Langford Mayor calls Sooke Rd one of the most unsafe roads in the region. Politics or Facts? Take a look at the numbers.
–by Derek Lewers
A quick look at social media or mainstream media the last few weeks, shows a lot of media hype and grandstanding by local politicians on the state of Sooke Rd. Just today, as part of a front-page story on the state of Sooke Rd. and the announcement of an impending announcement on improvements to Sooke Rd., have the reporter citing the fatality a few weeks ago, as an inference to the dangers of Sooke Rd. This despite an incomplete investigation into that crash cause, and failure of the reporter to mention the sister of that victim suggesting that a medical condition may have contributed to that collision (if that was the case, then the collision is not relevant to any dangers of Sooke Rd. and should not have been a part of the story to create hype about our road).
The media, and presumably ill-informed politicians, have not been completely transparent about the dangers (or lack thereof) of Sooke Rd. and the accidents that occur on the roadway.
Without context and full data, any number can sound high, and the stats can be made to present as bleak or as positive picture as the presenter wishes to create, and we all know that bleak sells papers. I am going to dial in on the full data, in hopes of presenting a more balanced view of what is actually happening on our roads.
Let’s break down the crash stats
The media has been reporting ICBC stats of 837 crashes on Sooke Rd. between 2011-2015. If we actually break that down, we are looking at a five-year average of 173 crashes per year, or one every two days. But what the media is not sharing, is the complete data, to show the context and crash information. Of the 837 crashes that occurred between Jacklin Rd at Sooke Rd, and OtterPoint at Sooke Rd, 454 crashes were PDO, or Property Damage Only (doesn’t have to be car to car crash and could involve animals, etc.). This leaves 383 crashes over five years where there was some form of injury. In other words, there are 77 collisions per year where someone is injured to any degree, about one every five days.
Frequency of travel on Sooke Rd
The next piece of the puzzle, is to now determine the number of trips on the section of roadway.
There are approximately 14,000 trips per day on Sooke Rd, or 5.11 million per year. Given the data above, you can now say that there is 1 injury collision on the 28km section of roadway for every 70,000 cars on the road (14,000 x 5days).
Now, maybe this sounds like a lot, or maybe it doesn’t, I suppose it depends on your point of view, however, if one looks at the collision rate on Douglas St., which is a 3.4km section for the purpose of this data, there were 2,109 collisions in five years. With approximately 23,000 trips per day on that road (8.4 million per year), that means there is 1.15 crashes every day on that roadway.
When one looks at the comparison, one sees that clearly Douglas St. is much worse for crash frequency than Sooke Rd.
There are a couple of other ways to look at the crash stats here. The total crash rate per 100,000 trips on Sooke Rd is 3.28, while for Douglas St. it is five per 100,000. Sooke Rd. has six crashes per km of roadway, while Douglas St. has 124. The TCH, between Uptown and the Helmken Overpass, 1.6 crashes per 100,000 trips, but 22 crashes per km of roadway, yet I have not heard any politician calling for changes to Douglas St., or the TCH, and calling it a dangerous section of roadway. Let also remember, that many of the collisions that are happening are also intersection collisions.
More crashes in the Langford section of Sooke Rd
Another interesting thing that was noted when I looked at the numbers, is that the section 3km of Sooke Rd. that falls within Langford (Jacklin Rd. to ½ way down the four lanes), is responsible for 397 of the crashes over five years, while the 10km section of Sooke Rd between Connie Rd. and OtterPoint Rd. is 387 crashes over five years. It appears by this, that there are far more crashes in Langford, than in the windy sections of the highway that are in Sooke.
Night visibility on Sooke Rd is an issue, but most accidents seem to happen during the day
The next item that comes up in regards to Sooke Rd., is the visibility at night, and how dangerous it is. While I can certainly agree to the lack of good road markings at night (I have been communicating with the Highways Ministry for several years on this topic alone) and agree that it needs to be addressed for the benefit of all, I think we have to be careful to assume that improvements here will impact the crash rate to any significant degree.
I have lived in Sooke for 30 years, and can honestly say, that very few of collisions (especially the ones that impact traffic greatly) have occurred in the dark of night.
The majority of crashes seem to happen in the morning and afternoon rush hours. I would say anywhere from 6-9am and 3-6pm. If this is correct, then road markings will not have any meaningful impact on collision rates, however, it should make the commute on the dark rainy nights, much more enjoyable, and arguably faster.
Have crashes really increased?
We also have to ask ourselves, are there more crashes on Sooke Rd. than ever before, or is it a perception? We could actually ask that question for all roads, and look at perception vs. reality. Certainly, with the advent of social media, society that would in previous times, probably been oblivious to a crash happening (unless they were stuck in traffic) at any given time of day, are now instantly notified of collisions via social media, which, would lead the public to believe there is a problem.
A quick look at the five years of ICBC data for the section of road between Connie Rd. and OtterPoint Rd., shows a fairly consistent crash/claim rate per year, except for 2013 when it went down significantly, and 2015, when it went up significantly; however, five years is a pretty small time-frame to see long term trends on, and we will have to wait to see the 2016/17 data to see if 2015 was a blip.
