Everything You Wanted to Know About Our Roads - But Were Afraid to Ask
Sixteen gathered for a conversation with Andrew Gaetz, manager of Emcon, our road maintenance contractor, and Jake Roder, our Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) Area Manager,
After a moving Territorial Acknowledgment, we learned from Andrew that our maintenance crew is working hard to complete spring duties like moving, sweeping, and brush clearing. Their sights will soon turn to larger projects, such as the smaller paving jobs. (MoTI is responsible for the larger paving projects, but Emcon takes responsibility for some of the smaller projects.)
Questions began with a concern about safety issues on the narrow, winding Vesuvius Bay Road. We learned that it is 3.5 km long and has 14 curves, six hills that obscure sight of oncoming traffic, and eight intersections. He recounted six occasions last year alone in which he drove his vehicle on a curve to encounter a car barreling down on him on the wrong side of the road. On each of these occasions, the oncoming vehicle had diverted from its lane to pass a cyclist riding properly on the side of the road.
While all of Vesuvius Bay Road is dangerous, this participant believes that the most dangerous section is between the first Mobrae and Broadwell. He stated his understanding that the funds needed to re-engineer this dangerous road would not be available in the near future. Instead, he offered some immediate and inexpensive solutions: He suggested better signage reminding drivers not to cross the double yellow line as well as placing cat’s eyes on the double lines so that drivers are reminded when they do cross the lines. He believes that these cat’s eyes would offer an inexpensive solution despite the fact that snow plows routinely dislodge them.
Jake responded that MoTI generally does not put signs reminding drivers to follow the law (like crossing yellow lines) - studies have found that too many signs generally result in drivers ignoring all of them. While cat’s eyes are used in municipalities, these cities have to designate funds to pay crews to re-install them after they have been dislodged.
Another participant asked about re-directing cyclists off Vesuvius Bay Road and on to residential streets. Jake felt that signage indicating this alternate route would be supported by MoTI. He welcomed the Transportation Commission to work with him to identify a safer route and sign it appropriately. When asked whether cycling could be banned on Vesuvius Bay Road once this alternate route had been established, Jake doubted that this would be supported by MoTI.
When Jake was asked whether the unpaved shoulders could be paved to better accommodate cyclists, he replied that it was sometimes possible, but that, too often, unintended consequences complicate projects. He cited drainage and utility issues that often make seemingly-simple projects far more expensive than anticipated.
Before moving on to other questions, the participant who introduced this topic closed by reminding us that when locally-made signs were placed on Vesuvius Bay Road reminding drivers not to cross the double yellow line, the frequency of these too-frequent near accidents seemed to decrease. Then. . . they were taken down, most destroyed. There was agreement that this dangerous road needed to be further discussed: There was interest in learning about the recommendations of the Transportation Commission expected in its upcoming meeting.
Switching gears, a resident of Beddis Road, speaking for a concerned resident group, asked why maintenance of the privately-owned portion of Beddis Road had ceased. She asked what had gone wrong, reminding us that this section had been well-maintained by MoTI for years. She specifically asked that potholes be fixed and that the brush and branches encroaching onto the road removed. Reminding us of the Beddis residents (many of whom are seniors) who need this stretch of the highway, she expressed a widely-shared concern that the danger was getting more serious the longer MoTI ignored it.
Jake responded that this stretch of privately-owned road is an extremely-contentious issue, currently in the hands of MoTI’s Properties Team. While this is out of his realm of responsibility, he did share that the Minister had been asked to expropriate this section but that he had declined to move this process forward. Andrew confirmed that Emcon was only authorized to provide winter maintenance for this privately-owned stretch of road.
Later in the gathering, this participant asked how emergency vehicles could serve them with this section of the road in disrepair. She asked whether the planned expansion of our bus service to Beddis would be halted due to the rumoured inability to get insurance. She also asked why the mowing across from the beach had ceased. (Andrew will look into this.) The outcome of this discussion was that Jake and she will have each other’s contact information so that she and her neighbors can at least have the information given to Jake about this concern.
Another participant asked about the veracity of the rumour that MoTI was only interested in vehicular flow and volume, uninterested in reducing speed limits to increase safety. While Jake told us that rural provincial roads were generally 50 km/h, he agreed that those limits were too fast in our village.
As decisions about speed limits are in the hands of engineers, Jake has requested a team of engineers to asses Salt Spring speed limits. While it could take a while to initiate, this project is in the MoTI queue; Jake checks every few months to make sure that it remains in MoTI’s sights. It is also possible that Salt Spring will be accepted as a Motor Vehicle Act pilot community to study reducing our speed limits. (We are still waiting for the release of this Request for Proposal. Expected this spring, it is now likely that it will be released Fall 2021 at the earliest.) Jake believes that participation in this pilot study could be very helpful assessing our speed limits.
When asked about other traffic calming techniques, like narrowing the road with landscaping and roundabouts, Jake was open to taking our suggestions to his engineers. But, he also cautioned that budgets are needed to maintain and assume liability for these innovations; On Salt Spring, CRD would have to agree to take this responsibility as well as, possibly, shouldering some of the initial costs.
