Traffic diversion failures threaten schools

Over 2 dozen Eastside neighbours gathered on a summer afternoon to sound off at Gregor (video)

Last June I experienced firsthand the public frustration felt by a neighbourhood over Vision Vancouver's haphazard bike route policies. Invited by a stranger who lives in the vicinity of East 45th Avenue & Elliott Street, I decided to find out why people were so upset with a street closure.

It turns out that a four-way stop at that intersection which had worked fine for a generation was now targeted for "calming" of a sort, allowing only cycles to move east-west along 45th.

Now cycling advocates, including my friend Gord Price, have consistently commented that the controversies of yesteryear over traffic calming in Shaughnessy and the West End are all a distant memory. No one, argues Price, would re-open a street currently blocked off in one of these neighbourhoods, and I agree with him.

However, the blockaded streets of the Killarney neighbourhood (my stomping grounds as a youth) are a different matter altogether. East 45th Avenue is an important secondary arterial to that neighbourhood. This is because between the thoroughfares of 41st and 49th Avenue there is only one street which permits easy connections from the homes east of Victoria Drive to important amenities like Killarney Park pool & rink, and grocery and liquor stores located off Tyne & Kingsway.

That neighbourhood also has a very high concentration of seniors who rely upon cars, hence the frustration of one gentleman I interviewed in the video above. East 45th is not just surplus road space in the Killarney neighbourhood, it’s a lifeline.

So today’s cover story of the Vancouver Courier by Naoibh O’Connor feels a bit like ‘I told you so’ to me. There are two elementary schools between Boundary Road and Vic Drive just one block off 45th – Weir and Waverly Elementary. Both have been hit hard by cars cutting through school zones where kids are trying to get to class in the morning. It makes the arrogance of Vision's policies all the more frustrating. It's a wonder that someone has not been seriously injured or killed yet along this corridor.

If the goal was to improve safety for people traveling along this route, this "six month trial" has been a failure. In fact, the City was already forced to replace the four-way stop at 45th & Elliott, but without removing the barricades. It was an obvious acknowledgement by Vancouver's Engineering Department that this was just plain dangerous road design.

O’Connor’s story permits Engineering to crow about traffic reductions, but she doesn’t ignore how it has affected the school. Parents and school administrators are burning up valuable time going back and forth with city officials, who have so far done nothing to address their concerns but talk.

Jerry Dobrovolny, the city’s director of transportation, said the diverter is part of a citywide effort to reduce the number of cars using bikeways. Traffic volume on 45th, which runs along the backside of the school, has dropped from 4,000 vehicles to 1,000, he said, adding the number and speed of vehicles in the general neighbourhood has also gone down.

Traffic on 44th, however, has climbed from 500 to 1,000 vehicles, Dobrovolny acknowledged, adding the congestion only occurs twice a day during drop-off and pick-up.

"Because it's a pilot program or trial, we're still tweaking, or dealing with some of the specific issues that exist and certainly the 45th and Weir school [location] is one of the specific issues that we're trying to work with because we're not satisfied we've reached the right solution as yet," he said.

Of course, when you cut off the main access to a neighbourhood traffic will drop off. The presence of both Killarney Park and the Avalon Dairy in this area forces drivers onto larger collector streets (41st & 49th). When you're a 70-something it just makes moving around that much more risky. I should point out that the six month trial period has passed at 45th & Elliott and the barricades are still there.

One of two things are going to happen in 2011 when it comes to this mistaken application of traffic blockades. Either the City will stand down because of mounting complaints, or more likely, the polls in Killarney are going to swing into the "anybody but Vision Vancouver" column. If my meeting last summer is any indication, the citizens in this community are not ready to back Mayor Gregor's plans.

- post by Mike

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