Elling Lien makes the call.

A few nights ago I watched two people almost bite it as they walked across Military Road at Victoria Street. They were midpoint on a crosswalk when a car sped right in front of them.

Now, I don’t think the driver was purposely being an jerk. He or she, for whatever reason, just didn’t seem to see them in time to stop. As a driver, I too have accidentally whizzed right on by.

This city is getting bigger and busier, and as winter descends, the nights get longer, and the weather gets more slippery, designated crosswalks often don’t feel as safe as they used to.

I know we don’t live in a perfect world. But it made me wonder how I can go about reporting something like that, and what the city rules are for crosswalks.

I often come to a crosswalk and think it needs to be better lit, or that traffic is zooming by too fast. Sometimes there are mechanical problems: The crosswalk on Rennie’s Mill Road, for example, in front of the new Dominion boasts flashing lights, but the button to activate the lights is broken on one side. Sometimes I come to a point in the road that seems like it should have a crosswalk, but doesn’t.

So — whaddyado?

Robin King, Transportation Engineer for the City of St. John’s, says the first step to take with any kind of request like that is to call the City at 311—they really do have operators standing by—and log a request or make a complaint.

To begin, I asked him what the process was for making a new crosswalk…:

Normally the process is there is a requirement or someone’s asked us to have us look into a location for a crosswalk. Either that or we make that initiation ourselves. From there, what we’ll do is we’ll arrange to do a study and it generally involves counting traffic and pedestrians over a six hour time frame. Two hours in the morning, two hours around lunchtime – peak hour – and then two hours in the evening, depending on what we’re doing it for. And from there then we’ll pick out the worst hour and the highest volumes of the most pedestrians and we’ll put that in our warrant system that we have for the Transportation Association of Canada. And that warrant system operates like a hierarchy. It’s a chart based on a number of crossing opportunities that you have and the actual number of pedestrians that are crossing the road.

Does it count the number of pedestrians that are crossing as well?

Yeah, it gives you what’s called an Equivalent Unit. The Equivalent Unit gives two points for children under the age of twelve and adults get one point. That’s how you normally do it, in point form. So if you have a lot of kids traveling you get more priority placed on it. If it were a lot of adults, they could make a more rational decision.

That goes into a graph and that will tell us first of all whether a crossing is warranted and if so, what type of crossing we should put there: whether it be a marked crosswalk, an RA5 installation – that’s the overhead illumination with flashing beacons on both sides. You’ll see that down by the stadium. Or it could involve warranting a full red, amber, green signal. That’s generally what we go by.

So that information comes to the committee and the committee presents that to council…?

No the traffic division takes all those requests in. Say you phoned 311 today and said “I want to put a crosswalk in this location,” we take that request and put it in our cue. We may have twenty other requests for crosswalks. It might take some time to get it done. But we’ll put the technician out there and count it on the first available off time we get. We’ll evaluate that and then we’ll take that report back to Police & Traffic Committee. If it’s warranted then the committee will get approval from council and we’ll go ahead with it and if not, we’ll bring that to council to let them know its not warranted.

It’s an interesting process. I’ve often wondered how it happened. And I guess it’s just a matter of calling up the city.

If you feel there’s an area that you think warrants a crosswalk, then all you have to do is give us a call. Or call 311 and it’s logged into the system and we’ll do an analysis from there.

If someone sees a problem with a crosswalk, like if it’s not well lit or something like that, what’s done in that situation?

Again, call 311 and it’s logged in and it will be given to one of our technicians to look at. If it warrants more lighting we’ll get Newfoundland Power to do it.

There were a couple of interesting things in the City Council minutes from their meeting in late November – it listed a few techniques the city is using for slowing down traffic. Is it true you can just paint the road and it really slows things down?

We’ve done that on Carrick Drive and Frecker Drive… we paint the parking lane on both sides and put a center lane in. That pushes motorists towards the center of the road. We used to have a lot of complaints on Carrick Drive that motorists were hugging the curbs, but we did before and after speed studies (before we had the markings and after we had the markings) and we found there wasn’t a substantial drop in curb hugging, but there was a drop of 3-4 km per hour in overall speed. And in a residential neighbourhood that can be significant.

That’s interesting… because the cars are driving closer to each other?

Yeah, if it’s wider open they feel more comfortable, and they go faster. We found by painting the marks on there the residents like it too. It gives them the opportunity to get out of their driveway a bit better, and it defines where you can and can’t park on the street.

Are there many areas like that where that’s being done?

We’ve done it in Airport Heights… on the main drags in Airport Heights… Carrick Drive, Cowan Heights… and we’re planning on doing something similar with Canada Drive this year as well.

So what kind of request would it take to paint the roads like that? (laugh)

What the complaint we’d get is “people are speeding on my street and I want something done about it!” Normally what we do in these cases is we’ll arrange to do a count traffic out on the street; see what the volumes are and the eighty-fifth percentile speed… The percentile speed is a good speed that engineers gauge to see if there is a problem or not. Eighty-five per cent of the traffic would be doing that speed, or less.
Typically 15% of drivers will obey the speed limit no matter what you do. But if your eighty-fifth percentile speed, for example, is 70kph on a 50kph posted speed limit, I’d say we have a problem there and we have to do something about it. But, typically speaking if you get an eighty-fifth percentile driving at around 51 or 52 or 55 km per hour that generally means that most people are paying attention to the speed limit.

On the higher eighty-fifth percentile speeds that we would record then we’d typically give the police a call, or the traffic unit, and tell them we’ve done a count, these are the results, we got and there seems to be a problem there. And we’ll ask the to go pay attention to it.

As the city grows you must be getting busier and busier.

The traffic division is flat-out all the time.

I was trying to think of a time in the year when it slows down for you guys, but I couldn’t think of one.

When I first came back here in ’91 we used to have a lull in the wintertime when we could catch up on things and do some planning and that. Now there’s no lull now.