Homeless in Vancouver: Traffic calming is frustrating drivers
Increasingly I’m seeing trucks and SUVs trying to just go over traffic diverters like the one above. Here the driver of a large truck has made tracks over the diverter at the intersection of Alberta Street and West Broadway, as if it weren’t even there. One block west, on Columbia Street, there’s a newer diverter doing the same job, which I watched being given its finishing touches a few months ago. So far it has survived unscathed.
The City of Vancouver has been incorporating traffic-calming measures in its neighbourhood street improvements for at least 30 years. By “traffic calming”, I mean traffic circles (aka roundabouts) at neighbourhood intersections, speed bumps near schools, and traffic diverters of all shapes and sizes. The goal is to slow down and control the flow of traffic into and through neighbourhoods, using street architecture rather than just stop signs or traffic lights.
A vicious circle
Traffic circles, as I recall, first appeared in the West End in the 1980s. They have since spread to every neighbourhood. They’re simple—just a circular island in the centre of an intersection—governed by one main rule: keep to the right. They slow traffic, and they can all but eliminate head-on, and T-bone collisions. I think they’re life savers. Often the centre of the circle is planted with a small community garden, so they can be attractive to boot.
Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be working like they used to. Everywhere I encounter drivers at traffic circles who insist on turning left as if the circle wasn’t there, when they are supposed to turn right, counter-clockwise around the circle. In May of this year, the city actually removed a traffic circle in Kitsilano because it was seen to be causing collisions between cars and bicycles.
According to this Georgia Straight article, the circle at West 10th and Pine was replaced by two-way stop signs, after statistics showed it ranked in the top 10 intersections for car-bike crashes. (See a photo of it being removed below.)
Cyclists just add to the complexity of driving, particularly when some of us ride as though we’re above the rules of the road. Drivers who may feel they’re being unfairly blocked by traffic-calming measures from getting from A to B in a sensible straight line, at a sensible speed, may be that much more annoyed to see that every traffic diverter allows unrestricted two-way bicycle access. Nyah, nyah!
Too much of a good thing?
I’m seeing drivers exhibiting confusion and impatience with traffic circles, diverters, and four-way stops. I’ve watched a number of SUVs hit, and go up onto diverters, as if they didn’t see them, and I regularly see commercial trucks go right over them.
Traffic diverters are popping up all over the West Side neighbourhoods I frequent: Kitsilano, Fairview, and the western part of Mount Pleasant. The city can put one in place quite quickly, and, sometimes just as quickly, I’ve seen city workers rip out an existing diverter, and build a new one to a different design.
I don’t know how many diverters the city has built in the last two years, but it looks like a lot. And increasingly, it seems to me that more diverters just mean more opportunities for drivers to try and circumvent them, one way or the other.
I think this is firstly about having more motor vehicles on less road space. Increased congestion on major arterial roads encourages traffic to use the alleys and side streets of adjacent residential neighbourhoods.
This, in turn, leads the city to install layers of traffic-calming measures to stop motor vehicles from using neighbourhood streets as through roads. Keeping through traffic out of the neighbourhoods means keeping it on very congested main roads.
If traffic volumes continue to increase, as it surely will, I’ve no idea what the city will do. The main losers right now may be commercial service and delivery vehicles, as they have to share lanes with regular car traffic trying to escape the crush on major streets like West Broadway—an example being the alley on the south side of West Broadway, which offers an irresistible straight line, with no traffic lights, from Oak to Granville streets, as car drivers are figuring out.
Whether it’s talking on their cellphones, or driving parkour-style, whenever otherwise law-abiding citizens are willing en masse to become scoflaws, it suggests an underlying problem. I think people are increasingly balking at having their prerogatives as drivers taken away.
Drivers are certainly frustrated by a lot more than just bike lanes.