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When is a stop sign not a stop sign?

Trick question: it always is. But unfortunately, some people in New Westminster seem to believe that it magically ceases to be a stop sign under some circumstances.

The intersection of Sixth Avenue and First Street has a pedestrian-controlled flashing green light on Sixth, and stop signs on First. If you need pictures, here you go:

When a pedestrian wants to cross Sixth Avenue, they press the button, wait for the light to turn red and the walk signal to appear, and then they can cross the street.

When this happens, the stop sign stays a stop sign. But it turns out that this subtle point is lost on some drivers, as they see the red lights on Sixth Avenue and assume they have a green light.

This is best seen in this See Click Fix report, where a number of people have reported that drivers are failing to stop at the stop sign, in some cases nearly hitting pedestrians. This is particularly dangerous as Herbert Spencer School is on that corner, and that intersection is on the Safe Walking Route map for children to get to and from school.

First, this is primarily an education issue, although I don’t know how you can drill it into people’s heads that a stop sign is always a stop sign.

Secondly, it could easily be an enforcement issue. Park a traffic cop there, start handing out tickets, and people will eventually get the point. I don’t see this happening on a consistent basis to drive any sort of change in behaviour. Luckily New Westminster’s incoming mayor made enforcement part of his platform:

Target regular and consistent traffic enforcement to discourage drivers from cutting through local neighbourhoods.

Is there anything the city could do to make the stop sign more visible? The sign isn’t blocked by tree branches, and it’s right at the corner. Big STOP painted on the street, maybe? Extra markings on the road would be cheap and visible. Red flashing light on top of the stop sign? That would improve visibility of the stop sign, but those are typically used in locations where the stop sign is unexpected or where it often gets foggy. Neither apply to this situation.

One relatively expensive solution is to raise the grade of the crosswalks across First Street. Instead of bringing the sidewalk down to the road, bring the road up to the level of the sidewalk. This is already used on First Street at Fifth Avenue, with a clearly-marked crosswalk and speed hump. Make the crosswalks at Sixth Avenue more visible by raising them into speed humps and painting the crosswalk area in the faux brick pattern.

What I don’t know is if this is actually allowed on BC’s streets. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any other controlled intersections where this is done — but please, let me know and I’ll update this post.

I’ve gone through the minutes for New Westminster’s ACTBiPed and Neighbourhood Traffic Advisory Committees and couldn’t find any mention of this intersection, so from Council’s point-of-view, I don’t think it’s on their radar. The city has already said no to speed humps on First Street between Sixth Avenue and Eighth Avenue, but that was on account of not enough traffic and not because of safety issues.

So where do we go from here? Judging from the Terms of Reference for the ACTBiPed Committee, this could be considered to fall under Focus #3: “Enhancement of safety, security and accessibility of the transportation system for all users” and under Focus #9: “Identification and reduction of potential conflicts between transportation system user group.” This looks like an ideal issue for that committee.

Now, who do I know who might be on that committee in the new year?

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