Last week, Toronto experienced a horrifying event when a driver took a large vehicle up on the sidewalk in North York and deliberately killed ten people, wounding many others. It is an unspeakable tragedy and loss of life.

Out of that horror has come a renewed call for defending urban space, making it safer for pedestrians, hardening these potential “targets” to stop this from happening ever again. Price Tags has previously written about the 1,500 safety bollards being installed in New York City at a cost of 50 million dollars to protect pedestrians.

As the Globe and Mail’s Alex Bozikovic discusses  it may be impossible to barricade and place concrete planters on every major street and pedestrian gathering place, but “we can do something to honour the other innocents who die in Toronto at a rate of one a week: change our roads.” 

Mr. Bozikovic states: “We know exactly what to do. Very simply, fast-moving roads kill people; slowing down traffic saves lives. And we can accomplish that with design, if as a society we care enough.”

Last month I spoke on CBC Radio with Karen Reid Sidhu from Surrey Crime Prevention about the fact that car crashes are a major cause of death and injury in British Columbia. It has become such a concern that the former Provincial Medical Health Officer, Dr. Perry Kendall wrote a report about it: “Where the Rubber Meets the Road”.
Price Tags has written about  the fact that over 45 per cent of all injuries in road crashes occur to vulnerable road users (those not encased in a steel shell). In terms of deaths for vulnerable road users, that has increased from 31.7 per cent of road fatalities in 2009 to 34.9 per cent of road deaths in 2011.
The figure is going up, not down, and communities have to say they have had enough. In a place where the health system is burdened by the result of these crashes, why are we not looking at slower speeds, better road design to enforce those slower speeds, changing driver behaviour and having a zero tolerance for any alcohol/drug use or driver inattention? When will we be willing  make these cultural behavioural changes to save lives and prevent injuries?
Take a look at what is happening in Scotland where 20 mile per hour speed limits (32 kph) in every village, town or city are being considered at the Scottish government. It is expected to receive enough support to pass.
Lowering the speed limit to that speed on most roads in Edinburgh has already resulted in a 24 per cent drop in car crash fatalities in that city. Lowering speeds saves lives. It just makes sense.
As the editor of the Scottish Herald writes that despite the 5 million pound cost to install the new measures, “The price tag could be mitigated by the reduction in costs associated with casualties. And, indeed, we come back time and again to safety. A pedestrian is seven times more likely to survive being struck at 20 mph than 30 (48 kph). At 20, drivers have more time to react. Studies have shown 20mph zones reducing child pedestrian accidents by 70 per cent.” 
You cannot put a price on the safety of a child, nor should we be excusing road deaths as collateral damage caused by living with motordom.
From a horrible tragedy perhaps we can talk about the implementation of Vision Zero, of making streets and spaces that value every human life, and protect it as much as possible. Narrowing down Yonge and Finch from a six lane highway barreling beside a kilometre of unprotected sidewalk is something that Toronto urban space thinkers like Ken Greenberg and Gil Penalosa are already addressing.
As Ken Greenberg observes “We should look at “traffic calming” not as an exception but as a rule. In designing and debating roads, we should be counting not the minutes of drivers but the human lives we can protect. We can’t, for the most part, stop a determined attacker, but we can attend to the everyday deaths and misery that happen along our roads. And stop them.”
speed

Graphic: Vision Zero Network
 

Comments

  1. The road safety team in Calgary told me that kids’ brains cannot properly assess the speed of an oncoming car until about age 9.

  2. Placing bollards, berms & barricades makes for an unsightly City, and makes resident & visitors feel like they are in a militarized zone. If someone in a van desires to kill pedestrians, and who’s prevented from doing so on a sidewalk, will simply change the target to a cross walk.
    Our of our region’s most recent egregious examples of knee-jerk, over-reactive public policy (and emergency expenditure of publicly-collected funds) is the Stanley Park causeway. Entirely caused by a rare, one-off act of carelessness by one cyclist, which happened to be coincidental with a passing bus, at the precisely wrong moment. Had the cosmos fated the bus to be 5 seconds early (or 10 seconds late), the cyclist would have suffered scrapes and embarrassment. Over many, many decades, that sidewalk served hundreds of thousands of riders and walkers, using courtesy & sensible caution. But from one reckless act, we throw sympathy money at it. Kill trees, widen the corridor (which raises vehicle speeds), and put up a garish metal fence that mimics a concentration camp.
    The fencing has created entitlment so that now cyclists are raising their velocities accordingly, until new risks emerge. I expect one will do something careless, hit there head on a tree, which will call for more stringent helmet laws, and removal of ‘dangerous’ trees.

