Standing on the corner of East Georgia and Penticton streets on a sunny Wednesday morning, Max Richter watches as car after car passes through the intersection.
It’s just after 8 a.m., and a steady stream of vehicles heads west through the quiet Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood. Most appear to be heading toward busy Nanaimo Street and a line forms as the cars wait for a chance to turn. Richter, an architect who has lived in the neighbourhood for nine years, says traffic volumes and speeds have always been a concern, but it’s been getting busier in recent months.
There was a bit of a reprieve during last year’s closure of the Adanac overpass. Last spring, the city closed the overpass from Highway 1 to Cassiar temporarily so drivers wouldn’t use it as a shortcut in and out of the city while Fortis B.C. was upgrading its underground gas line along East First Avenue.
That work has been complete for several months, and the overpass re-opened in January. Since then, Richter says, traffic has been even worse. East Georgia is particularly bad for speeding, he says, because it is wider than some of the other side streets. It is almost two metres wider than Turner Street, which is one block to the north.
“Sometimes they’ll be going well over 60 kilometres an hour,” Richter says of the vehicles he has seen speeding along East Georgia.
“This neighbourhood has become known as a way to shortcut around Hastings.”
On one recent morning, Richter recorded video of a large tour bus making its way along East Georgia towards Nanaimo. One of his neighbours recently conducted their own, informal traffic count — tallying 50 cars in just five minutes one morning.
“You’ll see, sometimes, 15 cars lined up waiting to turn left or right [on to Nanaimo],” Richter said.
And Nanaimo is currently undergoing a number of improvements itself. Work is already underway to upgrade sewer infrastructure along Nanaimo between McGill Street and Fourth Avenue, while also improving the road to “make it safer and more comfortable for everyone,” according to the city’s website.
Recommended improvements include: removing a travel lane between Second Ave and Pandora Street, upgrading pedestrian crossings, installing a painted bike lane and new left-turn lanes down centre of the street.
Richter is concerned that removing a travel lane will lead to bottlenecks along Nanaimo.
Mike Hengeveld lives a few blocks east of Renfrew on East Georgia near Windermere Street. He says traffic started becoming a concern about seven years ago and notes traffic volume, speed and lawlessness as his primary concerns.
He routinely sees drivers going the wrong way around roundabouts, blowing through stop signs and running over the traffic bollards.
“A neighbor reported watching a dude get out of his truck with a [reciprocating saw] and cut a bollard off,” he told the Courier in an email.
Hengeveld says the traffic peaks during the morning and afternoon rush hours.
“There is a steady flow of delivery/work/service vehicles during the day,” he says. “It is a well-established short-cut.”
Hengeveld says he has yet to see any recognition or discussion around how the problem will likely get worse — more volume, more speeders — as the population in the Lower Mainland continues to grow.
A November 2016 traffic study conducted by the city noted that more than 70 per cent of drivers travelling through the neighbourhood during rush hour, westbound in the morning and eastbound in the afternoon, are coming from other cities.
Both Richter and Hengeveld have contacted the city to voice their concerns about the traffic in the neighbourhood.
In an emailed statement from its communications department, the city said it is “committed to working with residents and local stakeholders. We are currently gathering local resident feedback via email and are planning a community workshop in the fall of 2019.
“We realize there are challenges in this area, and look forward to working with the community to assess a few different concepts for the local street network.”
The city also said it is currently conducting traffic counts in the neighbourhood to help understand the traffic patterns.
“We will present potential mitigations in our network concepts that will be presented to the public in the fall.”