Anyway, what I really want to tug on your coat about is the intersection between sustainability and engineering, and how it is too often frustrating, and always challenging. A good example is alternative transportation planning (let us, for now, skip over the irony that “walking” is now considered one “alternative” to the normal mode of riding around in a metal box burning dead dinosaurs). When shoehorning non-car infrastructure into traditional roads-and-sidewalks planning, it often starts so late in the process that any contribution we can make is either inconvenient, or impossible with the depth of planning already done. As a result, we are seen as a roadblock to infrastructure improvements instead of a positive contributor.
A good example of this is the long-running issue that we in the New Westminster cycling world know simply as “5th and 5th”That phrase is now one that causes anyone involved to roll their eyes emit an audible groan. This is a nice residential neighborhood, with a couple of quiet, traffic-calmed streets, that happens to border a commercial building where (amongst other commercial upgrades) Save On foods opened a new retail outlet. Coincident with this opening, the world’s ugliest fence was installed. As if an ugly fence to stop people walking through their neighbourhood was ever a good idea, but I digress again.
After several complaints about the re-configuration of the intersection, Transportation staff finally kind of admitted it was rather an ad-hoc contraption stop pedestrians from crossing the street, with little planning (or, ostensibly, to protect the drip line of a tree from large trucks servicing Save-on-foods). However, now that it is installed, the design clearly presents several problems, aside from the esthetic issue. Did I mention the fence is ugly?
Cyclists heading south-east on 5th Street can turn right with traffic (after passing a narrowing of the road, and with their vision and the vision of drivers limited by vehicles parked right up to the corner, but alas, that is our lot). For a cyclist to turn left, one is expected to make a 90 degree left turn from the right side of an unmarked right-turn lane, go up on the sidewalk, cross the median (presumably on the sidewalk), then cross the northwest-bound lane (presumably on the crosswalk), then cross both lanes of 5th Ave (on the crosswalk?) to resume your proper place on the road. To go straight, you must do the same 90-degree left on to the sidewalk, then do another 90-degree turn on the crosswalk, then hop off the sidewalk on the driver’s blind side in the middle of the intersection (predictable quote from driver: “He came out of nowhere!”) while merging with drivers turning off of 5th Ave coming from the other direction, crossing the lane and heading on your merry way. If you look at approaching the intersection form pretty much any other direction, the cyclist choices are equally poor, and completely ambiguous.
No wonder cyclists are accused of flaunting the rules of the road, the rules of the road often cannot apply if the road is not designed to accommodate cyclists.
Now that the problems have been brought to Transportation staff (via PBAC and the VACC), they say they will review the plans. No doubt this will cost staff time and money, so they will have to wait until resources are available. But that is not the point. The design, as it is, requiring expensive re-design should never have been installed! Any member of the PBAC could have gone to the site during the design phase and predicted this problem. Any professional transportation engineer, if asked to review the situation for bicycle and pedestrian access, would never have approved this design. It was a much-up from the start, because they simply didn’t think about what they were doing. It was a Ad-hoc approach to a problem, poorly executed, and it will costs us (the taxpayers) more money because of that approach.
Now I see the City is advertising to hire a new transportation engineer , presumably to replace a senior person in transportation who moved onto another Municipality recently. The fact the posting lacks any reference to alternative-mode planning or sustainable transportation, well, I can let that pass assuming those types of skills would come up in the screening / interview process. But is not a good sign when your City, which brags about it’s 47% “sustainable travel mode share” downtown, and it’s new “transportation demand management system” requires its new transportation engineer to drive a private vehicle to work!.
More of the same.