Political Incompetence Kills

mi-bc-130607-surrey-hit-and-run

Surrey boy hospitalized in hit and run

Police searching for driver of silver four-door Mercedes with tinted windows and large, stock rims

CBC News Posted: Jun 07, 2013 4:06 PM PT RCMP are searching for the driver of a silver-coloured Mercedes who struck a young boy and drove away in the Surrey neighbourhood of Fleetwood Friday afternoon.

Five-year-old Arshdeep Singh Sidhu is recovering in hospital after being struck by the car, his aunt told CBC News.

Surrey RCMP Cpl. Bert Paquet said the hit and run happened in the 16100 block of 92nd Avenue at around 3 p.m. PT. (More on CBC news)

SEE ALSO: LETTER TO MAYOR/COUNCIL: Improve safety around Surrey roads and schools

SEE ALSO: LETTER: For the friends and family of Amarpreet Sivia, Surrey crash victim

It has only been a few months since I took notice of an incident this past summer in Fleetwood that sent a 5-year-old boy to the hospital. The incident gained particularly big attention from the media as it was a hit-and-run. I was just reading the news that day and it struck me that the accident occured in a place that is within easy biking distance of my home. So, the next day, I decided to head out on my bike and check out what the area looks like.

This is what I found:

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First of all, let me start off by pointing out what is wrong in these pictures:

  1. One side of the road does not have a sidewalk, which is violating city policies that mandate that collector roads have sidewalks on both sides of the street.
  2. Despite a downhill approach, there is absolutely no measure on the road for slowing vehicles down – something that is especially heinous, given that the downhill direction is the side without a sidewalk.
  3. Despite that the road crosses commute paths to a local school, and borders its grass sports field, there are no markings or signs to facilitate safe pedestrian crossings.

Although nearby signage points out that children may be playing in the area and advises drivers to slow to 30km/h, there is absolutely nothing ensuring that drivers will be actually at that speed, and so this stretch of 92nd Avenue is a recipe for disaster. I wrote a letter to the editor denouncing that city policies may have contributed to causing this accident, citing the low investment in pedestrian and cycling facilities and the stringent process for applying for traffic calming, and also forwarded this letter to the nearby school’s principal and parent advisory council. It was never published on the newspaper.

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Teenage girls were students at nearby Princess Margaret Secondary School

CBC News Posted: Sep 18, 2013 2:09 PM PT

A teenage girl is dead and two others have been seriously injured, along with the rider of a motorcycle, following a traffic accident just before noon today in Surrey, B.C. RCMP Cpl. Bert Paquet said the motorcyclist was travelling southbound on 128 Street near 68 Avenue at 11:30 a.m. PT when he struck the three teenage girls as they were crossing the street. (More on CBC news)

Yesterday, I heard the news that a teenage girl from Princess Margaret Secondary was killed in an accident not one block away from my current school (Kwantlen Polytechnic University). I know many friends personally, who go or went to Princess Margaret Secondary, and who know the girl that was killed in a recent motorcycle accident during the lunch hour. It caught my attention when an R.I.P. post appeared on my Facebook news feed. So, I decided to look into the incident and the area where this accident occured. This is what I found:

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  1. 128th Street is a four-lane arterial road signed at 60km/h. Despite the nearby presence of both a post-secondary and a secondary institution, there is absolutely no signage to notify drivers that they should expect students.
  2. There are no crosswalks on the entire four-lane stretch of road.
  3. There are no crosswalks fronting the local business cluster, despite the school, significant residential and transit stop on the other side.
  4. There is nothing else on the road stretch that compromises the right-of-way and could possibly slow vehicles down. It is a straight stretch of completely unobstructed road, signed at 60km/h, and an enticing environment for over-speeding.

128th Ave carries 13,000 vehicles daily, which does not even necessarily warrant a four-lane road to begin with. Yet whoever at the City of Surrey decided to pursue an expansion of this road anyway. And so, it is possible to go 60km/h or over on 128th Ave very easily, as there are no obstructions to face. On the entire four-block stretch of road, there are no crosswalks.

