The B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is undertaking an engineering review of the Nanaimo portion of the old Island Highway.

Speed limits need to be lower in north end

Traffic moves too quickly in Nanaimo’s north end, and we have to take this opportunity to slow down.

I get that it’s a fast-paced world.

But traffic moves too quickly in Nanaimo’s north end, and we have to take this opportunity to slow down.

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is in the midst of an engineering review of the old Island Highway, and lower speed limits need to be a result. The 80 km/h zone north of Long Lake is too high as a maximum speed limit and it’s been too high for a long time.

I could cite ICBC crash statistics and recall the three teenagers struck and killed in north-end intersections in recent months, but every accident – fender-bender or fatality – has its unique circumstances. No, I think 80 km/h in that part of town is too fast because it feels too fast. An 80 km/h speed limit right outside Nanaimo’s busiest mall is counterintuitive. It would be a safety concern regardless, but more so because there are shopping centres on every adjacent block. That these shops and services complement each other should be a presupposition in any changes to speed limits and future street redesign.

Safety should be the most important consideration, but it isn’t the only consideration. The City of Nanaimo’s official community plan identifies ‘urban nodes’ as a development goal, and the transportation master plan echoes that with the concept of ‘mobility hubs.’ The idea is that seven neighbourhoods – Woodgrove is one – are intended to be high-density and self-sustaining to “support living, working, shopping, socializing, and recreating in close proximity,” as the transportation plan notes.

Woodgrove isn’t exactly a high-density urban node, and while it is certainly a transportation hub, it’s one that caters to motor vehicles. Gordon Foy, the City of Nanaimo’s transportation manager, said the neighbourhood has a lot of potential to become more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly, and said the 80 km/h speed limit isn’t necessarily a barrier.

“It would help in some way if speed limits were lower on the highway,” he said. “But I would also argue that there’s room for the city to improve things as well, regardless if that happens.”

I get that people have places to go, and they need to get from point A to point B, and the old Island Highway remains one of the quickest routes to get there. But I just can’t see a lower speed limit over a few blocks causing much of an inconvenience.

According to the ministry, the intention of the engineering review is “to make the speed limit consistent through the corridor,” which seems to suggest that while some speed zones will change, others will remain the same.

I think we can slow down without slowing down to a crawl.As Foy said, “if the changes are over a small area, then they have less of an impact, because even if they’re slower in that segment, they may not change as much in other segments.”

Although the Nanaimo portion of 19A is a highway in name, it isn’t really a highway in character, and it hasn’t been, not for a long time. Our community extended north, our safety standards didn’t, and that was a failing.

The thing is, each of us gets to decide where we’re going. But there’s a shared responsibility to make sure we all get there safe and sound.

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