- to 15-minute walk from the main street shops and restaurants.

However, it’s a difficult site: provincial highways on the south and west sides, with farmland beyond the highway to the south; and a sprawling fairground to the north that stands empty in most months (except, perhaps, for the ghosts of rodeos past.) As noted in my previous post, the city government has not been especially helpful, approving the construction of automobile-dependent strip malls not far away.

The big hope for the village, a planned mixed-use development on the west side, was ready to go in 2012. However, the land is still sitting idle, as shown below.

West Cloverdale compressedStreet 2The good news, I think, is that the village showed signs of life on a Sunday afternoon. There were antique shops open, the café-bakery looked busy, and a new pub had  customers. (There are people in the photo to the left, if you look closely.) The condition of the commercial buildings is slightly better than in 2012, although a railway-station-style pub project at the north end of the main street has failed.

Development has stalled for now, although there’s lots of room for residential growth on the vacant land shown above and in parts of the village core. There’s half-hourly public transit east and west; it struck me that increasing the frequency of connections to jobs and shopping might bring more residents, but this seems unlikely in the near term.

As with some other historic settlements in the suburbs, Cloverdale village appears to be on hold, waiting for a major developer or employer, or the real estate group mind, to fully recognize it as an architectural and character asset.

[This is an update of post #1 in our Urban Villages series. An updated index has been linked to the “Urban Villages” page.] 

shops 2

Shops 3

Fort Langley evolves

shops 1

For more than a generation, historic Fort Langley has evolved as a day-trip destination for people in eastern Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. It features a walkable main street of coffee shops and art galleries, built alongside an 1840s-era  national historic site.

Fort Langley plan 2006In recent years Fort Langley has taken a leap forward in both liveability and visitor interest. The Bedford Landing riverside development, shown in gold on the map to the left, includes an inviting walking trail system and new commercial and cultural space. The emergence of Bedford Landing and smaller developments has pushed the Fort Langley population up from the 2,700 maximum contemplated in the 1987 area plan, to something over 3,700, going by the municipal estimate. Continue reading

An open door for offshore home buyers

Kitsilano, City of Vancouver West

Kitsilano, City of Vancouver West

New real estate numbers for British Columbia’s Lower Mainland suggest that the long rise in house prices is accelerating in the City of Vancouver and adjacent suburbs.

In all these areas, the benchmark price for a detached home has surpassed a million dollars. This is far beyond the reach of most working families, with troubling side effects. Continue reading

An urban hub for Metro Vancouver’s northeast sector

The Coquitlam urban core, from a 2013 municipal presentation. City Hall is upper left.

The Coquitlam urban core, from a 2013 municipal presentation. City Hall is the low-rise complex upper left. At least three new towers have joined this set within a 16-month period.

The streets behind the Coquitlam Centre mall feel like a pop-up city, construction dust still filtering down from unfinished towers.

Coquitlam transit-oriented areasThis is the core of a designated Coquitlam City Centre planning area, slated to double in population to more than 50,000 in the next two decades. The municipal government’s area plan sees the densified city centre as the future “arts, entertainment and cultural focal point for the Northeast Sector of the Metro Vancouver Region.” The northeast sector, by most definitions, stretches from Port Moody to Maple Ridge, and will house (hypothetically) half a million people by 2040. Continue reading

The East Village — “the heart of East Van”?

New commercial + 3 structure at Hastings and Templeton, Vancouver

New commercial + 3 structure at Hastings and Templeton, Vancouver

Vancouver’s Hastings Street east from Templeton Street is seeing rapid change. Ageing one-story shopfronts are going down in favour of four-storey complexes like the one pictured above.

I walked through here recently with my sister Morna, who has lived close by for more  than thirty years. The big fruit and vegetable stores are hanging on, but the Italian deli is gone, and the shoe stores. Instead, the trend is to latte bars and niche veterinary practices. It’s becoming more like Kitsilano, an affluent and sought-after quarter over towards the University of British Columbia. Continue reading