The girl who was killed, one among three girls who were crossing (the two other girls were injured), was crossing just north of 69A Avenue. Her destination was a pizza restaurant on the other side of the road way at a business complex. The Vancouver Sun interviewed several people from the local area who conjured these responses:

Local residents say the spot where the teens were hit is a particularly dangerous section of road, where Princess Margaret students often jaywalk across four lanes in the middle of a very long block to get cheap slices of pizza or a samosa during lunch. “There’s always a big problem with (students) crossing,” said Cherenjit Dhillon, who owns a retail building near the crash site. “The kids don’t have enough time to go to the traffic lights and cross.” Read more: Vancouver Sun

Where the girl was crossing the street, it is absolutely legal and okay to cross*, and according to a student from Princess Margaret Secondary School I was talking to, students do it often.

While even a basic crosswalk with just markings and signs could have been doable for a very small cost, there are no plans for a crosswalk outlined in the City’s 10 year servicing plan.

* For clarification, while jaywalking is discouraged, it is not actually illegal in British Columbia (see: Section 179 MVA) to do so. Municipal authorities do, however, have the power to set some of their own by-laws regarding motor vehicles and pedestrians (see: Section 124 MVA); in the City of Surrey, jaywalking is illegal, but crossing at an unmarked location is only considered jaywalking if the crossing is done within one block of a signalized intersection or marked crossing (see: Bylaw No. 13007).

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Why students will cross

The alternative to reaching this pizza store by crossing 128th Street at an unmarked location is a 6-7 minute each way detour (at a reasonable 100 metres per second, and accounting for signal waiting time) to 72nd Avenue to cross at the signal. The lunch break time at Princess Margaret Secondary is only 45 minutes (including the time between the warning bell and absolute class time), which means that students have reasons to be in a hurry. A clear justification for this crosswalk should have already been established by the demand alone, in addition to the fact that students will require crossing facilities on a more on-demand basis.

Often times, kids can’t make the BEST decisions possible. That’s why most developed societies have set different laws for anyone who is under 18. The government recognizes a child’s inferior ability to reason and make rational decisions, so they make laws that account for that. It’s all risk compensation at the end of the day. Unfortunately, this mindset does not necessarily extend to infrastructure policies, and that is something that has the potential of being a huge problem.

In my times as a high school student at Johnston Heights Secondary School, I witnessed jaywalking all the time. It couldn’t be stopped. Students were in a hurry. Lunch break at my school was 50 minutes long, slightly longer than at Princess Margaret. Students would pass through a nearby townhouse complex from the school, emerging at 100th Avenue and 153rd Street. Here, many students crossed to reach a major T&T Supermarket and food court and other local businesses. The alternate and staff-mandated route was to have students cross at 152nd Street and 100th Ave, which a lengthy detour for students heading to some of the establishments, such as T&T.

The signalized crosswalk at 100th Ave and 153rd St, installed in 2009.

The signalized crosswalk at 100th Ave and 153rd St, installed in 2009.

In spite of staff notifications telling students not to cross there, crossing at 153rd Street was nevertheless a popular shortcut for accessing local businesses during lunch time and homes both before and after school – so popular that during my 9th grade, the demand alone was noticed and resulted in the installation of a full, signalized crosswalk. Another crosswalk was installed on 152nd Street at 99th Ave. This project was successful, and the crosswalk is now well used at all times of day. My younger sister, who goes to the school now and is entering the 8th grade, is benefiting from this crosswalk, as it is the closest way to school from home.

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How the City responded

The CBC article reports that the nearby secondary school (Princess Margaret) where these students attended requested a crosswalk in this area three years ago, and were told “no” by the city. At a community association meeting in Fraser Heights today, I noticed how much emphasis was being put on feedback having been received from the city that stated that “there is no money in this year’s budget” to solve a safety problem on a section of 156th Street in Fraser Heights. At 128th Street, the city rejected the crosswalk on the basis that according to a study, a crosswalk was not appropriate. But, is it really that a crosswalk is not necessary, or that the city spends far too conservatively for a crosswalk to be acceptable in their eyes without meeting a minimum standard, except in certain circumstances?

