In April 2014, Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure imposed cuts to our ferry service which, in summer 2014, resulted in almost a 50% increase in the number of overloaded departures from Gabriola. The immediate impact was a very significant increase in traffic lining up beyond the recognised turning point on Taylor Bay Road and an incremental increase in the number of drivers attempting u-turns on Taylor Bay Road in order to join the ferry line-up.
On 12 June 2014, FAC members met with Ministry officials Renee Mounteney, Nathan Vanden Dungen and Johnathan Tillie and with RCMP representative Markus Muntener to review the safety hazards presented by this situation. At the end of June 2014, an interim, low-cost solution of additional signage and a second U-turn point at Ivory Way was identified and implemented within a month.
Two years on, and it is evident that signage alone has done little to reduce the number of vehicles making u-turns along what is arguably one of the most hazardous stretches of road on the island.
Earlier this month, the FAC resolved to make a formal approach to the Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure for a comprehensive review of traffic management for ferry traffic. Our request has the support of BC Ferries but, as we understand the position, BC Ferries does not have the power to invoke changes to traffic arrangements on the highway and we assume therefore that the responsibility for managing the safe marshalling of ferry traffic does actually fall within the purview of the Ministry.
These are some of the key factors that we believe need to be considered:
- The ferry has a capacity of about 70 vehicles, which typically represents a line-up extending up to 400 linear metres from the terminal to a point that is already beyond the first turn-round bay on Taylor Bay Road – partly as a result of the unofficial parking now occurring opposite the Skol pub, which creates a gap in the line-up.
- For at least six months of the year, most ferries departing Gabriola between 7am and 1pm attract traffic volumes that extend beyond the first turn-round point and necessitate vehicles making a U-turn somewhere in order to join the line-up.
- At peak traffic periods, the ferry line-up can routinely extend another 200 metres beyond the turn-round point, continuing on occasions all the way into Ivory Way. Any management plan would therefore need to provide for at least 800 linear metres for ferry traffic to be accommodated at the busiest times, with around 600 linear metres routinely needed throughout the summer.
- The designated bay for oversize vehicles on North Road is rarely used, since there is no reliable method for oversize traffic to rejoin the line-up at the appropriate place. The overwhelming majority of oversize vehicles therefore join the main line-up on Taylor Bay Road
- In a typical month, between 400 and 450 large commercial vehicles and buses board the ferry from Gabriola. The impact of this heavy traffic on the structure of the pavement along the ferry line-up is very evident to see, with significant lengths of roadway either breaking up or showing signs of slumping down the embankment.
- Only 21% of the island’s population actually lives in areas served by Taylor Bay Road, therefore at least 75% of vehicles joining the ferry line-up – and virtually all of the oversize commercial vehicles using the ferry – have to turn round somewhere once the line-up extends into Taylor Bay Road.
- The FAC recognises that there is no simple solution, but the community remains unconvinced that the present regime of advisory and regulatory signage will ever deliver a self-enforcing solution to the traffic safety problems we have today.
- Suggestions varying from plastic or concrete median barriers on Taylor Bay Road to a new ferry parking lot built over the inlet alongside Ferry Hill have all been put forward by the community, but do we in fact need to question whether Taylor Bay Road is the wrong place for ferry traffic to be marshalled, given that up to 75% of vehicles approach the line-up from the direction of the village?
- Is there, for example, a solution that could accommodate the vast majority of ferry traffic along North Road between here and the ferry terminal, with any exceptional overloads using either North Road or South Road? There would be potential conflicts to be managed around property and business accesses and parking for the Saturday farmers market, and there would almost certainly need to be a traffic roundabout created at the North Road/South Road junction, but would such a move offer a safer solution in the longer term?.
The Ferry Advisory Committee is asking MoTI to undertake a comprehensive study of the safety issues created by ferry traffic waiting to leave Gabriola.
The FAC will offer its full support and input to the study and is prepared to put forward an options paper for consideration by the various parties, but would welcome a commitment from the Ministry to take the matter forward before embarking on any further work.