With an unusually high number of pedestrian crashes so far this year, the City of Port Alberni is looking into ways to improve pedestrian safety on the roads.
In the first three months of 2021, two people died and two others were seriously injured after being hit by vehicles in crosswalks within city limits.
According to data from ICBC, the number of crashes involving pedestrians in Port Alberni changes every year, ranging from one crash in 2017 to 11 crashes in 2016. The average is around six per year. ICBC does not say how many of these crashes were fatal, but on Vancouver Island in general, the average number of pedestrian deaths is seven per year.
With three crashes in the first three months of 2021—two of them fatal—Port Alberni is already well on its way past the yearly average.
During a council meeting on March 22, City of Port Alberni engineering manager Rob Dickinson explained that the city will be partnering with ICBC to improve traffic safety in the city—including pedestrian safety. The city has hired consultant McElhanney Ltd. to complete a “Network Screening Study” to identify the top 20 collision-prone intersections in the city, prioritize them and propose improvements. The cost will be shared 50-50 with ICBC, and the study is anticipated to take four months to complete.
“It looks for the most part at ICBC data, it looks at historical traffic counts and determines where the most accidents are happening,” said Dickinson. “But it also incorporates RCMP data and community correspondence.”
Some of the potential improvements range from lighting to painting lines to additional signage to pedestrian-activated lights. By completing the study and having “shovel-ready” improvements planned, the city will be able to apply for more funding opportunities, said Dickinson.
“We’re expecting that this would actually increase grant opportunities, as well as funding from ICBC,” said Dickinson.
In a later interview, Dickinson explained that the city is always looking at road improvements for pedestrians, even outside of the anticipated Network Screening Study.
“There are several intersections we already know are problems, from external data,” he said. “We’re looking at improvements there. Some of them are going to be quite expensive. We don’t want to wait [for a study] to get started on them.”
One of these is the intersection at 10th Avenue and Redford Street. ICBC data shows that this intersection is one of the worst crash locations in the city, with 57 traffic collisions over five years (2015-2019), including a cyclist fatality in 2017.
Dickinson said the city is currently in the “design phase” for this intersection, determining what improvements will take place.
Another intersection of note is 10th Avenue and Dunbar Street, also the scene of a cyclist fatality in November 2018. Most recently, a resident whose home is at this intersection had a vehicle careen around a corner, cross a sidewalk and cause damage to two vehicles in their driveway. City council plans to discuss this intersection at their next meeting (April 26).
Other intersections of concern involve provincially-owned roads, like Johnston Road and River Road. Dickinson said the city is frequently “in discussions” with the province about upgrades to these roads.
“Especially when accidents happen,” he added.
According to ICBC, the top contributing factors when it comes to pedestrian crashes are either driver error—distracted driving or a failure to yield the right of way—or inclement weather. The majority of pedestrian crashes take place in the fall and winter (between October and January).
ICBC offers tips for pedestrians (make eye contact with drivers, be as reflective as possible) and tips for drivers (focus on the road), but Dickinson said there are things municipalities can do to make the roads safer for pedestrians, as well. Curb extensions (or bulb-outs) can extend the sidewalk and reduce how much time a pedestrian actually spends in a crosswalk.
“One thing, for this community especially, is narrowing the roads,” said Dickinson. “[Pedestrians] are vulnerable as soon as they step off that curb.”
Another technique for narrowing roads involves putting reflective markers in the road to “pinch” traffic and help drivers slow down.
Lighting is also a major part of pedestrian safety, said Dickinson. The city is currently in the process of replacing many of their street lights with LED bulbs, which will be both brighter and more energy efficient.