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Road-safety plan needs more focus on walkable neighbourhoods, says pedestrian advocate

Saanich unveiled the first draft this week of a 10-year road safety plan that would include installing safer insfrastructure at high-risk intersections
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Cyclists cross in front of vehicles on McKenzie Avenue at Borden Street in Saanich. More than half of those who responded to a road safety survey reported feeling unsafe while cycling in Saanich. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

While Saanich’s draft road-safety plan hits the right notes, it lacks detail and doesn’t include specific information on funding, says a member of the Capital Regional District’s Traffic Safety Commission.

On Tuesday, Saanich unveiled the first draft of a 10-year road safety plan that would include installing safer infrastructure at high-risk intersections, as well as other improvements.

Todd Litman, who represents pedestrian advocacy group Walk On, Victoria on the CRD commission, said road safety can’t just be tackled by making improvements to 20 intersections, since pedestrians aren’t just at risk in high-risk intersections. “Pedestrians are at risk in all kinds of situations, particularly where there isn’t a sidewalk.”

Litman said there should be more in the plan about creating transit and pedestrian-oriented neighbourhoods that are less dependent on vehicle travel, since those areas tend to have lower traffic fatality rates than “automobile-dependent sprawl.”

“Part of a smart traffic-safety program is actually just making sure that anybody that wants to live in one of those safe, compact, walkable neighbourhoods be able to do so,” he said.

Litman pointed to the Saanich core — bounded by Tolmie to the south and Uptown to the north — Burnside and Gorge-Tillicum areas as examples of areas where denser neighbourhoods are being built.

“Are we going to spend money widening highways and building more parking facilities or is Saanich going to take those infrastructure investments and instead spend them on completing the sidewalk and crosswalk networks, improving bicycle facilities, and improving public transit?” he asked.

Mayor Dean Murdock called addressing road safety concerns a top priority for council. In 2022, the district adopted the Vision Zero policy, an ambitious goal to eliminate serious injuries and fatalities on roadways.

The municipality notes in the report that on average, an injury-causing crash happens every 10 hours on Saanich roads. From 2016 to 2020, 12 people died in fatal crashes in the municipality.

Younger road users are overrepresented in the most serious crashes and are most likely to be killed in a crash, with the 15-to-24 age group making up a third of all fatalities recorded in Saanich from 2016 to 2020.

Murdock said that more than 40 per cent of Saanich’s reported crashes between 2017 and 2021 resulted in serious injury or fatality, with nearly half of those crashes involving a person walking, cycling, or operating a motorcycle.

“These are our loved ones and neighbours. The impacts of these incidents on victims, their families and their communities can be significant and long-lasting.”

More than half of those who responded to a road safety survey reported feeling unsafe while cycling in Saanich.

Saanich Police Department data show driver inattentiveness is the most common contributing factor in crashes, with excessive speed the second most common factor. Most crashes in Saanich happen at intersections with no traffic signals.

For the next six weeks, a survey on the road safety plan will be available on HelloSaanich, the municipality’s new public engagement tool.

The district says public feedback will help inform the final version of the Road Safety Action Plan, which will be presented to council later this year. Work on the plan started last May.

Saanich is hosting two events next month where the public can talk to the safety plan’s project team members.

The first event, on March 5, will be held at the Tillicum Mall community booth from 2 to 5 p.m., while the second will be in the Uptown courtyard next to Walmart on March 16, from noon to 3 p.m.

More information on the plan is available online at ­saanich.ca/roadsafetyaction.

mjlo@timescolonist.com

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