A group of south Ladysmith residents are lobbying the provincial government to make the South Davis Road intersection safer.
Brian and Sandra Smith have been working for the past three years to push the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (MOTI) to make changes to the troubled intersection. In 2018, the couple formed a community group that collected 521 letters of support calling for safety improvements.
A traffic study was conducted by Binnie Consulting on behalf of the MOTI to look at challenges facing Ladysmith’s intersections. The study concluded that traffic volumes at South Davis did not warrant a signal light, and they recommend that South Davis be restricted to right-in/right-out movements, and left-in movements only.
However, through their community canvassing efforts, the Smiths believe the Binnie Report’s recommendations on South Davis are flawed.
“The Binnie Report counted left turns at the South Davis road intersection, but never talked to a single person, or consulted our report on why there was such a low count,” Brian said.
“Many people won’t use that intersection because they consider it dangerous. I understand why the Ministry doesn’t go around and talk to all the people, but we did that work. If they read the report we did, they would know,” Sandra said.
Of the 521 letters that were sent to the MOTI, 37 had additional comments describing safety issues and personal experiences with South Davis.
Roger Crossley, who became involved with the canvassing effort early on, had a relative killed in a fatal collision at the South Davis intersection in 2010. He believes that safety improvements could have saved lives if they were made earlier.
“We have no idea what caused that collision, but I’m conscious of how difficult it is to pick your judgment as to when to turn when the cars are accelerating coming up the hill. You have to be infinitely patient, especially if there’s any inclement weather like rain or darkness. It’s a poorly lit intersection, the turning lane is poorly marked. It’s an accident waiting to happen,” Crossley said.
Through their work, the Smiths wrote a nine-page report on the safety issues of the South Davis Road intersection. The report outlines the issues, and proposes options for improving safety of the intersection.
The options include fixing blind sports created by road elevation changes and centre barrier heights; improving the right turn lane from South Davis Road onto the Trans-Canada Highway by making it longer, as the existing merge lane ends abruptly; they also propose placing a traffic controlled signal on the intersection.
“I can’t for the life of me understand why the MOTI hasn’t done those things,” Crossley said.
Despite the massive undertaking, Brian said that the group never received a response from the MOTI about their canvassing effort. He believes that their research was never reviewed by Binnie or the MOTI.
“It was very difficult to even get acknowledgement,” Brian said.
In an effort to get acknowledgement, the Smiths sought a meeting with Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley. Officials from MOTI were scheduled to come up from Victoria to discuss the South Davis Community Report, but the meeting was cancelled, and never rescheduled.
Routley said that the meeting was cancelled because representatives from MOTI and the Town of Ladysmith had entered discussions about changes to the South Davis Road intersection.
“I agree that the intersection is dangerous. We’ve had catastrophic collisions there,” Routley said. “But the community report cannot do as accurate a count as the ministry. The MOTI would not accept that kind of report, other than as additional information.”
“I value the report. Not only is it of value in forming their opinion, but it’s something that can’t be ignored. Even though it can’t be officially recognized, their report pushed council, myself, and the ministry to further the discussion.”
Another element of pressure adding to the conversation is the scale of new developments being built in south Ladysmith.
Housing developments have been approved in the Farrell Road and Russell Road areas of south Ladysmith. And developments in Holland Creek will add even more housing to Ladysmith over the next two decades. These developments have made it a certainty that traffic flows in south Ladysmith will increase. If changes are not made to South Davis, it will likely cause further congestion at the North Davis intersection — an already busy intersection. Many drivers already prefer the North Davis intersection because its perceived safety as a controlled intersection.
“The traffic study didn’t take into account some of the factors that are impacting traffic all around the area,” Routley said. “I’ve had confirmation from the ministry that they’ve begun discussions with the town, and several different options will be on the table.”
Ultimately, the MOTI has jurisdiction over any changes that may or may not occur at an intersection. Routley said that any changes at South Davis Road will be guided by the Town of Ladysmith, but the MOTI has discretion over what those changes will look like.
“They have to approach things fairly, and prioritize safety while balancing all of that through many communities. I understand that, but our job is to make this, at the very least, the priority that it deserves. I would say that right now that some of these issues are not adequately recognized by MOTI,” Routley said.
Routley said that his role is to act as a facilitator for dialogue between MOTI and the Town of Ladysmith, and he committed to pushing for action on the issue.
“I’m going to ensure that people follow through within the ministry. Both my staff and myself will be in regular contact with the ministry both locally and provincially to ensure that they are being responsive, and are participating in good faith,” he said.
“If I have to, I’ll start camping out on the minister’s door step — not physically, obivously, because of the pandemic — but sometimes that’s how things have to happen. You have to just keep pushing,” Routley added.
Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone said that the Town has long advocated for changes to the South Davis intersection, but to-date, conversations with MOTI are ongoing.
“We’ve always advocated for a controlled intersection at South Davis, or a similar solution,” Stone said. “The previous reports that were done in partnership with the ministry recommended closing South Davis, but that would only compound the issues at North Davis.”
Stone supports many of the same proposed fixes that the Smiths outlined in their report. He said that Town staff are in regular communication with MOTI on the South Davis intersection.
“There’s no easy or immediate answer. None of it is inexpensive, and all of it has to be studied, but we continue to advocate for a controlled intersection or some other measure that will provide similar benefits for South Davis,” Stone said.
There is no set date for when those changes may be made.
For Brian and Sandra Smith, they say that they won’t place much faith in anything that Routley or Stone say until they see action.
“If they’re working on this, what have they done in the last few months to put this forward?” Sandra asked. “Actions speak louder than words”