Last weekend’s sudden weather reprieve gave the organizers of the 60th Knox Mountain Hill Climb a glorious setting for their annual race.
But if I had my way, and if the City of Kelowna was consistent following its own policy directions, it would be its last running.
No, I’m not complaining about the noise of cars screaming up a hill, although the intermittent whine of the engines is heard all over downtown and can get wearisome.
And I’m not bitching about the organization of the event, although the 20-odd cigarette butts I found in my garden the day after the event was off-putting. (I live just around the corner from the venue).
By most accounts, the people who stage the hill climb seem to put on a first-class show, well-organized and compliant with city directives for outdoor events.
It’s the message they are pushing that turns me off — unbridled use of fossil fuels and excessive speed.
British Columbians die in the thousands each year, either through breathing in the crap primarily produced by vehicles or getting getting killed by one, either as a driver, passenger or pedestrian.
The Canadian Medical Association estimates air pollution caused 21,000 premature deaths across Canada in 2008 at a cost to the economy of $10 billion. Emissions from vehicles is the primary source and we’re not even talking about their role in climate change.
ICBC stats consistently show excessive speed as the leading contributing factor to traffic fatalities (31 per cent last year, although in a grim race, distracted driving is fast catching up).
Over the last five years, both Vancouver Island and the Southern Interior reported similar numbers of crashes — between 36,000 and 42,000 a year.
But those numbers diverge sharply when it comes to fatalities within the Southern Interior consistently putting up numbers two and three times that of Vancouver Island.
Closer to home, Kelowna RCMP spokesman Const. Jess O’Donaghey says they have received reports of 123 collisions which involved some kind of injury or fatality so far in 2017. Of those, 26 involved a pedestrian or cyclist and all them were considered preventable.
Whether the fault in those collisions lies with the motorist is not known, but it’s certain the largest percentage of them were caused by excessive speed and not by the bike-riders or walkers.
We have a speed problem here in the Okanagan and I’m not just talking about crystal meth.
What car-centric events like the Knox Mountain Hill Climb do is give tacit credibility to both these excesses.
The event’s website itself notes that drivers reach speeds of 160 km/h on the straightaways, never mind the Tokyo drift they must employ to get around the sharp bends on the track. If I drove my car that fast, a stiff fine and an impounded car would be my fate.
I know it’s a closed course but the drivers of these cars have to practice their racing skills somewhere, likely on the open road. Do you really think they are obeying the speed limit while they’re doing it?
This event sends conflicting messages to impressionable minds, one reason why many of us treat speed limits as guidelines, not hard and fast rules designed for our health and safety. One little kid I saw at the event, was sporting a t-shirt that read Need for Speed. Dad was obviously a fan and making sure the next generation is too.
Although it’s obviously not my thing, I really have nothing against these hobbyists. I just don’t think the city should turn over one of its most prized parks for the pleasure of a few dozen gearheads and few thousand more fans, especially given the negative message this event promotes.
And the City of Kelowna, which struggles to counter car congestion and get local drivers out of their vehicles, should not play a role in enabling it.
The numbers show we love our cars in the Central Okanagan, more than almost anywhere else in the province.
Traffic counts released in 2015 by the Ministry of Transportation show that working commuters in the Central Okanagan use cars and trucks 81.6 per cent of the time, a full ten per cent higher than the provincial average of 71.3 per cent.
Transit use in the Central Okanagan is also much lower, with just 3.4 per cent heading for work on a bus versus the provincial average of 12.6 per cent.
Given all the negatives associated with car culture, I think the Knox Mountain Hill Climb’s race is run.
Mayor Colin Basran and council have been big on promoting water quality in the past. Now it's time to pay more than lip service to the air we breathe and the carnage on our roads.
Would city councillors sanction an event that allowed drunk or texting drivers to race up a hill? I don’t think so. Yet with all the negative effects associated with speeding and fossil fuel emissions, City Hall seems fine with allowing the Knox Mountain Hill Climb.
The outdoor events committee, which must approve other such events as the Kelowna Apple Triathlon and the Centre of Gravity festival, should just say thank you, but no to this one.
Gentleman, it’s time to shut off your engines.
— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org