A year ago I wrote a column criticizing the citys decision to grant the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) almost $100,000 towards a pedestrian safety plan, which at the time included a proposal to place crossing guards along Hastings Street to help people cross the road.
One year later, new recommendations from the city include lowering the speed limit on Hastings from 50 to 30 kilometres per hour along a six-block stretch between Abbott and Jackson streets.
That recommendation is just one idea being floated by the city to decrease pedestrian fatalities. As of July 12, eight pedestrians have died citywide compared to six in all of 2010.
I wanted to see if lowering the speed limit on Hastings made sense by driving that six-block stretch a dozen times at exactly 50 kilometres an hour to count the vehicles that passed me. The problem was that for the duration of my experiment, which took place between 11 a.m. and noon Friday, July 22, I couldnt reach 50 kilometres an hour until I travelled east of Jackson. Between the many buses pulling in and out of traffic, traffic lights and the dozens of pedestrians jaywalking, I was lucky to reach 40, and in fact spent much of the drive at 30. The bus drivers who work that Hastings stretch must have nerves of steel. During my hour hanging out near Main and Hastings Friday, I witnessed two extremely close calls from pedestrians who stepped into the street in front of buses.
Im sure vehicles on Hastings can reach greater speeds late at night, but on the other hand, traffic grinds to a halt during morning and evening rush hours, so I believe the expense needed to change the speed limit is unwarranted. The VPD agrees. In the citys report going to council July 26, Chief Jim Chu notes collision data suggests the majority of pedestrian fatalities are the result of people stepping onto the street when its unsafe and, to a lesser extent, inattentive drivers. According to the VPD, speed is not the primary contributing factor in most incidents and daytime traffic flow along that stretch of Hastings is typically less than 50 kilometres per hour. Other concerns raised by the VPD include anticipated significant increases in traffic complaints and citizens requests for enforcement and not enough staff to deal with them. Jerry Dobrovolny, the citys director of transportation and engineering, says the cost for the change would be divided between the city and VPD, but the exact numbers arent yet known.
While the city is concerned with pedestrians across Vancouver, the report notes the intersection at Main and Hastings is the most dangerous of 10 trouble spots. That intersection saw 32 pedestrian collisions between 2005 and 2009, compared to 22 at the second most dangerous intersection at Broadway and Commercial. The city is installing pedestrian countdown timers at each of the top 10 intersections, but from what I observed last Friday, I dont see how that technology will make a difference on Hastings Street. I parked my car on Hastings in the parking stall closest to the corner, facing east, which gave me a clear view of that intersection. And while I saw a lot of pedestrians and vehicles pass through the intersection safely, the many near collisions I saw came from people attempting to cross Hastings from the alley on the west side of the Carnegie Community Centre. A steady stream of able-bodied, jaywalking men and women crossed Hastings through traffic to buy drugs from two guys selling on the sidewalk. The fact so many ignored the crosswalk just metres away demonstrates it doesnt matter how long a Walk sign is lit if the pedestrians most at risk choose not to use it.