Posted in Opinions

How to make Metro Vancouver roads a safe haven

Take traffic accidents seriously if you don’t want to die

Car accident on the street.

Most of us are aware that driving in Vancouver is often reputed to be a near-death sentence for the uninitiated. We say this jokingly, but let’s look at a quick snapshot of some recent accidents in the Metro Vancouver area.

For just a couple of examples, we have: a car crash on Lougheed Highway in Coquitlam where a woman and two children lost their lives about two weeks ago on a stretch of road called “unsafe” by commenters online; a multi-vehicle accident last week in Surrey, hospitalizing three people; and, the following morning, another Surrey accident involving a car and a motorcycle, leaving the cyclist in “serious condition.” This isn’t new for our area, either.

Of course, many of the recent cases in our area have been suspected of a connection to drugs, alcohol, or otherwise unsafe driving. Some of the prior cases aside, this includes when two people died after crashing into a pole in Surrey or when six teenagers in Shaughnessy were hospitalized after hitting a tree.

All these incidents might imply that some blame falls on the cities themselves. Yes, drivers make dumb decisions, but enough innocents get caught up in those mistakes that the city should work harder to stop this. That aside, there are plenty of issues with the physical traffic routes themselves that cities could be fixing.

So, what are some ways to curb the dangers? I’ve got some ideas:

Bring back photo radar

Yeah, okay, I know the BC Liberals chucked this away nearly two decades ago, to the delight of many. But contrary to popular opinion — and, notably, in accord with the likely-educated opinion of our provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall — we really should resurrect it.

If you don’t know, photo radar basically means using cameras to track traffic faux pas and fine offenders. It seems pretty cut-and-dry to me, especially since the stats show that BC had fewer accidents in the five years we had it implemented, but a few concerns are commonly cited about such surveillance by people throughout the country.

Among Ottawa’s populace, for instance, these include the worry that rich people are more able to “afford” to speed, opinions that we should make speeding limits more reasonable instead of upping camera presence, and generally the idea that it’s just a “money grab.” Even our own 2016 transportation minister, Todd Stone, said that the program was just a tax grab.

You know what? A “rich person” who chooses to be dumb on two counts — purposely driving unsafely and throwing away their money — is not someone a less affluent person should envy. It’s not like not having the money to pay fines is some big inconvenience when you can just . . . not speed.

So, to be honest, I don’t think these are good reasons not to have it. Money grab or not, it obviously worked as intended. It’s only a money grab for people who intend to break the rules — so why are we scared of stepping on their toes?

Let’s prioritize protecting the tangible lives of drivers who get caught up in speeding accidents over protecting the weird sensibilities of people who either deserve to be fined or, frankly, aren’t affected.

Research what the biggest dangers actually are

Current transportation minister Marc Garneau’s recent laws targeted at stopping distracted driving are great, but as some have pointed out, distracted driving accounts for about one in 300 accidents a year here. The time spent drafting these laws could’ve easily been spent on any number of other bylaws — bylaws which would probably save more people.

What I’d like to see is, aside from more attention paid to gathering data on the biggest dangers to drivers, more work from municipal governments to canvas communities directly for their feelings about the routes. Ask them which roads make them feel anxious and why.

As mentioned above, take what the people consulted say with a grain of salt. Not everyone has the best reasons for raising certain arguments. The roads are for the public, so it only makes sense to see what dangers the public actually faces, and not the ones they do in theory, instead of waiting until enough accidents happen for the answer to become obvious.

Better road-construction planning

Surveillance aside, the roads themselves could use some polish. For instance, the recent Coquitlam accident led to enough of an uproar to get the City of Coquitlam to build a median barrier for Lougheed Highway, which is something that’s been missing for a while.

Yet just before this decision was made, Mayor Richard Stewart was claiming that “physical constraints of the road” made it non-viable. What this big flip-flop implies is that it was never impossible — the city just wasn’t motivated to go to the trouble.

That’s unacceptable behaviour, and though I should hope it doesn’t extend to the municipal governments of Burnaby, Surrey, etc. it does shed interesting light on why there are still enough obviously unsafe roads in our cities that Vancity Buzz has been driven to report on the top ten most dangerous intersections of Vancouver.

We need not to hesitate to do the brainstorming necessary to build highways that give drivers the best chance of surviving them.