    1. I agree. It seems obvious to me that safety and security measures set expectations for what is normal, and in this way often foster the very things they are trying to prevent.
      When you place gates and locks on everything, it sends a message to everyone – including criminals – that this is a place where crime happens. Expect people to lie: and they will. Dress police in military gear: confrontations with the public are more likely to be violent. Build playgrounds that eliminate risk: children will fail to learn to assess it and injure themselves. Construct sidewalks to protect pedestrians from vehicles: pedestrians will fear the street and cars will dominate it. Require bicycle helmets: cyclists drive faster and cars drive closer.
      Unfortunately this is just my suspicion. I could make some theoretical arguments about framing, but I have little evidence to confirm it. (I know of scientific research confirming what I say about playgrounds and bike helmets.)

    2. The fencing on the causeway not only keeps cyclists off the roadway, it helps keep motorists off the sidewalk (to some degree). This is not an uncommon need as the links below show. Positioning the fencing as a response to a ‘one-off’ is not an accurate description IMO.
      https://globalnews.ca/news/4152232/lions-gate-crash/
      “Moments later, the vehicle collided with a pair of other southbound cars, then crashed into the guardrail separating the bridge from the pedestrian and cycle path.”
      http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/stanley-park-causeway-collision-truck-1.3548538
      A truck crashed into the bike path on the Stanley Park Causeway just south of the Lion’s Gate Bridge during Friday morning’s rush hour.

    3. Arthur – The causeway was not widened at all. If anything, the road would appear narrower from a driver perspective because of the fence. Also, many other vital safety improvements were added to improve safety of those walking and cycling.
      Why is it that so many people accept billion dollar road projects with glee but whine when a few dollars are invested to improve the lot of those walking and cycling?

    4. The fences along the causeway may give drivers a visual clue not to drive up on to the paths, but they are not designed to stop vehicles. Their sole purpose is to catch people on bikes or people walking who trip or fall, so that they don’t enter the roadway. When that happens we see tragic incidents like the one where the woman riding died in a crash with a bus. It is heartless to blame the rider for that crash. Unless one was there, we don’t know about the interaction with the pedestrians she encountered. If blame is to be assigned it should be at those who designed and signed a too narrow shared walking and riding path alongside a high speed roadway.
      Note that the widening of the roadway, which happened years before the improved paths, did not include safe cycling facilities; it was entirely for vehicles.
      The fences are designed to give way when hit by anything heavier than a bicycle, and are built in sections so that they can be lifted out and quickly replaced when hit by a vehicle.
      From a cycling perspective, fences are an obstacle that may cause a crash. They can catch handlebars, but are there so that if that happens, or a wheel catches something, the person on the bike doesn’t fall into the roadway.
      If the fences were built to stop vehicles they would be much heavier, and would probably look more like concrete gravity barriers. They would take up more space, and that would result in slightly more encroachment on the Park.
      From a Ministry perspective, one of the results of a crash is a road closure, and that affects the road service level. The fences should have been installed to save lives, but they were also justified based on the impact to that service level. Note that with the recent truck crash, the closure was measured in minutes. With the last death, it was measured in hours due to the post crash investigation. It s a sad reality that the fences are there to improve motorist travel times, while increasing the risk of a crash for a person on a bike, although they do reduce the potential severity of such a crash.
      As long as we are on the topic of the causeway paths, we should consider what happens at the south end, and the connections. The Ministry did not connect the new protected paths through to Georgia, and the Park Board, despite repeated requests, has yet to do so. We hope that the Georgia Gateway project, which the City has started planning for, will close this gap by bringing together parties representing the three jurisdictions (CoV, Park Board, and MoTI). #ungapthemap.

