Recent storefront collisions renew calls to control traffic in South Granville

There are renewed calls to control vehicle traffic along South Granville in Vancouver after two recent collisions into storefronts that left a driver dead and a pedestrian injured.

On Friday night, a man died after crashing his car into the Williams Sonoma storefront on Granville Street and West 13th Avenue. A passenger in the car was taken to hospital in serious but stable condition

Last month, a pedestrian was seriously injured in the same area after being hit by a vehicle that crashed into a Purdy's Chocolate storefront at Granville Street and 11th Ave.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The two collisions came as no surprise to the owner of Bacci's, a clothing store at Granville Street and West 12th Avenue.

"It's too fast," said Andrea Molnar.

"People are running the lights continuously and this is going on for close to 20 years now and we've been hit 10 times."

Molnar says she's asked the City of Vancouver and ICBC to do something about the intersection for years.

In an emailed statement, the city stated that municipal staff are waiting for an update from Vancouver police about Friday's collision.

"These details will help in determining if additional preventative safety measures need to be implemented, specifically at that intersection," the statement said.

Focus on drivers not pedestrians, says UBC professor

Rainy weather and early sunsets have some experts worried about the behaviour of drivers.

"We don't emphasize that people should be driving to the conditions all the time," said Kay Teschke, professor emeritus at UBC's School of Population and Public Health.

"When it's dark, when it's raining, when it's snowing, those are all conditions when you should be driving more slowly than the speed limit."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Teschke says police departments and public-facing agencies like ICBC should be repeatedly telling drivers to slow down.

She says a video of "pedestrian safety tips" tweeted by the Vancouver Police Department in October was "counterproductive."

"It puts the emphasis in the wrong place. It's the driving that causes the harm," she said.

The tweet received backlash from social media users who accused the law enforcement agency of victim-blaming those most at risk of injury or death from collisions.

The VPD says it shared the video as part of National Pedestrian Safety Month.

"During that time we like to bring awareness to all road users and offer tips, specifically to pedestrians, on how to remain safe," explained Cst. Tania Visintin.

"Another similar campaign is the Distracted Driving Month, where we speak to tips and ways to not be distracted while you're driving."

Safety and street design

Teschke, whose research focuses on road infrastructure, says street design is the number one way to improve safety for all road users.

The City of Vancouver's transportation plan includes a goal of zero traffic-related fatalities and injuries.

"We've been taking a very evidence-based approach and looking at where collisions occur, looking at when they occur, and who's involved," explained Winston Chou, manager of traffic and data management.

"Based on that, we're making decisions, making changes to the street and the design of the roadway to improve safety for all road users."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Data from 2011 to 2019 shows that the rate of collisions involving cyclists went down from eight per 10,000 daily trips to four.

However, the rate of collisions involving pedestrians has stayed stable at two per 10,000 trips. According to statistics from Vancouver police, an average of eight pedestrians have been killed in collisions annually for the past six years.

Still, Chou believes that with changes to cycling infrastructure, there's been a culture shift.

"Over time, as there's more cyclists, there's more people using that mode," Chou said.

"There's more awareness to it."