A memorial set up at the site where 14-year-old Muska Behzad was killed by a dump truck on May 5. (Simran Singh / Burnaby Beacon)

Byrne Creek parents bring traffic safety concerns to city following tragic death of Muska Behzad

“For months, our kids have been walking through a construction zone, an active construction zone."

By Simran Singh | May 20, 2022 |5:00 am

Members of Byrne Creek Community School’s parent advisory committee shared their concerns around traffic safety and construction in the neighbourhood during Wednesday’s traffic safety committee meeting, following the tragic death of 14-year-old Muska Behzad who was killed by a dump truck on 11th Avenue on May 5.

Byrne Creek Community School PAC representatives Sam Nelson and Maria Gunner led a presentation outlining areas that presented safety risks—including a lack of sidewalks, poorly marked crosswalks, and busy construction zones—to students and residents.

The presentation highlighted three main traffic safety concerns in the areas surrounding the Byrne Creek high school and Stride Avenue Community School, which are currently surrounded by massive redevelopment and construction projects, including the SouthGate City development, a new skating rink, and a water main project.

The first concern was around the lack of sidewalks available for students walking to school around Byrne Creek and Stride Avenue community schools.

Areas of traffic safety concern near Byrne Creek Community School. (Byrne Creek Community Council / Screenshot)

“For months our kids have been walking through a construction zone, an active construction zone. They’ve been facing constant detours on the roads and on places with no sidewalks,” said Nelson.

A map presented by the delegation showed several blocks marked in red surrounding the schools that do not have proper sidewalks installed.

“We decided to zero in on this area. There’s construction going on throughout our entire catchment, but we’re zeroing in on this radius around Byrne Creek because this is where all of the students have to walk through. Currently, … it’s really hard for our kids to get to school and stay an entire safe route to school on a sidewalk, they are constantly being detoured onto roads with no sidewalks,” said Nelson.

A specific area of concern is the detour from 14th Avenue—which is currently closed due to the construction of several towers—that leads north onto 15th Street and then to Stride Avenue.

This detour route along 15th Street does not have sidewalks. There is also an alleyway on the street that kids need to pass, and this is the main entrance and exit point for the construction site, explained Nelson.

The kids then have to cross from 15th Street to Stride Avenue at a three-way stop, which Nelson noted “is not very well marked.”

Stride Avenue also only has one sidewalk installed along its north side, which Nelson said is quite narrow.

“We don’t see that as a safe route for kids to be taking to school,” she said.

There is also a BC Housing family complex along 15th Street, across from Ernie Winch Park. With 11th Avenue now being closed to pedestrians in the light of the May 5 accident, residents are required to walk down another southern part of 15th Street with no sidewalks on either side.

They then have to walk on to 10th Avenue, which does have sidewalks but is an “extremely busy truck route and that again is not a safe route for our kids to be taking to school,” said Nelson.

The delegation presented some possible solutions to these issues, including reopening pedestrian access to 14th Avenue and placing shipping containers along the street to allow for pedestrians to walk through a protected portal, adding a temporary sidewalk on the grass, and adding flaggers along 14th Avenue for pedestrian safety, or limiting construction during the times kids are walking to and from school.

“And again, even after 14th Avenue opens, we need to consider sidewalks on these streets,” said Nelson.

The second area of concern was poorly marked intersections and crosswalks, specifically at the intersection of 14th Avenue and 18th Street, which is a busy three-way corner that students cross to get to Byrne Creek Community School.

Currently, there is only a stop sign at 18th Street and the crosswalk is “very poorly marked,” said Nelson, adding that kids are detoured onto the road at 14th Avenue due to an ongoing water main project.

Areas of traffic safety concern at the crosswalk at 18th Street and 14th Avenue/ (Byrne Creek Community Council/ Screenshot)

“Our solution is to please paint this crosswalk to make it more visible for our kids, construction to stop blocking the sidewalk during the water main project during the time that kids are trying to walk to school, and add … stop signs in all directions and a dedicated flagger or crossing guard,” she said.

The second crosswalk of concern is the 18th Street school crosswalk across from the Byrne Creek parking lot, which is surrounded by construction sites. The delegation said the crosswalk needs to be repainted and would be made safer by the addition of speed bumps, crossing guards or flaggers, and limiting construction traffic when school starts and ends.

