As a young woman runs across Blanshard Street from Saanich Plaza to Uptown, Roberta Ferguson watches another three people jaywalk Blanshard in the opposite direction.
The Uptown general manager pays especially close attention to a pair of young parents, with dad carrying toddler, who briefly consider cutting across but opt to go the long way and walk up Blanshard to the Ravine Way intersection.
It’s a load of stress Ferguson can’t wait to do away with, and she won’t have to wait much longer.
Work started Monday to install a pedestrian-activated crosswalk with five sets of tri-colour traffic lights on Blanshard about halfway between Saanich Road and Ravine Way. The new crosswalk will provide a safe option for pedestrians seeking to get between the two shopping centres and will remove one of the highest risk crossings in the region. For Ferguson, it’s been a long time coming.
“This is a super block, a long block and this will make it pedestrian friendly for the community, our neighbourhood and the tenants on both sides of Blanshard,” Ferguson said.
The owners of Uptown shopping centre, Morguard Investments, are footing the majority of the bill for the project but wouldn’t reveal how much it would cost. The crosswalk was designed and approved in partnership with the Ministry of Transportation that owns and oversees Blanshard, and the District of Saanich, which maintains the sidewalks.
“It’s a much-needed mid-block pedestrian crossing that Saanich is supportive of,” said Harley Machielse, director of Saanich Engineering. “It’s not unusual for a shopping area to upgrade an off-site area to improve things for their shoppers.”
It comes 11 years after Morguard initially identified the dangerous and highly used crossing when they made their 2006 application for a development permit, said Geoff Nagle, Morguard’s director of development for Western Canada.
“It’s a significant investment that we believe is to the betterment of the community,” Nagle said. “We’ve worked extensively with approving authorities to get to what will be a great improvement.”
Saanich Police isn’t aware of a pedestrian fatality along that stretch in recent years though Nagle has followed the data of incident reports and said there’s certainly been a few bumps.
Victoria Shannon is the president of Hansbraun Investments which owns and operates Saanich Plaza, home numerous shops and businesses on the other side of Blanshard. Both pedestrians and drivers, unwilling to commute between the two, are tempted to brave the short crossing.
“We’re absolutely thrilled it’s going in,” Shannon said. “We are all of the same mind.”
Nagle said the traffic engineers working with Uptown counted dozens of jaywalkers at peak hours, data that matched a separate measurement by the Ministry of Transportation.
“There’s so much more to it than you realize, [Blanshard] has a very complex flow to it,” Nagle said. “The new lights will be timed at the most efficient level so as not to disrupt the traffic flow.”
At one point there was a discussion for a pedestrian overpass. However, it would have cost significantly more to put in, and doesn’t offer the same solutions, Nagle said.
“We looked at an overpass around 2009 but the response we got from traffic engineers was that it was more work for pedestrians, more work for disabled people, to get up the ramps,” Nagle said.
And by placing the crosswalk before the Uptown and Saanich Plaza exits, it also increases the opportunities for drivers exiting Uptown and Saanich Plaza to merge into traffic, as they seek to cross several lanes with drivers speeding well over the 50km/h limit.
“I think it’s going to give everybody that much more time to be safer,” Ferguson said. “It’s still kind of like a highway there but it isn’t.”
Uptown has recently improved its on-site traffic situation with the new in-out access on Ravine Way (below Whole Foods). It relieved the previous wait, which was upwards of 15 minutes to exit the upper parkade onto Blanshard.