A North Shore paramedic who has attended numerous serious collisions on the Sea to Sky Highway is attempting to resuscitate a campaign to increase safety on a troubled stretch of the highway.
Tyson Lehmann was on scene on May 4 when a Vancouver man was killed on the highway near Brunswick Beach Road just north of Lions Bay. Police say the victim’s black Mercedes crossed into the oncoming lane and was struck by a southbound SUV.
“Over and over again, that’s where the accidents happen,” Lehmann said.
The accident closed the highway in both directions for hours. Although he’s been called to many collisions there, Lehmann is pursuing the matter as a private citizen.
The May 4 collision wouldn’t have been so catastrophic had there been a proper barrier instead of a median of trees planted between the northbound and southbound lanes, Lehmann said.
“I’d like to see the decorative barriers disappear and actually put a concrete divider in on all these corners where accidents have happened along the Sea to Sky corridor,” he said.
It will only become more important as Squamish grows and becomes a commuter town for Vancouver workers, Lehmann added.
Lehmann has been recirculating an online petition started in 2015 by West Vancouver resident David Tompkins. The petition gains signatures every time there is a serious collision on the Sea to Sky. It is now has almost 3,100 supporters.
West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy said he would support replacing the trees with a barricade – but that design decision was made at the behest of Lions Bay council before the 2010 Olympics.
“That was their requirement, their demand essentially, to allow us to widen and upgrade the highway,” he said. “We’ve been in discussions with Lions Bay about this. There’s no real objection to removing (the trees) from what I understand, and putting in a concrete median but it would take the agreement of Lions Bay, essentially.”
Though safety is the primary concern, lengthy highway closures are also an issue, something Sturdy’s constituents remind him of when the highway is blocked for hours at a time.
“It has an enormous, enormous economic impact on the whole corridor,” he said. “The general thought is, as time goes on, those trees are just going to get more problematic.”
Lions Bay Mayor Karl Buhr was out of the country and unavailable to comment but the village’s chief administrative officer Peter DeJong issued a statement.
“Village of Lions Bay council is very concerned about life safety issues regarding Highway 99 through Lions Bay. While the safety of the highway, including configuration, signage and policing, is beyond the jurisdiction of the village, the municipality is working with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to find effective solutions to increase safety and prevent further loss of life,” it read.
Between 2009 and 2014, the four-kilometre section at Lions Bay had 91 collisions, with 34 involving injuries, and one fatal incident, according to the province. Those numbers don’t meet the province’s definition of a “high collision” corridor, according to the ministry.
Driver error, like excessive speed and inattention, were the cause in 64 per cent of accidents. About 36 per cent were due to other factors like road conditions, dodging wildlife, illness or impairment.
“The current planted median area with curbing is designed for the safety of the travelling public at the posted speeds,” read a statement from the ministry, adding the province is currently discussing further options to improve safety on the highway.