Highway One Problems & Solutions

BC, Canada, Civil Engineering, Regulation, Revelstoke, Rural, Technology, Transportation

Summer is time for road-trips and camping, Albertan’s spilling into BC to enjoy the Province’s natural beauty, families travelling to visit relatives, beach vacations – and unfortunately for many of these trips, the Trans-Canada Highway is a necessary part of the route. On twitter, I have several searches that I check before I head out on the Trans Canada Highway from Revelstoke @DriveBC and  #Revelstoke #BCHWY1. Incidents such as this one from earlier this month are the reason why:

Four people were seriously injured and three trapped in their vehicles in a four-vehicle pileup on the Trans-Canada Highway by the Enchanted Forest and Sky Trek on Tuesday, August 5.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Kurt Grabinsky said the accident, which occurred at about 3 pm, closed the highway until just before 8 pm.

He said a West-bound truck pulling a trailer was moving too fast and too close to another vehicle that was turning left into the popular tourist attraction when it hit. Two other vehicles then hit it.

Revelstoke Current – Truck driver charged in Tuesday’s TCH pileup that left four injured

In just 26 days (from July 10 to August 5), the stretch of the Trans Canada Highway either side of Revelstoke between Sicamous and Golden has been closed eight times1. On average, every 5 days or so (since July 1, so far this summer), an accident or incident has occurred that has closed the highway. Typically, these closures are at least an hour, and if a police investigation is required, (if there is a fatality or serious injury or a multi-vehicle incident), the time to opening often extends to over four hours, often up to six.


Aside from incidents that occur within two kilometers of Revelstoke itself, there is effectively no reasonable detour available to the travelling public on BC HWY1 around Revelstoke.

On the West side of Revelstoke the detour would be greater than 6 hours additional travel time2. On the east side it could be greater than 8 hours additional travel time3.

Traffic Statistics

The Ministry traffic statistics are aggregated into Annual Average (AADT), and Summer Average Daily Traffic (SADT). The most relevant “permanent core” traffic data station is located at Twin Slides, approximately 47km East of Revelstoke. These averages are shown in the chart below, and available here.

Traffic Stats TCH

Trans Canada Highway Traffic Statistics

This data shows that since 2004, average daily summer traffic is up 14% (to 2013), but annual average total traffic is down 0.2% (to 2012). It is possible that a four hour highway closure on an average summer day could seriously impact the travel time of over 5,000 vehicles, and during peak summer days, this number could easily be as high as 8,000 vehicles, likely well over 10,000 people.

The Provincial Vision for the Corridor…

Note that the BC government is not responsible for the whole length of BCHWY1 from Kamloops to the Alberta Border, about 100km4 is a Federal responsibility. However, the Province has made some bold statements about four-laning the route, and has committee to several important projects along the route…

…since 2001 about $700 million in federal and provincial funds have gone towards the same section of the highway [Kamloops to the Alberta Border]. That’s added about 45 kilometres in new four-lane sections, in addition to new bridges.

Revelstoke Times Review – Update: $509 million promise for Trans-Canada four-laning from Kamloops to Alberta

Highway 1 Improvement Projects identified in 2013  MOTI document.

Highway 1 Improvement Projects identified in 2013 MOTI document.

The Highway 1 Malakwa Bridge and Four-Laning Project is part of the B.C. government’s commitment to invest $650 million over 10 years – improving Highway 1 between Kamloops and the Alberta border. Tybo Contracting Ltd. of Langley B.C. is the successful bidder with a tender of $16.4-million for the construction of the new bridge and four-laning project. Construction is scheduled to begin in August and is anticipated to be complete in the summer of 2016. The project also includes the widening of 2.7 kilometres of Highway 1 from two to four lanes and the addition of centre median barriers.

Highway 1 improvement project to replace Malakwa Bridge

But how do you set priorities?

One of the challenges that I see with the roll-out of the four-laning program is the distribution of the funds compared with the problem. There are many ways to determine the best use of $650 million over 10 years on this section of BCHWY1, and really, project priorities could be allocated in any order, including for example:

  • number of fatalities
  • number of injuries
  • frequency of vehicle incidents
  • easiest or least costly per kilometer sections
  • hardest or most costly per kilometer sections
  • cost of vehicle incidents (insurance)
  • cost of vehicle incidents (cost of delays on transport)
  • protected left turn movements
  • number of closures due to avalanche
  • first responder safety (i.e. avalanche paths)
  • areas of highway with low functional speed due to road geometry
  • climbing lanes
  • maintenance costs
  • condition and age of bridges

