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Blackout proves illuminating for Victoria traffic department

Saanich municipal workers Don Shillington, left, and Don Davenport make adjustments to a new stoplight on the corner of Harriet Road and Gorge Road East, at the border of Victoria and Saanich. Traffic lights in the city of Victoria, many of which went dark during a major blackout in Greater Victoria’s core last month, are gradually having backup battery power installed to enhance safety during such emergency situations.   - Sharon Tiffin/News staff
Saanich municipal workers Don Shillington, left, and Don Davenport make adjustments to a new stoplight on the corner of Harriet Road and Gorge Road East, at the border of Victoria and Saanich. Traffic lights in the city of Victoria, many of which went dark during a major blackout in Greater Victoria’s core last month, are gradually having backup battery power installed to enhance safety during such emergency situations.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

When a bizarre blackout swept across the City of Victoria last month, traffic continued to flow smoothly through some of the city’s most dangerous intersections.

The hour-long power outage Dec. 5 was the biggest test yet for Victoria’s streets operations manager David Myles and his team, who have been installing back-up batteries at key traffic signals across the city.

“Currently, we’ve got three intersections with battery backup, capable of running for two hours with red-yellow-green,” he said.

Controls at Hillside Avenue and Douglas Street, Blanshard Street and Hillside and Blanshard at Tolmie Avenue are all able to regulate the flow of traffic during a power outage and can switch to flashing red to conserve power for several more hours if needed.

The intersections were chosen primarily for public safety reasons using data from ICBC, B.C. Hydro and the municipality, Myles said.

“Priority is given to areas where power outages have been more common, as well as the size of an intersection. The units we are installing protect the system from power loss or blackouts, power surges and power drops, or brownouts.”

At a cost of about $5,000 for one battery and installation, it will be years before all 145 of Victoria’s signal-controlled intersections and pedestrian crossings are equipped with emergency power.

But engineering crews are steadily covering ground, with plans to install batteries at another four intersections in 2014, Myles said.

“When we finally get there, we’d like to have a battery backup on all our intersections. For this year, we’re looking at Douglas and Finlayson (Street), Douglas and Bay (Street), Blanshard and Bay and Hillside at Shelbourne Street).”

Myles doesn’t anticipate another major blackout rolling through Greater Victoria anytime soon, but said drivers should still take the time to familiarize themselves with traffic rules in the event of power failure.

“(Dec. 5) was a good test for us, because the intersections with battery backup worked just as (they were) supposed to.”

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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