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Traffic light wanted: Whatcom residents ask council to improve safety

Residents living in the Whatcom Road and Mountain Drive area are asking for swift action to improve traffic safety.

Lubbert van der Laan, one of the spokespeople for the group, said a traffic light is needed at the Whatcom/Mountain  intersection to deter speeding cars and make it safer for vehicles to turn off Mountain Drive.

They also want a pedestrian crosswalk at the intersection.

There is an existing crosswalk at Lower Sumas Mountain Road, but van der Laan said it isn’t enough.

Speed is just one concern as Whatcom Road has a “serpentine” curve and visibility at the intersection is poor.

“You can start to turn and then a car is right there,” he said.

The residents are trying to talk with council and have met several times with the city’s traffic safety advisory committee. They say a light is a compromise. Originally, the group wanted a new “on ramp” lane to allow drivers to pull out safely, at an estimated cost of about $350,000.

“We are trying our best to be reasonable. We know cost is a concern and there’s an election coming up,” said van der Laan

But safety comes first.

While some drivers do speed on Whatcom, van der Laan  thinks much of it is not intentional.

“Whatcom has a grade of between nine and 12 per cent. Cars speed up.”

Coun. Lynne Harris agreed the situation needs to be addressed.

“”Not only have we opened up Whatcom Road, but a developer is building a shopping centre across the street,” she said, adding it will only increase the problem as more traffic uses the road.

“We have to do something for these people.”

City staff had previously recommended prohibiting left turns out of Mountain Drive (by constructing a raised median) and placing a flashing amber light on the “intersection ahead” sign on Whatcom Road, to warn drivers as they come down the hill.

Van der Laan doesn’t think it’s enough and convinced council to direct staff to take a second look.

But changes are not guaranteed.

“My sense is that the traffic doesn’t go as fast down Whatcom as it does down McKee,” said Mayor George Peary, who frequently drives on Whatcom.

He said an increase in police traffic enforcement may help deter speeders, but isn’t confident a light will solve the residents’ concerns.

There are already several lights on the street and adding another could increase the problems, according to Peary.

“It could make it more dangerous.”

Peary’s fear is that drivers running the yellow, or braking suddenly to stop, could cause more potential accidents.

“I’m not sure what we will do,” he said, adding that council will wait for the staff to bring back its report. “At the very least we will go to a no left turn out of Mountain Drive.”

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