Summer and winter pose different problems and priorities for the highway. For winter, I believe one of the greatest risks is avalanche, that is why avalanche paths are marked as no-stopping zones. As Val Visotzky, an Avalanche Technician based in Revelstoke for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure states, “the longer you are exposed to any hazard, the more you are at risk”. My vote would place a high priority on addressing areas where the avalanche risk compounds the risk for first responders at an accident scene, this is a pretty simple GIS mapping exercise: identify all winter accidents requiring more than 30 minutes of first responder time and query these against all known avalanche paths. Both of these fields could be weighted, length of delay for the accident, vs frequency of avalanche activity at a slide path. For summer, the traffic patterns change, (the average volume basically doubles) there are many more RV’s, campers, boat trailers, and families on holidays crossing the province, speeds typically go up, as does the risk of driver fatigue with longer daylight hours and the distances covered on holidays.

The incident mentioned at the top of this post was at an unprotected left turn into a popular (summer) tourist attraction. The posted speed limit is 90km/hr, and the province recently announced that the speed limit is being increased to 100km/hr through this section. Installing  protected turning lanes at this location should be considered as a high priority for summer driving. This incident, at this location seems to have a high risk of occurring again, given the parameters at play.

BC HWY1 at the Enchanted Forest - https://goo.gl/maps/CiTTO

BC HWY1 at the Enchanted Forest – https://goo.gl/maps/CiTTO

An Alternative? – Vision Zero and Smart Highways

Closures on the highway have become part of Revelstoke’s and other interior communities existence. The gridlock in towns can be an inconvenience for locals, and potentially a negative experience for visitors, (willing or unwilling), to these beautiful tourist destinations. But does it have to be this way? As the four-laning program is rolled-out, I hope that the known collision locations are checked off, and driver safety is held up as the highest priority.

An alternative approach that has some merit comes from Sweden. The Swedish Vision Zero initiative is a road traffic safety project that started in 1997, with the aim of achieving a highway system with no fatalities or serious injuries in road traffic.

A core principle of the vision is that ‘Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society’ rather than the more conventional approach where a monetary value is placed on life and health which is then used with a Benefit-cost ratio evaluation before investing money in the road network to decrease risk.

Wikipedia – Vision Zero

Part of the Vision Zero program is a focus on road technologies that can inform decision making for road management and driver behaviour, which is an obvious (but expensive) solution to the post accident highway re-opening traffic issues as well as weather related speed considerations. The Ministry of Transportation is adopting smart roadways as part of the “Actions to Improve Rural Highway Safety” program, with road and weather sensors and variable speed limit and warning signs along this BCHWY1 corridor between Sicamous and Revelstoke.

Proposed variable speed limit system - Perry Creek Bridge to Highway 23 junction

Proposed variable speed limit system – Perry Creek Bridge to Highway 23 junction

 Traffic and pavement sensors will monitor real-time traffic speeds and road conditions to provide information back to operations staff. This information will then be used to proactively update electronic speed limit signs located along the corridor. A senior district official would have final decision making ability in modifying speed limits, but will be advised in that decision by the information provided by the road weather information stations (air temperature and precipitation information), traffic sensors (vehicle speed information), and pavement sensors (roadway friction, visibility, and condition of the road surface).

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure – Actions to improve safety on B.C.’s rural highways

From my perspective, the roll-out of this project can’t come soon enough, and if used judiciously could help reduce vehicle incidents and fatalities on the corridor, and better manage road openings following events. In the meantime, I hope and pray that drivers will slow down, keep their distance from vehicles in front, stay focused, and take regular breaks on their trips. The risks just are not worth the rush, particularly with the summer traffic volumes on the roads.

Some Context for this post, and a bit of a disclaimer

Note: I work closely with staff from the Ministry, the highway maintenance contractor, ICBC and the RCMP in my role as Director of Engineering and Development for the City of Revelstoke and have a great deal of respect for the work they do. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of my employer. I am passionate about finding the right solutions to the engineering problems we face as a community, and while this is outside of my direct influence, I believe that having a discussion of the issues and options along the corridor has value for the safety of all users.

Twitter Timeline – BCHWY1 Revelstoke Summer 2014

This is a summary of the incidents along the corridor this summer to August 5th.
At the Enchanted forest:

Not, an accident, but an extended highway closure:

At the Mount Revelstoke Parkway overpass, fortunately, vehicles were able to detour through Revelstoke:

Just west of Revelstoke:

In Glacier National Park:

Another in Glacier National Park:

Three Valley Gap is a notorious location both summer and winter for vehicle incidents:

Again, a detour was available through Revelstoke, but there is really only a couple of kilometers that this detour is an option:

  1. data collected from a very informal search of DriveBC twitter activity – see twitter links at the end of this article 

  2.  for example, if you we stopped in Malakwa, (which is often the case), Google Maps offers a 6.5 hour alternative route through scenic HWY 6 and HWY 23S, compared to the usual 45 minutes on HWY1. 