Let’s also not forget, that weather can play significantly into the crash risk, as well as people’s willingness to file ICBC claims for repairs as modern cars become more expensive to fix. Remember, claims may have been made in 2015 for incidents that may have previously gone unclaimed in previous years.
A look at severity
Are the crashes that are occurring more serious? We seem to believe this is the case, as more emergency vehicles on scene result in road closures, which (let’s be honest) if the roads were always open, or we had a simple alternative to get to and from Sooke, most of us would not be complaining about the shortfalls of Sooke Rd. When we look at the casualty rate (injury) over five years for the same stretch of road as we did for frequency, despite the blimps mentioned above, the casualty rate is very consistent across all five years, with the exception of 2015, with a small uptick.
Change in emergency response protocols have impacted road closures
Speaking of road closure, this is another piece of the equation that is often overlooked, as most people are not aware of what has changed in the manner of emergency response. As an ex-volunteer firefighter in Sooke for 13 years (yes, I have seen my fair share of crashes, injury and death), I can tell you, that the response has changed, and in my view, one of the reasons we see more lane and road closures than we did in the past.
In the past, fire departments were only called out to car crashes (MVI’s), if there was entrapment, hazardous spill, or fire. Today however, as part of municipal fire departments wish to be part of the first responder program, when there is an MVI, and police/ambulance are called (even if there is no entrapment, risk of fire, or serious spill), the fire department also comes by default. This response by the fire department also usually means anywhere from two to three fire vehicles (usually full-size fire trucks) are now at a crash scene, along with one or two police cars, one or two ambulances, one or two tow trucks, and possibly some witness vehicles.
As you can see, if you have a two-car crash, you could have potentially 13 total vehicles on scene, and on a road like Sooke Rd. it’s difficult for any cars to get around that. In my view, one way to mitigate this problem, is to have the Fire departments only go to MVI’s where there specialized equipment is needed. This would help reduce road congestion by removing the large trucks off the highway, and also reduce the risk to travelling public due to over responses of emergency vehicles. The added benefit would also be a reduced the workload on an already taxed volunteer department.
I also think it would be a wise investment, for local police agencies to invest in technology such as drones, or 3D scene scanners, so that instead of waiting for a collision analyst from Nanaimo to come to Sooke for the serious crashes, we could do faster data gathering and clear roads faster. Where no injury or criminal behavior is suspected, we need to adopt the US style of road clearing, and either move the cars involved immediately, or at the very least, if they are off the road, tag them, leave in place and return to pick them up in off peak hours. These kinds of measures, would greatly reduce the impacts of accidents that do happen, on the balance of the travelling public, and since we all have ICBC as our insurer, there should not be as great as concern, as no matter who is at fault, ICBC is still paying the bill at the end of the day.
A look at road capacity
Is the road at capacity, and what to do about gridlock? As I understand it, this road is not deemed to be at capacity until it reaches 20,000 cars per day, and at our current growth rate, this could still be easily 10 years away. As a regular road user over 30 years, and property owner on the highway for the same time, I can tell you that I do not typically have any issues with traffic lines on Sooke Rd. during the day, but there is significant volume between 6am-8am, and 3pm-6pm, Monday-Friday.
Is it really a high priority to spend millions and millions of dollars to expand the highway for volumes that affect it four to five hours a day? If I was in charge of the treasury, I would probably say no, as there are many competing needs for the limited taxpayer’s money. Maybe it’s time to look at more creative solutions to alleviate the peak demand, and look at something like counter-flow lanes. These are used in many other areas of the world, and rather than worrying about having bike lanes for the 1 or 2 cyclists per day that may use it, maybe using the existing road widths, we could have alternating counter-flow lanes. Or perhaps there are other creative solutions available?
The data does not support the claim that Sooke Road is more dangerous
So, what does all this say and mean? In my view, in the year of municipal elections, there seems to be some renewed political will to talk about Sooke Rd and its pitfalls, and call our road dangerous and antiquated. However, the data does not seem to support these claims. From 2011, with an average daily traffic count of 13,494 cars, to 2015, with 14,716, there has been no significant change in load to our highway, nor impacts to crash frequency. Sooke Rd. is not a dangerous road (try travelling South America to see roads that might loosely meet that definition).
My prediction is, no matter what improvements are done to the road network (or not done), “dangerous road” will never be a check box on the police motor vehicle accident form as a contributing factor. However, as long as humans are behind the wheel, the options under human actions, and the human condition, will continue to be checked off on those forms.
For those that do not know, the reason the paint is not as good as it once was pre-2000’s is a ban by the Government of Canada on VOC’s in paint, and this resulted in traffic paint switching to acrylic (water based) paints, which clearly have not yet been made to the same standard that the old oil based reflective paints once were. My view on this, is that the provincial and municipal leaders in the country should be lobbying the Federal Government to make an exception on VOC’s for traffic paint. This does not mean that “cats eyes” reflectors should not be installed more often and maintained, as these are probably the best interim solution for showing clear lane delineation for drivers on those dark rainy nights.
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