Safety and the climate emergency are being neglected on rural roads to the region’s detriment.
LIVABLE ROADS FOR RURAL SAANICH (LRRS) advocates for safety and livability on five rural roads. We focus on Sparton, Goward, Prospect Lake, southern Old West Saanich and Oldfield because of strong experience here; safety issues also exist on other rural roads.
While traffic impacts on rural environments are the primary problem, LRRS takes a broad view. We believe in the interconnectedness of Saanich’s stated goals regarding road safety, active transportation, environmental and heritage protection, livability, sustainability, and recognizing a climate emergency.
In addition to overlooking safety issues, we believe there is a major disconnect regarding Saanich’s Climate and Active Transportation Plans vis a vis their inactivity on controlling speed and volumes of traffic through rural areas. It is not possible to effectively pursue climate solutions while enabling increased traffic on roads inappropriate for such use.
50 km/h on a narrow road is “slow” in rural Saanich
Many residents and visitors do not feel safe using neighbourhood roads for any active transportation: walking, cycling or equestrian activities. Facing continually increasing traffic on these narrow winding roads—usually fast and aggressive traffic that is often commuter, commercial and industrial—there is now no longer a reliable place on the roads for other users. Outside of a vehicle, you usually no longer have a legitimate space on the road.
This results in comments like these: “I will not walk a dog on Sparton due to danger from, and frequent abuse by, drivers”; “Walking my horse on Oldfield is terrifying”; “Walking on Old West Saanich, vehicles maintain speed, passing me within inches”; “Riding on Prospect Lake Road, close misses are commonplace”; “Recommended speed signs are consistently ignored on Goward”.
After four years of work (and many years of previous attempts to get Saanich to address these long-developing problems) LRRS wonders why the progress on rural traffic issues is not more widespread and substantial. We find this especially puzzling in view of Saanich’s strong statements about the importance of road safety for all and shifting to active transportation modes for health benefits and the Climate Emergency.
What does rural Saanich bring to the greater community?
Rural Saanich brings a lot to urban Saanich and the Greater Victoria area, without demanding large infrastructure inputs.
Many roads have changed little since first created, except for paving. Narrow, winding, hilly, with rocky outcroppings, blind corners and sometimes heavily treed, they are significantly below the engineering standards for the Collector Road designations they have been arbitrarily given. (Pavement width for the Collector Road designation is 11 meters; in many places these roads average under 6 meters.) They are adequate to perform their rural function, but not to withstand urban-like pressures.
Outside the Urban Containment Boundary, the properties have remained generally larger, unserviced with intentionally little subdivision. The Rural Saanich Local Area Plan (2008) confirms “little appetite for commercial development.” This has kept the population, and the tax dollars gathered, relatively low.
These same strategies have kept many other values very high.
Rural Saanich provides significant forest canopy for the whole area, an essential environmental contribution in the face of Climate Change. Rural Saanich offers relatively intact and linked habitats and associated watersheds. As Saanich Parks points out, natural areas provide a classroom for “natural intelligence.” These are enduring fiscal, environmental and social benefits to residents and visitors alike.
Farming provides all of the Greater Victoria area with a nearby source of local produce, plus an array of amenities such as farm stands, u-pick berry farms, horse boarding, rural cafes, markets, vineyards, local honey, wool, and horticultural supplies.
The area is home to a portion of the Lochside Trail, other protected cycle routes and opportunities for canoeing, powerboating, fishing, and swimming. The many parks include spectacular hiking terrain and sought after mountain bike areas. Even the old fashioned drive through the country is a draw.
Residents live with pride in Rural Saanich, giving back to the community by supporting the rural lifestyle (growing food, hay, and raising farm animals) while advocating for the respectful and quiet enjoyment of those visiting.
We enjoy and protect rural features without depending on the municipality to provide amenities like septic, transit, sidewalks, separated bike lanes, crosswalks, and nearby shopping.
Rural Saanich also houses the CRD Solid Waste facility at Hartland and the Residuals Treatment Facility.
Rural Saanich is a valued destination, and this is a marketing strength for the municipality. Unfortunately, Rural Saanich can now feel more like an amenity itself than valued rural neighbourhoods.