That stretch of 128th Street, like the stretch of 100th Avenue in my community that received a crosswalk, services between 10,000 and 15,000 vehicles daily. Like 100th Ave, there is a clear demand for constant crossing between the local businesses and residents/other patrons. Unlike 100th Ave, there is also a bus stop nearby, where riders most certainly cross the street at least once a day for that purpose.

The same 10-year report I linked earlier listing future city projects also reveals that there’s not a lot of money going around in this city to invest in basic road safety. Behind the Mayor’s boasting that Surrey has the lowest taxes in the region is the fact that Surrey dedicates just $4.95 million a year to pedestrian/cycling infrastructure projects – less than half the dedication put forward by Vancouver, despite that Surrey is bigger than Vancouver in size and will soon eclipse it too in population. If there was more money available to be dedicated to improving pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, there would most certainly be less or lower standards. Although, that’s debatable, since the current policy of not being wasteful and requiring rigorous standards may hold through higher investment.

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Politicial incompetence kills

I have been saying for a long time that our Mayor and Council need to realize that there can be serious consequences to Surrey’s minimal taxes and spending policies, which do not offer much leeway for proactive spending. Their failure to realize this is part of why we are hearing of this unfortunate reality that a girl is dead.

I watched a recent and excellent documentary called Speed Kills your Pocketbook (you should all watch this) that explores how and why speed can be better fine-tuned to improve safety. Still, while speed can kill your pocketbook, it can still kill lives. A crash with a pedestrian is more deadly if the driver is going faster, an indisputable fact that is reported in many studies.

Political incompetence can be very much the same way. Political incompetence, in the sense of a politician being both a wasteful and extravagant spender, kills your pocketbook. Political incompetence in the sense of being too ignorant and dismissive can kill lives.

However, political incompetence is also unlike speed. While the issue of speed killing pocketbooks and lives can both be solved, in the case of political incompetence, you can only solve one or the other. Saving lives might come at the expense of killing pocketbooks (okay, perhaps killing would be a bit extreme, but it could be painful). It’s a fine line – and a very significant one – that ultimately the residents of this city are going to have to think about.

A girl is dead.

“Unnecessary” should not be an excuse. Families of Surrey, I hope this makes you think about whether this could be your child in a future incident.

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9 responses to “Political Incompetence Kills

  1. Pingback: “Political Incompetence Kills.” | No Strings Attached : Laila Yuile on politics and life in B.C.·

  2. Want to have some fun and really find out whether there is money for sidewalks and crosswalks. Go down to City Hall and ask to see the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report).

    • EXACTLY Rick!! Well said.
      A LOT of people do not know that cities (and large corporations like BC Hydro) have TWO sets of financial ledgers (books) with one being the last years expenditures and related, the second book, the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) is one where they hide all their “profits” disguised as “future investments” and that holds all the “profit and investments” for the city.
      In essence, the second book, the CAFR, will show that there are millions (sometimes Billions) of $ AVAILABLE to spend on infrastructure and other things (schools, health facilities, finances that could be better spent NOW getting the things we need like these crosswalks, etc) but that the City council prefers to hold onto in case of “rainy days”.
      Write your MLA’s and express your disgust at the deception City Hall uses in order to keep it’s high-priced boards and buy things IT deems worthy when IT feels like, not when it’s needed or necessary.
      Don’t forget, these people work FOR YOU (are legally suppose to be, that is) , not padding their corporate pals and giving themselves huge $60K/year raises.

  3. Pingback: LETTER TO MAYOR/COUNCIL: Improve safety around Surrey roads and schools | Daryl vs. the World·

  4. Pingback: LETTER: For the friends and family of Amarpreet Sivia, Surrey crash victim | Daryl vs. the World·

  5. Hey Daryl, I don’t know if you’ve seen Kwantlen’s current and future vision document, but they have a planned lights at 70b avenue. It’s a ways off, but it could be good leverage in a discussion with the city about a new crossing

  6. Pingback: Students are not sheep. | Daryl vs. the World·

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