    5. The fences along the causeway may give drivers a visual clue not to drive up on to the paths, but they are not designed to stop vehicles. Their sole purpose is to catch people on bikes or people walking who trip or fall, so that they don’t enter the roadway. When that happens we see tragic incidents like the one where the woman riding died in a crash with a bus.
      It is heartless to blame the woman who died. We don’t know the details of the interaction with the two pedestrians. The cause was a too narrow shared path built next to a high speed roadway. If blame is to be assigned, look to the designers of that infrastructure.
      The fences are designed to give way, and are built in sections so that they can be lifted out and quickly replaced when hit by a vehicle.
      From a cycling perspective, any obstacle such as a fence increases the likelihood of a crash, in this case due to the risk of catching a handlebar. Here, that is traded off for a potential reduction in crash severity.
      If the fences were built to stop vehicles they would be much heavier, and would probably look more like concrete gravity barriers. They would take up more space, and that would result in slightly more encroachment on the Park. The roadway was widened years earlier. No improvements were made at that time to the paths.
      From a Ministry perspective, one of the results of a crash is a road closure, and that affects the road service level. The fences should have been installed to save lives, but they were also justified based on the impact to that service level. Note that with the recent truck crash, the closure was measured in minutes. With the last death, it was measured in hours due to the post crash investigation. It is sad that these fences are there partly to improve vehicle travel times.
      While we are discussing the causeway paths, we should consider what happens at the south end, and how they are not connected. The Ministry did not connect the new paths through to Georgia. The Park Board, despite repeated requests, has not done so. The City has initiated planning for the Georgia Gateway project, and it is hoped that this will bring together representatives from the CoV, Park Board, and MOTI to address this issue. #ungapthemap.
      Ed: Second post, first one disappeared. If this ends up being a duplicate, please delete.

  3. I seem to notice an unusually high incidence of people waiting at bus stops being injured when cars crash into them and the bus stop.
    A strategically place bollard or two at bus stops on major arterials may be worthwhile – not for terroristic acts, but for accidents.

    1. PS – i.e. at bus stops that are on the “far side” of intersections, where high speed left turns from the cross street may skid wide and into the bus stop.

      1. I’ve always thought that bus stops should be before the intersection which would avoid that scenario. That wasn’t my reasoning: A bus could be boarding and waiting at a red light at the same time. It would be more efficient, especially in busy areas. How many times does a bus wait at a red light then cross the street and immediately stop again to load. It’s probably thousands of times a day. Almost all bus stops are immediately after an intersection.
        The reason it’s not done is the almighty car. Motorists would have to wait longer to make right turns.
        So let’s also reduce some more injuries by eliminating right turns on red lights. Solves two issues.

    2. Bus shelters are a death zone. I won’t let myself be trapped by standing inside one and have taught my child to do the same. You stand outside the shelter and ensure you have somewhere to go when an impatient motorist crashes into the bus shelter.
      As for bus stop location, when they are on the far side of the intersection you can be running late and jab the beg button a bunch of times hoping you can get the fast-approaching bus to stop so you can cross the street and get to the bus stop. 🙂 So that’s a feature not a bug IMO.
      Positioning a bus stop on the other side of the light only creates issues for bus drivers, who have to deny boarding for safety reasons outside of bus stop areas, and if we come to equate stop lights with bus stop boarding zones, soon there will be people wanting to get on at every stop light. I don’t think it’s workable.

      1. So you hold up a whole bus full of people so you can catch it because you were running late? Glad you put a smiley face Chris.
        No need to equate bus stops with traffic lights. You’d equate bus stops with bus stop signs – which would often be at the traffic light. It’s currently much more likely that a driver has to deny boarding or alighting at a red light.
        A bus shelter at the end of a block would be far less vulnerable to motor vehicles so you could actually stand under them when it’s pouring rain. The far side will always be more vulnerable. As a pedestrian I often try to cross a busy road (with a signal) on the close side to oncoming traffic because the far side often feels like you’re gonna get smacked one day.

        1. Hey Ron:
          One of the things we tell motorists is that waiting a few minutes at a light doesn’t significantly impact their travel time. I don’t think an unscheduled stop due to a beg button really has much of an impact on the other riders, but when my bus #27 only comes as rarely as on the half-hour, then yeah, I push the button and wouldn’t begrudge anyone else the same approach.
          cheers

  4. And let’s finally just close a bunch of downtown streets and make them human. Solves so many issues and usually boosts the economic success of the street too. Vancouver is so behind on this.

    1. Water Street, Robsonstrasse, Alberni, Granville, Mainland, Bute ……… Soaring glass canopies over some of them (perhaps continuous, or in one or two block sections at a time) will also afford much appreciated rain protection and offer year-round continuous use. The canopies can stem from open design competitions. Festival space (where the road surface used to be), public art, innovative lighting, expanding numbers of outdoor cafes and so forth could inspire wide-scale attendance by the public and increased business. Local businesses may be willing to contribute — once some of them get over the loss of cars.

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