Friday April 18, 2014

Coq speed limits a matter of debate

First of several forums on highway safety held in Kamloops

Traffic congestion wasn’t an issue at a public forum Tuesday night on rural highway safety held at Coast Kamloops Hotel.

There was a small but steady turnout for the forum, the first in a provincewide series specifically geared to four safety issues — speed limits, winter tires, wildlife and the safe and efficient movement of slower vehicles.

Those who did attend generally had specific concerns they wanted to convey, such as setting speed limits on the Coquihalla Highway, the shortage of passing lanes on Highway 5 or slowing speeders on Hwy 5A.

Chris Tremblay, a welder, spends a lot of time driving the rural routes and sees how quickly conditions can change.

The Coquihalla might be safe at 120 km/h, but only in ideal conditions. A kilometre down the road, 90 km/h may be too fast. He thinks there should be a variable limit for summer and winter conditions.

“To me, that would be sensible,” Tremblay said.

Mayor Bill Humphreys of Barriere feels there is general agreement in his area that they don’t want to see the limit raised on that route. The ministry estimates that 35 per cent of traffic on the route is commercial trucks.

Humphreys thinks that is a low estimate.

The Yellowhead has become the highway of choice for a burgeoning resource sector in Alberta and the North, he said. There are simply too few passing opportunities, creating frustration and risk-taking. Those who support increased speed don’t see the hazards.

“And raising the speed limit is going to make it worse,” he said.

Alan Robinson felt that raising speed limits would merely encourage speeders to go even faster, although there are roads where he thinks the limit is too low.

“If the majority of drivers are ignoring the limit, there must be something wrong with the speed limit because the majority of drivers are not crazy,” he reasoned.

Bob Dieno figures he’s driven the Coq more than 100 times this year for family and business reasons. From a personal standpoint, he’d like to see the limit increased to 120 or 130 km/h.

Sense B.C., a citizen’s group that advocates for sensible approaches to road safety and enforcement, submitted a written brief. They argue that there is no direct correlation between speeding and crashes while noting that B.C. has some of the lowest highway speed limits in the world. They say realistic speed limits encourage compliance.

The ministry has also noted that the safest conditions exist when the majority of traffic is flowing at the same rate.

Tony Brummel pointed out that speeding is much more common than it used to be. Some people still prefer to do 90 km/h through the Valleyview corridor while they’re being passed by others at 110-130 km/h. Increasing the speed limit will simply widen the differential between them, making the highway less safe.

Then there are the laws of physics. Speed may not be a risk in itself, but it certainly is a determinant in the outcome of a crash.

“When you hit wildlife at 120 km/h, it may go from recoverable to fatal,” he said.

Brummel suggested the ministry look more closely at engineering deterrence to excessive speeding through use of speed bumps. These could be well advertised with signs along Hwy 5A to warn drivers ahead of time.

Mike Lorimer, regional director of highways for the southern Interior, said everything’s on the table when it comes to public input in the four key safety areas.

He said B.C. roads are 28 per cent safer than 10 years ago, thanks to a variety of improvements in vehicle and highway safety.

In terms of snow tires, the ministry is trying to determine whether both snowflake-rated and mud-and-snow-rated tires should remain acceptable, or whether the higher-rated snowflake tires ought to be mandatory for rural roads.

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