Areas of traffic safety concern at the crosswalk at 18th Street across Byrne Creek parking lot. (Byrne Creek Community Council / Screenshot)

The third topic discussed was 11th Avenue, where the May 5 accident took place. Because 11th Avenue is currently closed to pedestrians, kids are detoured to 10th Avenue, which Nelson reiterated is not a safe street to walk along.

The delegation requested that sidewalks be installed along the full length of 11th Avenue, between houses and parked cars, or concrete barriers should be placed along the road as a temporary solution, to give kids a “sheltered place to walk that’s safe.”

Sidewalk and parking issues along 11th Avenue. (Byrne Creek Community Council / Screenshot)

Nelson added that cars on 11th Avenue should only be parallel parking. While this does occur for one stretch of the street, there is another stretch where residents have started to back in their cars along the road.

“We’re also asking for there to be less congestion on this road, by limiting the street parking during school hours and construction hours,” said Nelson.

Another issue with 11th Avenue is how trucks are accessing the current construction site on the street.

With access to 17th Street from 11th Avenue currently being blocked, trucks have to drive along 11th, and that road is too narrow and congested for truck traffic, noted the delegation.

Barriers near the stop sign show where 17th Avenue is closed off to 11th Avenue. This picture also shows additional asphalt that has been poured to act as a temporary sidewalk along the street. (Simran Singh / Burnaby Beacon)

In response to the presentation, the City of Burnaby’s director of transportation, Amy Choh, provided a brief update on what the city has been working on to improve safety in the area.

For 11th Avenue, the city has requested the construction contractor to close a small stretch of 17th Avenue to 18th Street off to pedestrians. Flaggers have also been requested to assist pedestrians crossing the street and direct truck traffic from 11th Avenue to 18th Street.

As for sidewalks along 11th Avenue, the city has initiated design work to install temporary asphalt from 15th Street to 17th along 11th Avenue on the south side. The city also announced last week that it plans for a permanent sidewalk along 11th Avenue.

There will also be barricades being installed to separate a walking area, and there will be no backup parking allowed on the street. The city is also looking into additional traffic calming measures along 11th Avenue for speed humps, and implementing 30km/h speed zones.

Coun Alison Gu brought forwarded additional safety suggestions. She requested staff to bring in a concrete barrier between the road and sidewalk on 18th Street to replace traffic cones in order to protect pedestrians, or have these concrete barriers “placed generally in construction zones rather than these flimsy rubber ones. I just think that would add additional protection,” she said.

Coun Alison Gu suggested concrete barriers to replace the cones along 18th Avenue where construction of Rosemary Brown Arena is taking place. (Byrne Creek Community Council / Screenshot)

On the intersection between 14th Avenue and 18th Street, Gu asked staff to consider adding a raised crosswalk, repainting it and adding curb extensions to the narrow the road “so that drivers are forced to … slow down because visually they see they don’t have as much space to go.”

Gu also had a question for staff regarding sidewalks to be pre-built in construction zones and having developers pay for them after the fact. This way, the city could recover costs and require developers to implement adequate detours and pedestrian safety measures.

“I understand that there is a general policy that we try to mitigate taxpayer burden and, where there is a new development, we ask them to put in new sidewalks as well. But if we’re able to pre-build, and recover the costs, then we’d also be able to have consideration within our traffic management plans for additional protections for pedestrians where there is an existing sidewalk,” she said.

Committee chair Coun Dan Johnston noted that Gu’s suggestion to replace traffic cones on 18th Street “should be easy to do” on the city’s end because that falls under the area where the city’s Rosemary Brown Arena is being built.

As for the prebuilt sidewalks, he noted that, when they are installed early, they often get damaged by construction work, and that is why they tend to be the last thing built. He also suggested flashing lights at the intersection of 18th Street and 14th Avenue.

Choh noted that because Metro Vancouver is conducting major valve work in the area, the city has to allow them to complete work on the site and complete the project before a major traffic review and assessment is conducted and infrastructure can be rebuilt.

As for when safety additions will be complete along 1th Avenue, Choh said the temporary asphalt speed humps should be installed in June.

Traffic safety committee member Saeed Nasiryan stressed that he wanted to see improvements in the neighbourhood as soon as possible and put forward a motion to bring the suggestions made in the presentation to staff for immediate action and for staff to report back.

Gu seconded the motion and made an amendment requesting that reporting back to the committee wouldn’t prevent work from starting on implementing safety changes in the area.

The motion was carried.

Simran Singh

Managing Editor at Burnaby Beacon

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