"To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first" William Shakespeare
As I have mentioned in previous columns, not every topic has to be serious. Awhile back I had a friend visiting me from out of town and he remarked upon the steepness of our roads. Being from Kamloops I hadn't really put a lot of thought into that notion and it got me wondering what roads in Kamloops were the steepest. With the help of Jason Dixon, our city roads and drainage supervisor, I was able to compile a list of some of our steeper roads.
Road steepness is measured as a percentage grade. The percent one sees on a highway sign indicates how many feet one drops vertically for every one hundred feet traveled horizontally. If you prefer metric, the number of descending meters per one hundred meters travelled is equally applicable. A fairly steep highway grade would be 8% and anything 6% or over usually comes with a warning sign. A zero percent grade would be perfectly flat and at 100 percent you would essentially be dropping a foot vertically for every foot travelled horizontally.
Every road in Kamloops has at least some slope. Even our airport runway extension had to be sloped on a 1% grade to ensure that the river dike did not intrude into the glide path of arriving aircraft. 1% doesn't sound like a lot but it meant that one end of the 2,000 foot extension is twenty feet higher than the point where it joins the older portion of the runway. Put another way, the entire runway extension had to be elevated by an average of ten feet which turned out to be quite a lot of fill.
As one might expect, there are provincial guidelines for roadway gradients. These guidelines are published for the benefit of planners and contractors around BC. Ideally, an arterial road should not have a grade exceeding 8% and a local roads should not exceed a 10% slope. Mother Nature, having not bothered to read the engineering specifications, has presented us with quite a few examples of where road slopes will have to be less than ideal.
For starters, the top of 1st Avenue is a clear example of not making the provincial grade. For those of us who have spun their wheels on a winter day trying to get onto Columbia Street, we are all too aware that the road grade is 15%. Parts of Rose Hill Road are even steeper and reach grades of 16%. In Aberdeen, Pacific Way and Van Horne Drive have grades reaching 11% and 12% respectively. Kids from schools there really will be able to tell their children how they had to walk uphill (both ways) to school. Hillside Drive and Springhill Drive are two more examples of arterial or collector roads that exceed recommended standards. For the sake of comparison, the slope of Pacific Way this is roughly equivalent to the steepest section of the Coquihalla Highway being just north of the Great Bear snow shed. This stretch of road has a slope of about 11.5%.
While local roads are allowed to be a bit steeper, we have plenty of examples where they exceed the recommended 10% maximum grade. As it turns out, many of the steepest local roads are actually closer to the valley bottom. From St. Paul Street to the Nicola Wagon Road, McIntosh Street earns the title of steepest local road with a grade of 19%. While Westsyde isn't generally noted for being hilly, Alpine Terrace comes in close behind at a 18.5%. Third place goes to Boundary Road in the upper West End which has a grade of 17.5%. For those of you wondering why we have a Boundary Road near the centre of town it's because this used to mark the boundary between the City of Kamloops and what was known as the Powers Addition.
Pratt Road in Barnhartvale and Woodhaven Drive in Westsyde round out the top 5 at 16.5% grades each.
Managing the infrastructure of a community with steep hills presents a wide range of transportation challenges. Flat streets are easier to navigate and cost less to service. It will also have an impact on city vehicles from fire trucks to busses in that they have to work harder to climb the hills and they probably require brake replacements more often than the norm. Motorists have to adjust their driving to account for the extra inertia provided by gravity.
Still, I don't think many of us would trade our hills and their vistas for flatter (albeit safer and cheaper) streets. Perhaps it costs us an extra brake job over the life of our car, but the views are worth it.