Jillian Skeet was on her way back from drawing class with both of her boys buckled up in the car, when she was hit turning into her home on Southeast Marine Drive at Cambie Street, site of the construction of the $2 billion Canada Line.
To her, it seemed to confirm a sneaking suspicion: there’s an increased risk of driving on Vancouver’s major artery.
But city officials can’t say whether that’s true or not. They stopped keeping statistics on accidents, even as the anecdotal evidence mounted that the Cambie Street had become a driving nightmare.
“I checked our data file and apparently no counts were done on Cambie Street in 2008 or 2007,” Terry Thompson from the City of Vancouver’s Strategic Transportation Planning Branch told TheThunderbird.ca in an e-mail.
Without this data, it’s not possible to accurately calculate the number of accidents linked to the Canada Line construction. But digging further through other data from other sources suggests there is a jump in the accident rate.
Traffic coming on and off the Cambie Street bridge, an important access point to Vancouver’s downtown core, has been monitored. It fell 60 per cent in 2007, compared to the average flows from 2000-2005, according to a report by City of Vancouver engineer Don Klimchuk.
Yet as traffic slowed, the accident rate in that area has gone up. Insurance Corporation of British Colombia counts show that there were 40 car accidents at Cambie and between Sixth and Eighth Avenues just off the Cambie Street bridge. That represents a five per cent increase over the average number of accidents relative to traffic flow from 2003 to 2005.
Skeet, a mother of two who lives at Cambie and Southeast Marine Drive, says the Canada Line has created a “terrible situation” for people transiting the area. She’s frustrated because of the lack of response from the government, and worried about the dangers presented to her and her two young sons by the construction.
There is no doubt that the road calls for careful driving and patience.
“I haven’t heard of an increase in accidents but I don’t have statistical information to support that,” said Steve Crombie, Translink’s VP for public affairs, told TheThunderbird.ca.
Crombie does acknowledge drivers have been bothered by the ever-changing configuration of pylons and cones on Cambie.
“We have had a few incidents where frustrated drivers have become impatient and have abused and, in two cases, clipped flag people with their vehicles,” said Crombie. In one case, a driver was arrested.
Canada Line construction began in the summer of 2005. The project is the largest public-private partnership in Canada. Linking downtown Vancouver with Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport, the rail line is expected to be completed in time for the 2010 Olympics.
Cyclists and pedestrians are often forced to cross the street to avoid walking into traffic, and many of the curbs and cross-walks lack proper access for wheelchairs.
“I don’t feel safe anymore riding my bike on Cambie,” says María Jose, an instructor at Bikram’s yoga at Cambie and 13th.
It might just be that taking the bus is the safest way to get up and down Cambie Street while construction continues.
“I do a four-hour drive on this route, and there is lots of congestion, but not so many problems,” says Gary Yip, who drives the 15 Cambie bus from one end of the street to the other. He said he hasn’t had any incidents on Cambie so far this year.
Residents of the Cambie corridor were the least likely to support the transit project at the outset. They have also been among the most affected by the construction, which spans approximately 60 blocks south of the Cambie Street bridge.
“It is scary… at night time, I won’t take Cambie, unless I’ve taken it that day, and I know where all the orange cones are, because it changes on a daily basis,” says Skeet.