Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Poor Road Building in BC

Did you know that there are four agencies that look after roads in Greater Vancouver? YVR, the Province, Translink, and our local communities. Out of those four agencies, I have a problem with one. You guess it, the Province. Now it’s not just the Gateway Program that I have issues with, but with the way in which the province builds roads.

The Ministry of Transportation builds ALL new roads to have 12-foot width lanes and big shoulders. What's the matter with 12-foot lanes? Not much from the perspective of a semi, but from everywhere there is much.

12-foot lanes are the standard of the Interstate highway system in the US, being able to handle traffic at speed in excess of 100km/h. Do you ever wonder why its so easy to go 130km/h on a freeway and not realize it, yet going 50km/h on a side street in Vancouver seems like the suicide mission? It’s all about the geometric design (lane width, parking, trees, etc.) of the road. Narrower road tend to lead to lower speeds while wider road lead to higher speeds.

Now you might be wondering about safety. Wide and narrow road both have accident, but suffer from different type. The jury seems to be out one which kind of road is better for overall safety. What they do know is that changing lane widths causes accidents. The Ministry of Transportation has a report that states “experienced highway designers know intuitively that an inconsistent design in terms of the geometric elements is not as safe as one that is consistent.” One example that comes to mind is the Pattullo Bridge. (Its 10-feet wide lanes are actually wider than the arterial roads in Vancouver, and the same width as the new Fraser Highway.) The lanes and design on the approach to the bridge are significantly wider than on the bridge. Doing a quick search, it seems that many of the accidents happen in this transition before driver before get used to the narrow lane (the south side of the bridge is built like a freeway) and lower speed (have you ever gone the speed limit on that bridge?) The City of Surrey and Translink should look at narrowing the lanes of King George Highway between the bridge and 128th Street and reevaluate the grade separation at Scott Road. This would slow the traffic before the bridge.

Wider roads are less people and less city friendly. The City of Surrey along with many of municipalities in North America want to keep traffic moving, but not at the expense of livability. The current City of Surrey Transportation Plan calls for roads with narrow lanes, bike lanes, sidewalks, and trees. This keeps the speed of vehicles reasonable while allow other users to take advantage of the road. While talking about good streetscape is beyond this post, these pictures speak more than I could type.

Bad Design in Cranbrook, BC

Good Design in San Fransisco, CA

This gets me back to the road agencies in Vancouver. VYR can do whatever it likes with its road because its an airport, and airports aren't exactly livable community. Translink gives money to the municipalities to build roads. Municipalities build road that are inline with their objectives. Those objects usually are for safe, people friendly roads. This gets me back to the Province. Why are they building 100km/h roads still? Why is Highway 10, 15, and the South Fraser Perimeter Road being built like freeways? While the speed limit may be 80km/h, no one will go that. Why not build complete roads that are 70km/h or less? Do we really want to allow 100km/h vehicles in our neighborhood? Do you want to walk on a sidewalk next to a 100km/h vehicle?

The really question is: do we want city friendly roads, or freeways? Both can handle large amounts of traffic, one at 100km/h one at 50-70km/h. I’d rather have a 8 lane road with narrower lanes, trees, wide sidewalks, bike lanes, and parking; than a 4 lane freeway any day.

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