  3. if you had made it from Calgary to Golden, and needed to get through to Revelstoke, or beyond to Kamloops say, the alternative is about 8 hours longer, through Creston, according to Google Maps

  4. possibly some of the most difficult terrain, located within Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks 


How I Keep My Lists in Order – Workflowy

Blogging, Business, Management, Software

Do you make lists? Do you use an orderly system on your computer or in a notebook; or do you scribble them out on sticky notes? In today’s information rich environment, the ability to keep lists, to-dos, projects and tasks in order is important, do you use lists for brainstorming, or shopping lists? Or how about packing lists? I’ve tried all types of productivity software, and those apps that shine are the often the simplest.

One of my favourites that holds a coveted space on my iPhone homescreen and work desktop is Workflowy. It doesn’t have a calendar and it doesn’t beep at you, but it does have an awesome search, tagging, the ability to mark notes as complete, and great export options.

With Workflowy you have one big list that has bullets and sub-bullets, technically it is what is called an outline or hierarchical outline.

Workflowy Screenshot

Workflowy is blazingly fast, works on all devices and allows almost infinite outline levels (or lists within lists). This is software that is simple and the developers are thoughtful as to additional features and attempting to keep things minimalist. Sign up for a free account and watch the tutorials to get started!


Infrastructure Inspections and Awareness

Cities, Civil Engineering, Construction, Governance, Sustainability, Transportation

Or – Why Inspections are Fundamental to Asset Management

Two engineering departments in the City of Honolulu have very different approaches to the same problem.

The city does not have an inspection program for light poles, despite the fact that there are 51,000 street lights on the island. The city says it doesn’t have the money or staff to maintain one.”For us to stop funding other programs, like providing better lighting to fund pole inspections, is something that’s not going to be productive,” said Ross Sasamura, director of the Dept. of Facility Maintenance…

A different department, Transportation Services, takes care of the lights that are attached to traffic signals, like the one that fell on Atkinson. Director Mike Formby is asking for $180,000 in the budget to get his own inspection program off the ground.”What we’re trying to do right now is a systematic inspection program, where we go through the county and inspect all the traffic lights in this region and we move through the county,” he said.

via: KHON2 – City to inspect poles when replacing street lights

Considering that steel streetlight poles typically have a lifespan of around 20 years, (and even less in corrosive environments such as salt spray near beaches). A proactive inspection and replacement program would appear valuable to ensure that streetlights are kept in good condition.

Photo Credit: Kumaravel cc

Photo Credit: Kumaravel cc

What is Asset Management?

A pretty straight-forward definition of Asset Management comes from one of my favourite road organizations, Austroads

“…a comprehensive and structured approach to the long-term management of assets as tools for the efficient delivery of community benefits.” – Strategy for Improving Asset Management Practice, AUSTROADS.

It is impossible to manage assets that you know nothing about, so it is ironic that the director of facility maintenance has no money, or real interest in an inspection program to determine the condition of the assets. Comprehensive asset management programs are built on a foundation of data, and the more quality data you have, the easier it is to manage that asset class.

And Data Starts with Inspections

In most cases, better quality data only comes from inspections. General assumptions can be made regarding the age of an asset, but without inspection, the actual condition of an asset can only be assumed. Inspections don’t have to be extremely detailed as a first assessment, for instance, streetlight assessments could firstly be done using Google street-view to assess light standard types and “drive by” visual assessment. The next level would be a visual inspection of each pole, looking for rust, dents, missing bolts and soundness of installation. From this information, priority ranking could be determined for repair or replacement.

Prioritizing Asset Management

Effective management of infrastructure assets is a growing challenge for North American local governments. With aging infrastructure, an understanding of the required effort and financing to rehabilitate, renew, replace or abandon existing infrastructure, (even before considering the impacts of growth on asset inventory) is critical. This will inform funding requests at all levels of government and ensure consistency among departments, and build a culture of awareness of how to prevent the problem from recurring.

Simple and inexpensive tools and techniques exist to improve an organization’s infrastructure awareness – infrastructure inspection forms, policy templates, organizational asset maturity assessments, the International Infrastructure Management Manual, and NAMS Plus templates are great starting points.

