Colwood has its own answer to the riddle of “why did the chicken cross the road?”
To eat at a restaurant or fast-food joint, to attend court, peruse car lots, or pump iron at the recreation centre — to get to the other side of Island Highway.
Complementing its plan to build sidewalks and bike lanes, Colwood is also moving on building a crosswalk across the busy five-lane road, ideally by the end of March.
The City wants to give pedestrians an option other than crossing at Wale Road-Ocean Boulevard, or dangerously jaywalking across five lanes of relatively high-speed traffic. The roadway has no pedestrian crossing between the Great Canadian Casino and the intersection at Wale Road.
Although torn by the idea of installing another set of traffic lights a few hundred metres north of Wale Road, Colwood council gave the green light to the crosswalk project, which is expected to come in at less than $300,000.
Crosswalk money would come from a provincial LocalMotion grant which expires on March 31, Colwood’s developer charge cost fund and possibly the gas tax fund. The entire sidewalk, bike lane and crosswalk project is budgeted at $864,000, with $395,000 coming from the provincial grant, and the balance from developer charge costs and gas tax.
Colwood plans to build a pedestrian island in the centre lane just south of the West Shore Parks and Recreation entrance, with two distinct crosswalks with separate signal lights, to ease disruption of traffic.
Colwood engineer Michael Baxter said the crosswalk traffic signal would be co-ordinated with lights at Island Highway and Wale Road-Ocean Boulevard, meaning traffic flowing north on a green light through the intersection would never meet a red light at the crosswalk.
“It won’t go red unless Island Highway (light) is red for a while,” Baxter said. “We don’t expect any delays for straight-through traffic.”
Councillors Rob Martin and Sherri Lukens worry that despite light co-ordination, the crosswalk will only exacerbate traffic congestion on the roadway already known as the “Colwood crawl.”
“I understand it’s a safety issue, especially with Capital City Centre that road will only increase in traffic,” Martin said. “But adding a light is such a tough situation. I’m torn on the crosswalk.”
“I’m not taken with the crosswalk either,” Lukens added. “I know its a safety issue, but for the amount it would be used, is it worth the expenditure?”
Conversely, Coun. Cynthia Day doubts the crosswalk will increase traffic jams due to the signal light co-ordination, but it could help slow vehicles to the posted speed limit. She noted that local businesses will benefit by allowing patrons at the rec centre to cross the road safely.
“Traffic is especially fast (on Island Highway). You are going slow if you’re doing 60 km/h,” Day said. “Slowing traffic to 50 km/h might add three minutes to your commute but it won’t impact your quality of life. You’ve got to build roads not just for cars, but for people and businesses.”
“The crosswalk is really important in terms of safety,” said Coun. Judith Cullington. “There’s been so many near misses, especially with youngsters.”
Conflict at the courthouse
The position of the pedestrian island would eliminate left hand turns into Western Communities Courthouse, the only facility on that strip of Island Highway to be significantly impacted by the crosswalk.
Baxter said the location is optimal for expected pedestrian traffic, mainly people walking from the recreation centre to restaurants across the road.
“The way the road is built and the distance between driveways, where ever we put this crosswalk, someone will not get a ‘left in,’” Baxter said. “But this is the optimal place, the best place to put it.”
“We are building a city centre around a very difficult road,” he told council. “We’ve been going round and round trying to find a perfect solution. This is the best we’ve come up with.”
The courthouse isn’t happy its clients will be restricted to entering from the north. Representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the owner of the building sent letters to Colwood indicating their frustration about complicating vehicle access, and only recieving a few days notice before the proposal came to council.
“There has been absolutely no notice from the City about its plans there,” said Delaine Carey, manager of Western Communities Courthouse. “This makes it very inconvenient for people from Langford, Colwood and the western communities to access a government building.
“Certainly I understand the need (for a crosswalk). A number of people jaywalk and take their life into their hands,” she said. “I truly understand the need for public safety, but this makes it very difficult for our clients.”
Carey also noted courthouse access already suffers due to the repositioning of the rec centre entrance. Opposing vehicles turning left from the centre lane often block each other from moving.
Baxter said he has a tentative agreement with Jasmine’s Restaurant, next door to the courthouse, to connect the respective parking lots. He also noted that blocking access to a government building is less financially harmful than blocking access to a private business.
“People can always choose to go to other businesses,” Baxter said. “There is no other competing courthouse nearby.”
Colwood has awarded a $533,000 contract to Windley Contracting to build sidewalks on the west side of Island Highway, and bike lanes on both sides, between Wale Road and the View Royal border near the casino.
Windley is committed to finishing the project before March 31, Baxter said, so ensuring the LocalMotion grant can be used.
Colwood is seeking an extension to the grant so the crosswalk can be finished after March 31, which is likely given the tight timeline. If no extension is granted, council will need to decide if it wants to dip further into the developer charge cost fund or federal gas tax money.
The crosswalk project is still in the design phase and has yet to be tendered. Landscaping and tree planting for the sidewalk project is estimated at $115,000 and hasn’t been yet presented to council.