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Steve Wallace: The science behind designing our roads

August 23, 2019

 

 

Since it was completed, the McTavish interchange is a good example of how engineering has reduced the crash rate by about half, Steve Wallace writes.

 

Traffic engineers do very good work. They are expert at moving all types of traffic from one place to another, if unencumbered by outside forces.

A left turn onto a one-way street, at a solid red traffic light, is a good example of how the driving public can confound an engineer’s best intention. Once a driver has come to a complete stop
and determined there are no pedestrian or vehicular obstacles, the driver can make such a turn onto the one-way. How many drivers make such a turn, or better still, know it is acceptable to do so? It is getting better as more travellers witness the manoeuvre, but there is still a general ignorance of its legality. Traffic is stifled and unnecessarily clogged when drivers are not aware
of the freedom to move under this exceptional circumstance. (It reminds me of pew blockers at any large church, those sitting at the end and refuse to move inward as others arrive).

Since it was completed, the McTavish interchange is a good example of how engineering has reduced the crash rate by about half. It still confuses some drivers, but at least it keeps the traffic moving.“Spaghetti Junction,” as it was once referred to in this column, has been a relative success for locals, but still gets the immediate attention of visitors, particularly from the Victoria airport. Now it has become commonplace and a credit to the engineers, because it keeps the traffic moving.

The City of Nanaimo bypass could use another engineering look. Surely, a professional traffic engineer could time the traffic lights in such a manner as to not stop vehicular traffic at seemingly every traffic signal light. Is it too much to ask that a suggested speed sign be posted to identify the most advantageous speed necessary to get several lights in a row?

The City of Duncan and several other small cities on the Island could use the same system to their advantage. Is it necessary to stop at every traffic light through town? Shouldn’t the environmentalists be screaming blue murder about the vehicle idling hazard to our health?

The new Johnson Street Bridge in Victoria is an example of a controversial project that works. Despite the financial concerns, its completion and operation are a relative success. All manner of traffic is accommodated. There are still some problems with bikes among the pedestrians, but it will be solved over time, hopefully.

Speaking of bikes: Is it logical for the curb separation heights in the dedicated bike lanes to be greater than the down stroke of a standard pedal bicycle? This seems like a recipe for a predictable bike crash and a resulting legal claim. Were these elevations engineered or meant to be a protection from lateral motor vehicle threat?

Saanich has constructed some diverters at intersections. These miniature traffic circles are designed to eliminate unnecessary stops in residential neighborhoods. They work the same as uncontrolled intersections. First come, first go: It is a good way of reducing pollution from motor vehicles.

“You can always tell an engineer, but not very much!” This is a statement once overheard at a municipal convention I attended. It can be taken both ways. The phrase was uttered by a local government politician, as a criticism of an engineer. The engineer answered with the same phrase, only inserting the word politician instead of engineer.

The relationship between the two groups works well when the politicians decide what they want and rely on the engineers to bring to the table several options to accomplish the task, not the reverse. Enough said.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island. He is a former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C.
teacher and a University of Manitoba graduate.

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