A stop light at a crash-prone intersection on the Malahat is justified, says the commander of the region’s integrated road safety unit, on the heels of a B.C. Coroners Service report on a fatal crash there two years ago.
Gerald Ernest Loiselle, 64, was killed on July 7, 2014, when his southbound motorcycle, travelling at the speed limit on a downhill single-lane stretch of the Malahat, collided with a 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe.
The Santa Fe had started a left turn from Shawnigan Lake Road across the highway headed to the northbound lane.
“It encroached the path of Mr. Loiselle’s travel and the two vehicles collided,” wrote coroner Lori Moen.
“Loiselle was thrown from the motorcycle and sustained significant injury.”
The crash occurred at 4:08 p.m. It was sunny and the road was dry. Loiselle died at 5:27 p.m. of multiple traumatic injuries at Victoria General Hospital. The coroner classified the death as accidental.
There is no stop light at the intersection.
“Gerald was tragically taken from us, through no fault of his own,” wrote his wife, Marlee, in July 2015, the first anniversary of his death.
“Our hearts are still broken, we had no chance to say goodbye,” she said. “Not a moment in a day goes by without my heart aching with sadness. … I wish it was all a bad dream and that I would come home and find you there. Je t’aime!”
There were 29 crashes — 12 resulting in injury or death — at the intersection from 2009 to 2013, according to ICBC statistics.
The left-hand turn lane from south Shawnigan Lake Road onto the highway is used by 100 to 150 vehicles on its busiest day “which is, compared to other locations, a low volume of use,” said the coroner’s report.
Moen notes in her report “the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure does not currently have any plans to add any infrastructure (i.e. stop light) to this intersection or prohibit the left turn from South Shawnigan Lake Road onto the TCH.”
The coroner said if left-hand turns onto the highway from south Shawnigan Lake Road were prohibited, northbound traffic would instead have to travel south for about two kilometres before heading north at a designated U-turn location.
Acting Staff Sgt. Alex Yelovatz, unit commander for the CRD’s Integrated Road Safety Unit, conceded he’s not a road engineer, but said from IRSU enforcement campaigns at the intersection in 2015-16, a traffic light seems to be a logical safety solution.
Yelovatz said it’s challenging for the best of drivers in ideal conditions to execute a left off the northbound highway lanes onto south Shawnigan Lake Road or for traffic from the side road to make a left or merge right onto the fast-moving Malahat.
“One of the things you notice is the backlog of traffic northbound [on the highway] trying to make that left-hand turn,” Yelovatz said.
Add wet roads and poor visibility because of rain or fog and the manoeuvres become that much more precarious.
A controlled light, said Yelovatz, would minimize the risks: “People wait their turn. They are patient.” He envisions a stop light would be accompanied by an advisory sign or flashing lights to avoid sudden stops.
Transportation Ministry spokeswoman Kate Mukasa said the introduction of a signal could create safety issues regarding a driver’s ability to stop in time on the steeper downhill approach southbound, as well as acceleration issues for northbound traffic — particularly commercial vehicles with heavy loads — after stopping at a light.
The Transportation Ministry said: “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family and friends,” but noted that the coroner did not recommend changes to the intersection.
The Transportation Ministry said it has made a variety of safety improvements, including the addition of median barriers on the approaches as well as new traffic islands.
But Chris Foord, past chairman of the CRD Traffic Safety Commission and community member on the board, called it “a dangerous intersection” and argued for the more expensive option of an overpass.
The southbound merging lane off South Shawnigan Lake Road onto the Malahat needs a much longer acceleration lane, Foord said. He argues that because the left turn off the northbound highway is uphill, motorists are apt to misjudge how fast head-on southbound traffic is coming.
Overcome by emotion Friday, Marlee Loiselle, who called her husband her best friend and love of her life, said she doesn’t have the expertise to know whether a stop light could have prevented his death. “I wasn’t there,” she said.
“It’s still just too raw,” she said. “I miss him.”
Loiselle’s voice can still be heard on the answering machine for his Langford home where his wife continues to live.
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