Jack Knox: Is the Colwood Crawl driving you crazy? A commuter breakdown, minute by minute

Jack Knox mugshot genericHere, for non-commuters, is some perspective: If you ran the TC 10K at Colwood Crawl pace, you would finish in 4,236th place.

Seriously.

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Wednesday morning, it took an hour to drive the eight kilometres from the tail end of the Sooke Road tailback to the McKenzie interchange, where recent lane-juggling has made the notoriously slow journey even slower.

The good news: The Transportation Ministry planned to tweak the traffic signals Wednesday night, giving more green-light time to highway drivers. That should help. We hope.

Lord knows those drivers haven’t been happy since construction logistics shifted southbound traffic to on and off ramps at Admirals Road last week. Their howls were loud enough to persuade me to time the Crawl, which I hadn’t tackled for a while. Here’s how it went.

7:21 a.m. Wednesday. We start where the traffic is stopped, dead, on Sooke Road at Kelly in Colwood. A long line of taillights stretches as far as the eye can see. After a minute, a car U-turns into the empty oncoming lanes, presumably heading for the Millstream Road highway access in the hope that it will be less plugged. Good luck with that. It has been a rush-hour gong show there since right-turning, highway-bound traffic was squeezed into one lane from two. The highway itself flows like molasses.

7:34 a.m. OK, we’ve covered 600 metres in 13 minutes, made it to the west end of the Royal Roads grounds. This is the pokiest stretch, slowed by traffic from the feeder routes choking the funnel ahead.

To my right, a cyclist bundled up like Nanook of the North in the three-degree chill rides by on the sidewalk. Illegal, but safer than trying to shoot the narrow gap between cars and the raised curb.

7:40 a.m., 1.1 kilometres into the Crawl. Stopped at the light at the entrance to Royal Roads University. Years ago, while blackberry-picking on the grounds, I saw actor Hugh Jackman drive by in full X-Men makeup. Even Wolverine travels by car here on Vancouver lsland, where despite our tree-hugger reputation, the ratio of vehicles-to-people keeps rising. On Vancouver Island, automobile registrations — 630,000 in 2016 versus 570,000 in 2012 — are outpacing population growth.

Good thing we’re not in the middle of a global-warming crisis.

BTW, Washington state voters rejected a B.C.-style carbon tax on Tuesday.

7:42 a.m., 1.2 km. We cover all of 100 metres before halting beside the Royal Roads Café, where the sign advertises prime rib on Friday and Saturday. The longer we halt, the hungrier I get.

7:51 a.m., 1.7 km. More cars funnel in from Goldstream Avenue, heading to town, defying the notion of the West Shore as an independent island. The whole let’s-walk-and-ride-to-work thing sounds great for those who are fortunate enough to go to the same location every day, close to where they live, but it falls apart if you’re a plumber, or spend the day on sales calls, or if you’re in one of those households where dad works downtown, mum toils up by Costco, one kid goes to UVic, another has a soccer game at Lochside Park, and grandpa can barely make it to the can without his walker. But no, we couldn’t possibly have regional transportation planning here in Dysfunction-by-the-Sea.

8:02 a.m., 4.2 km. Last light before the highway. Some cars split off for Burnside Road, a reminder of all the traffic-dodging that fills secondary streets when the highway is full. A long line of cars clogs the right-hand lane, vehicles heading for an already-jammed Old Island Highway. Almost 8,000 people work at CFB Esquimalt. This is how many of them get there. Bring back the blue boat!

8:10 a.m., 5.8 km. Drivers perform a slow-speed lane-changing ballet at the Helmcken overpass. Some test the limits of motoring etiquette by using the highway off and on ramps to jump ahead. Some believe the queue-jumpers will burn in hell.

8:14 a.m., 6.8 km. The low autumn sun shines on Portage Inlet, which is perfectly still, just like the traffic. The water is calmer than the drivers. Commuters have been patient since construction began in 2016, hanging onto the prospect of a free-flowing McKenzie interchange like the promise of Heaven, but with the $85-million project now not due to be done until next summer, with the finishing touches not completed until late 2019 — a year later than planned — people are getting weary.

If it makes frustrated drivers feel any better, Premier John Horgan gets stuck in this traffic, too, while commuting to the legislature from his home in Langford.

8:20 a.m., 7.9 km. Here we are, the McKenzie interchange. It took 59 minutes to get here from the back end of the Colwood Crawl. Yes, that pace would have placed you 4,236th out of 6,748 finishers in this year’s Times Colonist 10K race.

After the interchange, it’s as if the cork has been pulled. It takes just eight minutes to travel the remaining four kilometres downtown, even with all the Douglas Street roadwork between the Uptown and Mayfair shopping centres.

The Transportation Ministry has a long and logical explanation for the current slowdown. The construction-related realignment has created a much larger intersection that takes longer to cross, meaning changes to traffic-light times, leading to the tailbacks that the ministry now hopes to alleviate.

Still wonder where we’re going, though.

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