Montecito residents calling for change after deadly Duthie Ave crash

“Obviously accidents happen, but it's just something that could have been avoided.”

By Srushti Gangdev | July 28, 2021 |1:01 am

After a collision that claimed 2 lives outside an elementary school last week, Montecito area residents say they want to know the city’s plan in dealing with a street they’ve been calling dangerous for years.

2 men died in the July 21 crash at Duthie Ave and Montecito Drive, including the 38-year-old driver of a pickup truck that crashed into a hydro pole and a 57-year-old man associated with a parked pickup truck.

Candice Johnston, whose children go to Montecito Elementary School, says she was making dinner with some friends around 5:20pm when the power suddenly went out. As neighbours in her townhouse complex came out to find out what was going on, the sirens started blaring and they realized something serious must have happened.

“The whole community kind of came out and was out there, and our children saw this accident,” he said.

“Obviously accidents happen, but it’s just something that could have been avoided.”

Johnston said Duthie Ave has always had issues with speeding, despite the school zone near Montecito Elementary. Because of its location between SFU at the top of the hill and Lougheed Hwy at the bottom, it serves as a shortcut to get to Barnet Hwy.

“There’s nothing to slow anybody down once you’ve passed Halifax on your way to Broadway. And it’s very common that you see people just sort of rip right through that area.”

Residents of the area have called for traffic calming measures several times over the past few years, most recently last month. After a request to block off access to Duthie Ave from Barnet Hwy was denied by the city, residents called for speed bumps instead.

As the Burnaby Now reported, that idea was rejected as well.

“As per the city’s policy, the speed humps are placed only on local residential streets and at non-bus routes. … Duthie Ave is classified as [a] major collector and is a bus route too, therefore speed humps cannot be placed,” wrote a City of Burnaby traffic technician in a letter to a resident provided to the Now.

Johnston said the fact that weeks later 2 people have lost their lives has been weighing heavy on the minds of neighbourhood residents.

“In the grand scheme of things, I guess it’s a big community, but it feels like a very small community. Our children roam the streets there, and we just want them to be safe when they’re doing so, whether we’re with them or not, and not thinking about somebody blasting down the street and jumping the curb and killing them,” she said.

Concerned residents in the tight-knit community have started reaching out to city councillors after the deadly crash, in what Johnston admits were “irate” emails, demanding to know what the city will do to make them feel safe in their neighbourhoods.

“Just in the regard of—you had the opportunity to try to do something about it, and it didn’t get done,” she said.

So far, Johnston said they haven’t been impressed with the calibre of responses they’ve received from councillors—describing them as mostly “canned” responses, with the exception of Alison Gu, who she said sent more personal messages to each person who contacted her and suggested a potential Zoom call to discuss residents’ concerns.

Gu told the Beacon that, as a newly elected councillor who’s not on any committees yet, she does have relatively more time on her hands than some of her colleagues; but that’s not to say that other councillors haven’t already taken action on the issue as well.

“I’m able to respond quickly to these types of requests. In terms of the responses of my colleagues, they’re likely juggling a lot of different things,” she said.

Johnston said it’s reassuring that Gu responded to the concerns of residents on a personal level, but she still wants to see a concrete plan to make the neighborhood safer.

“It could have been any of our families. And I think we just want to know that the city is taking the concern seriously and is actually making an effort to do something about it.”

Gu said she’s forwarded the emails she’s gotten to the department of engineering, which has also been in touch with residents and is planning on setting up a radar and cameras for speed and flow measurements as an interim step. She’s also planning a visit to the site of the collision to see the situation for herself and has communicated the request of Montecito residents to install a raised crosswalk on Duthie Ave.

But she understands the point of view of residents who aren’t convinced that the city will do anything about their concerns.

“I think one of the frustrations that neighbourhoods often have with the city is that city staff are working on things, but they don’t necessarily give continuous updates on, small progress that they’re making,” Gu said.

“And where I think I can come in is communicating, being that liaison. … What I can do is make sure that staff are aware of the issues and have a plan in place. I can do things like meet with residents to hear their concerns and their ideas for how they see things to change, because ultimately, they live in the neighbourhood.”

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Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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