Cycling advocates on the North Shore say Monday’s fatal collision, in which a cyclist died after being hit by a commercial dump truck, is a tragic reminder that many roads in North Vancouver aren’t safe for cyclists or pedestrians.
Traffic experts with the RCMP’s Integrated Collision Reconstruction Unit are still piecing together what happened when the driver of a commercial dump truck and trailer turning right from 23rd Street onto Lonsdale Avenue hit the cyclist, a local woman in her 40s, who was to the right of the truck at the intersection.
But Heather Drugge, a cycling advocate and member of HUB Cycling, said it’s very possible the collision – and similar close calls – didn’t have to happen.
“These kinds of things are avoidable if proper infrastructure is in place,” she said.
Not set up to 'make it safe'
In the case of 23rd Street, the road is an official bike route right up to St. George’s, she notes – where it abruptly stops. But “I’ve advocated it should not be,” she said. “There’s no cycling infrastructure on it at all. It’s just not set up at all to make it safe.”
"It's a very tight road in the sense that it has to accommodate commercial truck traffic, in addition to buses, all the cars, all the people going to school over at Carson Graham."
Drugge said often when travelling along 23rd, she’s seen people on bikes riding on the sidewalk. “That’s an indication they want to use that route, but it’s not safe,” she said.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve gone there and said ‘This is dangerous. Why is this the bike route?’”
The intersection where the cyclist was hit is complicated, she added, involving traffic feeding on to the highway, one block north, difficult sightlines for drivers turning from 23rd, and a lack of proper separated infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.
Commercial trucks from nearby construction on the site of the future Harry Jerome recreation centre have also put “added pressure on to what I would call already poor infrastructure for people on bikes,” said Drugge, adding she'd like to see better controls on how commercial trucks enter and exit that construction site.
Even drivers in larger SUVs will often not keep a close enough lookout for cyclists and pedestrians, she said. “If you’re driving a very large vehicle, sightlines aren’t as good. People are just in too much of a hurry.”
Drugge said the City of North Vancouver is doing “a pretty good job” of making improvements to bike routes, but “we can’t do everything all at once. It takes time.”
One issue with local cycling routes is they tend to be recreational in nature, she said, rather than encouraging biking as a form of transportation.
“We need a mix of all those things,” she said. “It’s definitely worse on the North Shore than in the City of Vancouver.”
Fatality 'could have been prevented'
Mark Burge also commutes to work in North Vancouver by bike sometimes and worked for several years at Centennial Theatre adjacent to the intersection at 23rd and Lonsdale.
Burge said he’s always considered the intersection dangerous.
“There’s such a rush to go around that corner,” he said, with drivers sometimes honking at drivers ahead of them who are waiting for pedestrians to cross the street.
Burge said there should be some kind of delayed light system allowing cyclists to go around the corner before drivers, and better infrastructure.
But the problem isn’t limited to one intersection, he added. “Things are better than they were 10 years ago, but that’s not saying much,” he said. “We have a fatality that could have been prevented.”
Increase in truck traffic
Laura Howard lives on Lonsdale and said she’s observed a dramatic increase in truck traffic on already busy roads in the past two years. When she and her husband sat outside on restaurant patios during the pandemic, commercial trucks were rumbling past every five minutes, she said.
The busy street – now narrowed for traffic in some spots to make way for more patios – means “there’s very little leeway if there’s a problem with a truck,” she said.
Howard said she’d like to see commercial trucks steered away from Lonsdale onto less busy nearby streets.
City conducting review
In response to the fatal crash, Leanne McCarthy, chief administrative officer for the City of North Vancouver, issued a statement offering condolences.
McCarthy added the city will be conducting a review “to see if there are any additional actions that the city could take to enhance the safety of road users in this area.”
“The City of North Vancouver is a mobility-forward community with cycling being a primary mode of transportation for many of our residents,” McCarthy said in the statement. “The safety of everyone who uses our roads and walkways is essential to a healthy city. This is why we prioritize investing in our bicycle route network and creating protected bike lanes and off-street pathways.”
4 of 136 crashes at site involved cyclists, pedestrians
According to ICBC statistics, the intersection of 23rd Street and Lonsdale Avenue was the scene of 136 crashes between 2017 and 2021. Of those, 132 crashes involved vehicles only, two involved pedestrians, one involved a cyclist and one involved an e-scooter.
There were 271 crashes involving cyclists on the North Shore between 2017 and 2021, according to ICBC. Of those, four were fatal.
In one previous case of a North Vancouver cyclist who died after a collision with a dump truck in June 2018, the B.C. Coroners Service ruled the death accidental.
In that case, the fatal collision happened as both the cyclist and the truck driver were westbound on East Second Street and the truck driver made a wide right turn on to St. Andrews Avenue. The coroner concluded the cyclist did not stop at the stop sign.
In another case, a North Vancouver driver who struck and killed a cyclist on Keith Road in 2017 was fined and given a driving ban after pleading guilty to driving without due care and attention.
Lynn Avenue & Main Street top crash site for cyclists
According to ICBC statistics, the top crash location involving cyclists was at the intersection of Lynn Avenue and Main Street in North Vancouver, which was the scene of 11 collisions over the five-year period. Other high-crash locations for cyclists were the intersections of Main Street and Mountain Highway (eight crashes), Dollarton Highway and Riverside Drive (six crashes), Lytton Street and Mt. Seymour Parkway (six crashes), McKay Avenue and Marine Drive (six crashes), Marine Drive and Pemberton Avenue (five crashes), and Pemberton Avenue and Welch Street (five crashes).
In West Vancouver, the top crash locations involving cyclists were the intersections of both 16th and 17th streets with Marine Drive (both three crashes), and Marine Drive and Taylor Way (three crashes).