Too much car and truck traffic on unsafe roads at unsafe speeds
Space precludes listing all the evidence residents have for this position, what has been attempted to date, and the obstacles encountered.
We are told that much is being done towards rural traffic safety. Yet, the root issues continue to be ignored. We reference three projects.
The Safety Review of Prospect Lake Road (a designated cycling route) has resulted in limited speed reduction, a choke point near a pond on a steep curve, bollards, rumble strips and much signage. However, the changes not embraced are significant: there has been no change to the speed limit on the whole corridor’s length. The result is that 50 kph and higher is still sanctioned, so vulnerable users’ safety has changed little. It also means that commuting is still encouraged (including trucks and commercial vehicles), which is the source of much of the volume and speed. There is no change to enforcement and no firm message that these roads go through neighbourhoods.
Improvements to the intersection of West Saanich, Prospect Lake and Sparton Roads are years overdue: a very dangerous intersection on a 60 kph truck route near an elementary school. Although it will also bring enhancements to pedestrian safety from Whitehead Park to Prospect Lake Hall on Sparton, it will not bring traffic calming and speed reduction to the surrounding roads. These are not projected to receive any help, but will likely be further impacted by increased traffic flow as a result of the intersection work.
The Speed Reduction Pilot Project, which Saanich hopes to start in summer/fall of 2021, promises a speed of 40 kph on unlined (called residential) roads. We are told the pilot is for low volume roads. Sadly, as currently written, it will not reduce the speed on any of our high volume lined rural roads. Here speed reduction is the first requirement to increasing safety (on these equally residential roads). No plan to rectify this glaring omission exists.
What are the solutions and the benefits?
The future of Saanich’s rural area will need to include both traffic calming and reduced speed limits on lined and unlined roads to increase safety and livability for all.
Especially as much of the traffic is simply transiting the neighbourhoods; the ever increasing volumes are grossly disproportionate to rural growth.
Please note: we do not ask for the roads to be changed. Upgrading to standards of new construction is prohibitively expensive, and a flawed option. Even so-called improvements such as widening and straightening, tree removal, and blasting of rocky outcroppings can contribute to increased speed and loss of rural character.
Most importantly, we are not asking for no traffic; we are asking for slowed, calmed traffic for all. We are asking for Rural Saanich to stay rural.
Slowing and calming the traffic will economically increase safety for all users, reduce accident and injury (including to wildife), reduce noise, reduce emissions, increase the feeling of neighbourhood and community and reduce the pressure on all drivers. Last but not least it will shift the tone away from “car is king” to “a shared space for all”—what our narrow rural roads should be.
Additionally, low budget calming interventions such as speed platforms, choke points, small traffic circles, signage to support cyclists and portable speed reader/messaging boards conveying a strong statement about neighbourhood should be implemented over time.
A change in attitude to commercial traffic off the three designated truck routes (using the rural roads instead) needs to be embraced by both Saanich and Central Saanich. The majority is transiting to and from the Keating Business District and beyond. After four years, we are still unsuccessful in getting the two municipalities to discuss this.
Encouraging other modes of transport, like cycle commuting on Oldfield and Old West, would also benefit everyone, and act on the Climate Emergency. The rise of e-bikes makes it clear that a much greater range of cycle commuters would use these roads if it were safe to do so.
In conclusion, change is needed in order to provide safe passage, preserve the rural lifestyle, recreational benefits and the climate emergency significance of Saanich’s rural area, for everyone. The Urban Containment Boundary means little if urban traffic patterns are allowed to dominate in the rural setting.
The initiatives undertaken, be it Active Transportation or the three rural projects we have mentioned above, are simply not providing the effective traffic calming needed on the lengths of these roads. As of now there is no stated intention to embark on any other rural solutions, on these roads.
Rural residents do not ask for or need urban solutions. We are not needing projects of an Uptown or a Shelbourne scale.
But we are asking for a timely commitment to simple interventions to give us the same level of comfort and safety that everyone should expect on their neighbourhood’s roads.
Livable Roads for Rural Saanich (LRRS) is a volunteer-run group advocating for increased safety and livability on five roads within Rural Saanich. See more at https://lrrs.org.