When asked about timing of such requests, Jake prefers an all encompassing study with recommendations rather than addressing possibilities one at a time. (Note: the CRD Transportation Commission will soon be conducting a Ganges Active Transportation Study to accomplish just that.)
The prohibited left turn from Lower Ganges Road to Norton Road should better indicated, according to one participant. This could be accomplished by something as simple as painting a solid centre line rather than the current break in the line, potentially interpreted as permission to turn left. Also, while it was noted that there was a No left turn sign on the right, it was suggested there be a sign on the left as well. (This same request came later when a newer resident told of turning left onto MacPhilips to the shock of facing oncoming traffic. While there is a No left turn sign on the right there as well, he surmised that he was not the first to miss this sign.) Jake responded that, while placing No left turn signs on the left as well as the right side was not common practice, he would look onto the legality of a second sign at these two locations.
Concluding that painting the line was relatively easy, it was agreed that we would get permission from Jake and hire a road painter to make this line solid the next time this painter is on Salt Spring.
A participant expressed her concern about cars parked solidly along our Ganges streets (especially during the Saturday Market), making it very dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians alike. While MoTI can designate No Parking areas along their rights of way, MoTI does not manage parking. The CRD Transportation Commission could manage parking enforcement, but this would require establishing, staffing, and funding such a service, likely requiring a referendum.
When Jake was asked why we do not encourage use of parking lots like those of the school during busy Saturdays, we determined that this, again, would not be a MoTI responsibility. Instead, the Transportation Commission (possibly partnering with the CRD’s Community Economic Development Commission and the Chamber) could set up agreements and systems to guide tourists to parking lots rather than parking on our congested roads.
When the danger of vehicles pulling through pedestrian crosswalks to get the view they need to enter the cross traffic was raised, we learned that this was a very common practice. Drivers must first check the crosswalk and allow pedestrians to proceed, only then pulling across the crosswalk to merge into cross traffic. We also learned that every intersection is legally a crosswalk and that MoTI does not like the painted crosswalks as they give pedestrians a false sense of security. Instead, it is the pedestrian’s responsibility to cross only at intersections and to catch the eye of the approaching drivers before proceeding, whether they are on painted crosswalks or simply intersections.
When asked about snow piled at bus stops, Andrew agreed that it was a problem. Snow plowing equipment piles snow to the right as it proceeds down streets, leaving a ridge of snow along their path. Later in our gathering, a participant who was intrigued by helping to create art-inspired bus shelters on Salt Spring suggested these locally-built shelters also have a snow shovel mounted on the side. What better way to pass the time while waiting for a bus while also getting the exercise needed to keep warm?
Concerning removing snow from sidewalks and pathways, that responsibility falls to owners when they are on private property and CRD when the sidewalks and pathways are under their jurisdiction.
When a participant asked about 10 dead or nearly dead trees, Andrew promised to get his crew to the location early next week to determine if there are on MoTI right of way or private property.
MoTI was acknowledged for approving the permit for the bench sponsored by the Chamber on Lower Ganges Road adjacent to the Firehall, noting how well it is already being utilized. Jake was told that this is hoped to be the first of many such bench installations, a step toward bringing the zing back to our village. (Note: The builder of this bench - and well as 35 other benches around our community - was a participant at this ASK Salt Spring gathering. Also participating was the Chamber and the donors of three benches.)
We learned from Andrew that, partially as a result of many local requests, Emcon is seeking better sweeping equipment that would stay on Salt Spring. With this equipment and crew training , it is hoped that Emcon will be able to sweep our streets more often than the MoTI-required once-a-year sweeping . . . Thanks, Andrew!
It is MoTI’s experience that too many signs have the effect of busy wallpaper and tend to be ignored by too many motorists. Despite this, Jake was asked about the possibility of creating unique, artistic, quintessentially Salt Spring signs. (This idea was suggested by our Adam, our MLA, at a recent ASK Salt Spring gathering.) We learned that Jake has been discussing a similar project with Mayne residents. He is supportive, especially at the ferry terminals and when entering Ganges, reminding folks they are on a rural island and to slow down. While we would need his support to confirm safe locations as well as acquiring a permit, Jake was quite supportive of such unique Salt Spring signs. Hey artists. . . anyone interested?
As 1:00 approached, we all thanked Andrew and Jake for taking time from their busy schedules to give us information and discuss ways to address our road concerns. We expressed our appreciation for their willingness to work with us to seek creative solutions for our lovely, hilly, winding, country lanes that suddenly seem to have become crowded with cars, cyclists, and pedestrians.
Please join us next week, June 4, 11-1, to welcome our MLA Adam back again.
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What will Adam ask for from our Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure? Will it help Salt Spring’s roads? What about more bike lanes?
Please join us Friday, June 4, 11-1, to ask your questions, listen to those of others, and participate in rich, respectful conversations.
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