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Two pedestrians cross Northwest Marine Drive toward Totem Park Residences, steps away from the memorial for two students killed by a driver.

Safety changes along UBC road are complete but more are needed, expert says

The province says it is continuing to monitor the road but has no further plans for Northwest Marine Drive

By Theo van Beusekom , in City , on February 11, 2023

The safety changes to the stretch of road at the University of B.C. that saw two student pedestrian deaths are not enough to address pedestrian and cyclist safety, according to a public health expert.

“It’s very curvy, it’s dark, and there’s lots of parked cars. All of that and then the speed and the volume of traffic and the people coming in and out of parking all make it really, really hard for it to be safe without much lower speeds,” said Kay Teschke, UBC professor emeritus of population and public health.

Following separate crashes on Northwest Marine Drive, one that killed two pedestrians and another that injured one in the fall of 2021, several changes aimed at slowing traffic and improving safety were made by the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. The most recent changes include a permanent speed reader at UBC’s Southwest Marine entrance and a pedestrian-activated crosswalk at Cecil Green Park completed in early December. 

Teschke said these changes are “good” but more are needed.

Northwest Marine Drive has the second-worst rating in the road-cyclability classification system Teschke helped develop in 2019. The four-point scale, published in the State of Cycling Report in Metro Vancouver, determines the proportion of people that would be comfortable biking on roads in the city. Northwest Marine is currently rated “comfortable for few.”

“It’s because the volume of traffic is too high for a shared space and the speed is too high. To be able to get to a better classification, they would need to lower the speed limit to 30 kilometres an hour or less,” said Teschke.

All roads under UBC jurisdiction have carried a speed limit of 30 kilometres an hour since 2010. But the campus portion of Northwest Marine is provincially controlled and currently has a limit of 40. The ministry said in an email that reducing the speed to 30 kilometres an hour has not been widely discussed but it is open to feedback.

A new speedreader board installed by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure on Marine Drive shows a car entering UBC’s Vancouver campus at 75 kilometres an hour.

The ministry said it is monitoring the effectiveness of the changes through site checks, data collection and feedback from stakeholders such as the RCMP.  The results of its most recent Jan. 24 site check were not mentioned but in a previous email the ministry said, “While it is too soon to say with certainty that the measures are working, speeding violations in the UBC area are down over last year.”

They noted that between January and June 2022, there were 40 speeding violations in the UBC Endowment Lands area, down from 72 in the same period in 2021, according to ICBC statistics. However, during the same six-month period from 2017 to 2019, speeding violations were also less than in 2021, with an average of 43.

Cpl. Christina Martin of the University RCMP said that, although it is hard to get an accurate picture of speeding on Northwest Marine because there is no permanent monitoring, police have noticed a difference.

“When we go out [to Northwest Marine Drive], the amount of people that we’re pulling over has decreased, because it seems to be people are actually following the speed limits to some extent when we are there,” said Martin.

But Teschke said that speeding on Northwest Marine Drive can be slowed without police enforcement. She suggested traffic-calming bollards be placed along the entire section of the road that is narrow and curvy — an inexpensive solution to slow drivers.

“That visual narrowing of the lane will really help achieve [lower speeds],” she said. “The bollards in the middle make it enforceable without police enforcement, just with infrastructure enforcement.”

A study was conducted last year by the ministry that evaluated active transportation on provincially controlled roads around UBC’s Vancouver campus.

The ministry declined to share the details of the study. But Krista Falkner from UBC Campus and Community Planning said that the study, which she has seen, points to potential changes that will improve safety, such as separated areas for pedestrians and cyclists on campus. No specifics were mentioned about where the study recommends these changes be made.