There’s a high-crash location near you

152 Street at 104 Avenue in Surrey, outside the Guildford shopping centre

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia periodically posts data on crash locations in Greater Vancouver — looking through the rear-view mirror at sites that reported crashes from 2007 through 2011. [Note that this post refers to ICBC’s 2012 report; the corporation has deleted this report and posted newer numbers.]

Along with the overall pattern for vehicles, figures have been broken out for reported crashes involving cyclists and pedestrians.  The worst place for cyclists was the north end of the Burrard Street Bridge in downtown Vancouver.  For pedestrians, it was Main and Hastings, not far away.  I’ve provided numbers for various locations below.

What are the factors in creating a high-crash location?

Cyclists on the crosstown Tenth Avenue bike route at Clark Drive, City of VancouverFor cyclists, the answer looks like simple arithmetic: high volumes of cyclists (typically riding along bike routes) crossing paths with high volumes of vehicles.  We visited the intersection of Vancouver’s Tenth Avenue, a bike route, and Clark Drive, a truck route; the cyclists have the ability to activate a signal to stop the cars and trucks, but in my brief survey something like 30 per cent of them chose to scoot across Clark without using the signal.

For pedestrians, the formula looks more complex.

In many cases, traffic volume combines with vulnerable populations.  Main and Rental housing near King George and 104, SurreyHastings, the number one pedestrian crash location, is the key intersection in Canada’s poorest postal zone.  King George Boulevard, in Surrey’s long-troubled (now improving) Whalley district, has been the most dangerous place for pedestrians outside Vancouver City.  “People in this area like to run red lights,” said a young woman on a push scooter at the corner of King George and 104. “Especially in the middle of the night.”

To take a different kind of vulnerability, the highest pedestrian crash site in New Westminster is the intersection of Sixth Street and Eighth Avenue, at the doorstep of a large seniors’ residence.

Elsewhere, we see a high frequency of crashes around shopping centres (Guildford in Surrey, Aberdeen in Richmond, Valley Fair in Maple Ridge) or rapid transit (Broadway/Commercial) or both (Kingsway outside of Metrotown.)  Volume again, lots of people, lots of cars, with at least the normal proportion of people who are inebriated, not paying attention, or simply in a hurry.

The fact that we have a state-owned automobile insurance company in British Columbia is one of those local peculiarities that we like to write about on Fraseropolis, but not today.  I’ll simply note that the corporation has the resources to fund safety awareness programs and safety improvements on streets and highways.  They also employ road safety analysts such as Mark Milner, who was kind enough to share his thoughts on the pathology of cycling and pedestrian crashes, and the fact that most are caused by the drivers of motor vehicles.

“Most crashes are preventable,” he said.  “They’re mostly the result of what some drivers do: failing to yield right of way, running red lights, following too close.  During peak periods, people take more chances, especially if they’ve missed a few green lights.”

“Drivers tend to look for a gap in the vehicle traffic flow, but in a lot of cases they’re not looking for people in the crosswalk.  If we expect to see a lot of pedestrians, we look for them.  If it’s not what we’re looking for, our minds don’t process the information as quickly.”

“Tasks like driving a vehicle or crossing a street may seem simple and risk-free,” he said.  “They’re not.  They’re actually very complicated.”

By the way, communities can take steps to reduce the incidence of crashes; for example with separated bike routes, as on the Burrard Street Bridge, or lower speed limits, as at Main and Hastings.

Crash sites, Metro Vancouver 2007-2011

Broadway at Commercial, one of Metro Vancouver's busiest transit stations

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