Kingsway-Imperial to get safety fix

Sean Kumagai, general manager of Metrotown Mazda, figures he watches the intersection at Kingsway and Imperial more than anybody. He says the city’s planned improvements to the spot will go a long way to make it a safer place. - WANDA CHOW/NEWSLEADER FILE
Sean Kumagai, general manager of Metrotown Mazda, figures he watches the intersection at Kingsway and Imperial more than anybody. He says the city’s planned improvements to the spot will go a long way to make it a safer place.

Construction of road improvements to the intersection of Kingsway and Imperial Street will soon get underway despite efforts by some area businesses to delay it.

On Monday, Burnaby council approved the $1.67-million project, long planned to improve traffic and pedestrian safety. When completed, left turns will then be allowed from Kingsway onto Imperial in both directions, supported with new left-turn bays. Currently no lefts are permitted there at all.

But Bob Shekouhi, owner of the property at 5807 Kingsway, said in a letter that he, the owners of Best Auto Imports which rents the property from him, and several other adjacent businesses were against the plan.

The project will create four to six months of disruption in the area.

Shekouhi wrote that left turns are permitted on Kingsway on several streets beyond this intersection "and there is definitely no need for another one."

A management consultant who appeared at the council meeting on Shekouhi's behalf noted that the work will take place during the car dealership's critical sales time in spring and summer. He called on council to delay the project until more research could be done on its benefits and drawbacks.

"I can tell you this issue has been studied to death," responded Mayor Derek Corrigan.

"I've lived in the South Slope area for 30 years and I can tell you the inability to access Imperial from Kingsway has produced a lot of convoluted routes to get around that bottleneck."

Corrigan said road construction is "a part of life" in urban cities. There's only certain months during which it can be done and the city tries to complete the work as soon as possible by extending the work hours each day.

Coun. Nick Volkow noted that Kingsway used to be a provincial highway so the city lacked the authority to make improvements. But that's changed since control of the roadway was passed on to the city.

While there are other streets nearby where motorists can turn left, there aren't any traffic signals there, said Coun. Colleen Jordan. That's caused many accidents and near collisions from drivers making sudden lefts to beat the oncoming traffic.

The project is also a chance to improve the intersection to make it easier for pedestrians to get across Kingsway, added Coun. Sav Dhaliwal.

On Oct. 2, a major crash happened at the intersection, apparently after the driver of a pickup attempted to make an illegal left turn onto Imperial. The force of the impact drove a  car underneath the truck.

The 35-year-old woman driving the car spent two weeks in hospital and later died, although at the time police didn't know what the exact cause of her death was.

Sean Kumagai, general manager of Metrotown Mazda has a bird's-eye view of the intersection from his second-floor office.

"I would be confident in saying that nobody stares at this intersection more than me on a regular basis," Kumagai said with a laugh. He's seen many incidents over the years that have made him cringe.

"It's welcome to see the changes they have planned," he said.

"I think the benefits longterm would far outweigh the short-term inconvenience."

Much of the problem is due to the intersection being more of  an X, without any right angles, than a cross. Russell Avenue adds a fifth leg to it, further complicating matters.

As reported in the NewsLeader last fall, the sidewalks and road lanes on Kingsway will be narrowed to their minimum standard to create room for the left-turn bays, according to assistant director of engineering Doug Louie.

Lengthy turning arrows will be added to the signals to provide enough time to make the elongated turns caused by Kingsway's diagonal orientation.

A new north-south crosswalk will be added to the west side of Imperial to make it more convenient for people crossing Kingsway, to reduce jaywalking. And pedestrians will be made more visible to motorists by moving lampposts and improving signage.

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