Is the Red Hill Valley Parkway safe to drive? Here's what you need to know

A safety consultant is recommending the RHVP remain open until resurfacing can begin in the spring and says shutting it down could cause safety issues elsewhere.

Consultant finds a 'different margin of safety' between RHVP and Linc

Questions about safety on the Red Hill Valley Parkway remain after council revealed a 2013 report raising concerns about friction levels was never released. (Matt Meuse/CBC)

Is it safe to drive on the Red Hill Valley Parkway?

That's the first question on the minds of many following news a damning report raising concerns about friction levels on the asphalt of the heavily-used highway was kept from the public for six years.

After the report was rediscovered, council was concerned enough that it had consultant CIMA+ answer questions about safety, changes to past recommendations and even whether the deadly highway should be closed. 

Here's what you need to know.

Is the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) safe?

The answer from CIMA+ is yes — but not as safe as the Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway.

The recently uncovered report from 2013 found friction levels along Red Hill were below expected standards and in some places, well below. But CIMA+ said that difference could be closer than initially indicated, meaning additional review may be necessary.

Still, there was a "significant" difference in friction between the intersecting highways.

"The difference in friction values for the LINC and RHVP means there is a different margin of safety available to drivers between the two roads," the report explains. "That variance between the facilities is something drivers may not be readily aware of and can result in varying safety outcomes."

Dan McKinnon, general manager of public works for the city, said if CIMA+ felt the road was "unsafe in any way" it would be closed down.

What can I do to stay safe driving the RHVP?

The best thing drivers can do is stay at or below the posted speed limits — which the city is in the process of lowering. The city is reminding drivers that posted speed limits are meant to represent the maximum.  And, it says, extra caution is warranted during wet conditions where drivers are advised to slow down further.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said it's up to each individual to decide if they want to drive on the parkway, but pointed out collisions happen for more than one reason.

"Speed is certainly a majority factor. Distracted driving is a factor. The report ... has identified some issues with friction on the road."

So how is road friction measured?

CIMA+ says friction levels in Canada are measured in two ways:

The first is the distance it takes for a vehicle to stop on a road.

The second is the speed at which a vehicle can travel through a horizontal curve without the centripetal force pushing the vehicle off the road.

Should the city close the RHVP?

Council asked whether part of the parkway or the entire six kilometre stretch should be shut down until planned resurfacing work begins this spring.

CIMA+ recommended the RHVP stay open because the surface friction meets the expected standard for a road with a posted speed limit of 90 km/h.

The safety consultant also pointed out that any closure of the parkway could lead to other safety consequences because it would push traffic onto the Linc, Centennial Parkway and other mountain access routes.

The RHVP is designed to have no interaction with pedestrians and "limited vehicle conflict points," the report notes. Diverting its traffic would increase congestion and "decrease safety, in some cases significantly." 

What's being done right now to make the RHVP safer?

The speed limit on the parkway between Greenhill Avenue and the QEW was immediately dropped from 90 km/h to 80 km/h by council Wednesday after the buried report became public.

Council also announced planned resurfacing work for the roadway had been bumped up to spring 2019 and said both actions were taken "in the interest of public safety."

Officials stated that speeding "continues to be a factor" in collisions on the RHVP and asked police to undertake a targeted campaign against speed, along with aggressive and distracted driving.