Strong asset management practices take a proactive approach to the infrastructure deficit issue, and establishes business practices that support truly sustainable infrastructure. Neglecting inspections in an effort to focus on “problem areas” is dealing with the symptom, not the problem. There is no understanding of infrastructure deficit, future costs or planning on how to address these issues.


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What Have You Shipped?

Blogging, Business, Productivity

Last week I received a report on our departmental progress, it was in effect, a reminder of what we’ve “shipped” over the past six months. Having a regular reminder of your progress seems like a good thing, and it is supported by research:

making headway on meaningful work brightens a person’s inner work life and boosts long-term progress. It isn’t monetary rewards and recognition that truly motivate us. It’s a sense that we are accomplishing something meaningful – day by day.

Why a ‘done’ list beats a to-do list

Tracking these things we’ve done makes sense, we should celebrate our accomplishments, and challenge ourselves on the work we are doing and what we are achieving. Seth Godin asked this question a couple of years ago, and the idea stuck with me…

But what have you shipped?

What have you done with your connection skills that has been worthy of criticism, that moved the dial and that changed the world?

Go, do that.

But what have you shipped? – Seth Godin

Photo Credit: lemonhalf cc

Photo Credit: lemonhalf cc

I’ve started making a note of the my done list. At the end of the day, I write down the things that I’ve shipped/done/achieved that day. For inspiration, the iDoneThis app‘s ebook suggests the following questions:

  1. What did you get done today?
  2. What did I make progress on today?
  3. What impacted your progress?
  4. What did you do today that you especially want to remember in the future?
  5. What good have I done today?
  6. What are 3 good things about today?

So… What have you shipped today?


Begbie Lake

Pressgram, Revelstoke

A rarely visited lake just off HWY23 south of Revelstoke. No real beach, but lots of rainbow trout waiting to be caught from a float tube. Note:It would be challenging to get a canoe down the trail from the hwy.

Begbie Lake

Begbie Lake

  • Camera: iPhone 5c
  • Taken: 21 June, 2014
  • Location: 50° 54′ 41.38″ N 118° 11′ 6.32″ W



Arrow Lakes Drawdown

Pressgram, Revelstoke

Columbia River looking across to Mt Begbie

This section of the Columbia River just below Revelstoke is known as the Arrow Lakes Drawdown. At the start of summer this area usually becomes flooded as BC Hydro fills the Arrow Lakes Reservoir for the summer. Many of Revelstoke’s recreation trails on the flats become submerged for a couple of months and areas we would walk or bike can be canoed over.

  • Camera: iPhone 5c
  • Taken: 21 June, 2014
  • Location: 50° 59′ 13.17″ N 118° 12′ 41.85″ W




Infrastructure, the Economy and Local Governments

BC, Canada, Community, Construction, Governance, Sustainability

Some of the greatest challenges that local governments face in Canada revolve around the concept of the “Infrastructure Deficit“. In Canada, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, (FCM) has a position statement on the infrastructure deficit:

All governments – federal, provincial, territorial and municipal – must work together and with the private sector to make immediate infrastructure repairs to protect public health and safety. They must act now to establish a fully funded, long-term plan to build roads, water systems, community facilities and transportation systems Canada needs to support businesses and families, enrich our quality of life and maintain competitiveness in international markets.

Fully funded, long-term plans need to be developed in coordination with provincial and federal levels of government to ensure sustainable asset management. [click to continue…]

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62 Considerations for an Integrated Urban Design

Cities, Civil Engineering, Construction, Design, Stormwater, Subdivision Design, Sustainability, Transportation

As a civil engineer involved in municipal, development, and transportation; one of the most important concepts to remember is that of integrated urban design. Simplified, if just the traffic engineer was responsible for the design, roads might be large enough for the maximum projected traffic demand; if just the public works manager was responsible for the design, the roads might be as straight as possible for easy street sweeping and snow removal, if it was just up to the urban planner, the road might have parklets, a median, narrow driving lanes and wide sidewalks; if it was just up to the home owner on the road, there would be no traffic and the ability to park their car directly outside their house.

The main objective with considering an integrated design is acknowledging that there are competing demands, all of which may be valid and should be carefully considered before the final design is derived. The process for developing a design does become more complicated, but the outcome can be expected to be far superior to one that only considers one viewpoint.

From my experience the standard subdivision and servicing design bylaw does little to address these competing requirements or demands, but instead provides the base template to be used as the starting point, but to develop functional and interesting streetscapes, more detailed consideration is required. Below is a list of many of the considerations used when considering an integrated approach to urban design. [click to continue…]

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