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New Westminster considers the philosophical and technical impacts of uptown crossing

The “coffee crossing” on Sixth Street may or may not have a “beg button” and flashing lights in its future.
Patrick Johnstone
Coun. Patrick Johnstone supports Roma as the name of a new street in Queensborough, but thinks its time for the city to update its street- and place-naming policy.

The “coffee crossing” on Sixth Street may or may not have a “beg button” and flashing lights in its future.

New Westminster’s 2016 pedestrian crossing improvement program includes safety improvements at three locations:

* Sixth Avenue, between Seventh and Eighth streets, near the library: improvements would be made to curb extension on Sixth Avenue and installation of LED lighting to improve visibility at night.

* Eighth Street at Dublin Street: curb extensions would be added on Eighth Street to shorten the crossing distance (to New Westminster Secondary School) and a countdown timer would be provided. The intersection would be repaved, pavement markings would be repainted and a green pavement treatment would be applied to highlight “the zones of conflict” between motor vehicles and cyclists or pedestrians.

* Sixth Street at Belmont Street: installation of a special crosswalk, which would include an overhead pedestrian crossing sign with illumination and rapid flashing beacons. (The proposed work at this crossing would be similar to what currently exists on Sixth Avenue in front of the public library.)

Coun. Patrick Johnstone, who chairs the city’s advisory committee for transit, bicycles and pedestrians (ACTBiPed), said the “coffee crossing” between Tim Hortons and Starbucks is the most discussed crossing in the city. While he supports better lighting and signage at that location to improve the safety of that crossing, he has concerns about putting in “beg buttons” that require pedestrians to push a button to get permission from the cars to enter a crosswalk.

“It is seen as a shifting of priority for that space from the pedestrian to the driver. It is in some sense a philosophical argument of what that crosswalk is for,” he said. “Functionally, it does change how people use that crosswalk, how people go through that crosswalk. I would like to take it back to the committee. It’s possible they will look at the situation and have a different opinion on it.”

Council approved the Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street crossings, but asked staff to hold off on the ixth/Belmont crossing until the ACTBiPed committee and the Uptown Business Improvement Area are consulted.

Lisa Leblanc, the city’s transportation manager, said the city hired an engineering consultant to review the crossings.

“From an engineering point of view, the assessment that was done – it didn’t come at it from a philosophical point of view, the assessment was done from a technical point of view,” she said. “The flashing lights are recommended when it’s determined or felt that motor vehicles need some additional signal that pedestrians are crossing at this location. It’s not a request for permission to cross per se; it’s something that adds to the streetscape to alert motorists to the fact that pedestrians are crossing.”

Leblanc said there have been a number of rear-end collisions at this location, which suggests motorists may be stopped there and the vehicles behind them aren’t seeing them until it’s too late to stop.

“The flashing beacons provide additional warning to motorists that a car in front of them may be stopped,” she said.

The May 9 staff report noted reviews are underway at 10 locations to determine the type of pedestrian enhancements may be needed. In addition to these locations, Leblanc said the city has a list of “fresh crossings” that need to be evaluated.

“We are working on a pedestrian crossing improvement plan overall,” she said. “This report is a bit of a stop-gap, if you will, to kick us into an annual program where we will be reporting to council at the start of the year with our capital improvement program. The list that will be generated for crossing improvements will be based on a complete evaluation. What I’m aiming to do is be more responsive than reactive.”

The city is reviewing 10 crossings to see if any pedestrian enhancements are needed. Here are the crossings under review:
* Sixth Avenue at Ninth Street;
* Royal Avenue at 11th Street;
* Stewardson Way (near Sixth Avenue);
* Eighth Street at Third Avenue;
* Sixth Avenue at 11th Street;
* Seventh Street at Belmont Street;
* Eighth Avenue (midblock between Eighth and Sixth streets);
* Sixth Street at Fourth Avenue;
* Sixth Street at Blackford Street;
w Richmond Street at Miner Street.