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 lane 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

One response

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful letter, Ian, and I would like to assure you that I share your concerns about the need for upgrades to road safety. This fatal crash is another poignant reminder of the need for more safety improvements on our roadways. On March 24, 2015, MLA Marc Dalton, Mayor Nicole Read, municipal engineer David Pollock and myself, met with Transportation Minister Todd Stone to discuss how we can improve safety on the Lougheed Highway. Both levels of government are actively looking at this issue and both politicians and staff will find your letter to me about this incident at the Haney Bypass and Callaghan quite relevant. I will forward copies of your letter to both the Ministry of Transportation and the City of Maple Ridge as one more area that they must consider in their review. Thank you again for your helpful comments.

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