December 5, 2019

Three Metro Vancouver Pedestrians Die in 30 Hours-This is Not Okay

Last week three people within 30 hours in Metro Vancouver lost their lives doing a very simple act-walking on the street. A senior was mowed down by a truck driver in the early afternoon. And a 40 year old woman and a  man in his thirties lost their lives at 5:00 a.m. and 5:50 p.m., both times on dark streets. The man had tried to cross the street near the Ladner McDonald’s,had tripped on the median and was then struck by a vehicle driver. He was the father of three children ranging from 13 years to 18 months. His eldest children had lost their mother ten years ago.

There is already a go fund me page for the young family of that  Dad, Robbie Oliver, who was self-employed as a roofer. He was well loved and respected in Ladner, and the community has already held a candlelight vigil for him at the site of the accident.

We somehow have to stop thinking that  these needless deaths are necessary collateral to the use of vehicles. This CBC article with author Neil Aranson  talks about making cars smarter . The large denlike vehicles so popular today increase the likelihood of a pedestrian fatality by 50 percent. Neil who wrote ” No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads” also suggests that while the European Union and Japan require pedestrian survivable design in their manufacturing rules, North America does not.  Outrage and insistence is needed to get vehicular manufacturers to do better.

But there is more to safe streets than vehicular design. Speed, visibility, road design, and driver behaviour  are also important factors.  The B.C. Coroners Service in their 2019 report identified that “from 2008 to 2016, more than one-third of traffic fatalities involved drugs or alcohol.

Of the 314 traffic fatalities in B.C. in 2018, 18 percent were pedestrians. Across the province 43 pedestrians died in 2017; that number increased to 58 people in 2018. ICBC, the insurance corporation estimates that in Metro Vancouver 2,100 vehicular crashes involve a pedestrian annually. A study done by Transport Canada in 2011 showed that 63 percent of fatalities at urban intersections were pedestrians aged 65 or older.

November, December and January are the danger months for pedestrians in Metro Vancouver. There is darkness, rain, and road glare and many intersections are not well lit. The City of Vancouver has hinted at installing more Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs) which allow a pedestrian a “lead green time” when crossing. NACTO (the National Association of City and Transportation Officials) cite LPIs as reducing pedestrian crashes by 60 percent. There are several thousand LPIs installed in New York City, and the cost per intersection is minimal at $1,200 U.S. dollars.

Reducing speed at intersections allows for drivers to have more reaction time. And in Europe as part of Vision Zero (Zero deaths on the road) Finland requires pedestrians to wear some type of small reflective toggle.

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It’s no surprise now that the Mayors of Metro Vancouver have approved of an eight lane immersive tunnel as their choice for the Massey Tunnel replacement that other factors regarding the choice are causing grumbling. While this option for a new crossing has now gone forward to the Province,  the president of the province’s Trucking Association has stated that “the eight-lane tunnel won’t address one of the main problems with the existing tunnel: congestion.”

In an Opinion column printed in the Delta Optimist, B.C.Trucking CEO Dave Earle identifies safety, affordability and carbon emissions as impacting the trucking industry. Mr. Earle quotes a 2015 report that suggests that the previously touted ten lane bridge option proposed by the previous Liberal provincial government would reduce accidents by 35 percent.  He also suggests that that the proposed new tunnel will not accommodate oversized or hazardous good shipments, resulting in increased costs for truckers in travel time and fuel consumption in using other routes.

There are current restrictions on oversized loads and dangerous goods in the current tunnel.  Mr. Earle notes “From a goods movement perspective, the BC Trucking Association would prefer a replacement bridge because it’s safest for road users and emergency personnel, it will improve efficiency and affordability by reducing transportation-related costs, and less congestion will also mean fewer emissions. But this project also raises a persistent and troubling theme in the way important decisions on transportation infrastructure are made in the Lower Mainland: efficient goods movement is not a major consideration.”

While Mr. Earle notes that 90% of all consumer goods are being transported by trucking, the Port of Vancouver is the only major port in North America that does not run on a 24 hour schedule. By utilising trucking delivery from the port on a full 24 hour day schedule, deliveries could be timed for tunnel use outside of peak times.

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Doesn’t it make sense to have a festival of public art and installations during the darkest months of the year to animate the city? That is exactly what Amsterdam does in their annual Light Festival that is held every December and January. The installation “Absorbed by the Light” created by British artist Gali May Lucas was placed  in December 2018 outside the Hermitage Amsterdam. This piece is a visual commentary on how we use screens constantly to enlighten our lives,  while that lit screen moves us away from the surrounding environs.

As the artist states  “I see this every day in parks and in restaurants, especially in winter when there are more hours of darkness…I chose to create something instantly recognisable and quite literal. But eerie at the same time.”

Amsterdam uses walking, biking and boat tours to visit the many curated exhibits on display for sixty days.

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Last week I attended the International Road Safety Symposium that was hosted by UBC’s Integrated Safety and Advanced Mobility Bureau as well as by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. This team brought in practitioners from Australia and the Netherlands, where policy work and research mirrors or is ahead of our local policy. A mix of physicians,  police officers , engineers and consultants presented and debated current issues and trends in road safety and active transportation, providing a very thoughtful discussion on how to make streets and roads safer for all users.

Speaker Dr. Fred Wegman is an emeritus professor of traffic safety at Delft University of Technology and is the individual credited with the development of the “safe systems” approach, “based on the principle that our life and health should not be compromised by our need to travel. No level of death or serious injury is acceptable in our road transport network.”

It was Fred  that described the tremendous gains in the Netherlands where there has been a 49 percent reduction in fatalities/serious injuries with the safe systems approach. He also noted the importance of reducing speed as a basic tenet for safety, and that politically elected officials would not be reducing speed to save lives, but would be doing it for basic sustainability reasons. And tied into a greener, cleaner environment and the future, such speed reductions would be accepted nationally.

We didn’t need to wait long to hear the result of Fred’s prediction. The BBC News has just reported that  in 2020 “the daytime speed limit on Dutch roads is to be cut to 100km/h (62mph) in a bid to tackle a nitrogen oxide pollution crisis” 

This information is still confidential, but the disclosed report suggests that the current speed limit of up to 130 km/h would be allowed only in  the night hours.

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As reported by Sandor Gayarmati in the Delta Optimist and obvious to anyone following Delta Council, there’s been growing disagreement  between the Mayor of Delta, George Harvie, and  Delta Councillor Lois Jackson, who was Mayor of Delta from 1999 to 2018 and actually started serving on Delta Council in 1972.

The Delta council dynamics are daunting~Mr. Harvie was formerly Delta’s city manager from 2002 to 2018, and of course was hired by Mayor Jackson’s council.  When Mr. Harvie retired from his city manager job and then ran for Mayor, Ms. Jackson ran as a councillor on his campaign slate, saying she was going to act as an “elder” and also be Mr. Harvie’s guide on the side.

Municipalities unlike the Provincial and Federal governments still do not have a great deal of financial oversight, and that can be seen in the annual junkets to Ottawa and to Eastern Canada taken by Ms. Jackson, and last year by Mr. Harvie. In 2018 Lois Jackson’s contingent spent $40,000 for a few days in Ottawa and a few in Quebec, in part to plead for the Massey Bridge. Her Council also ponied up for Ms Jackson to go to Scotland to attend a bagpipe tattoo, as well as arranged remuneration for people leaving Council based upon years worked.

Former City Manager now Mayor Harvie went to Ottawa in the spring of this year  for four days at a cost of $20,000 taxpayer dollars  to deal with stuff that really could be dealt provincially and  locally by the Province or local Member of Parliament.

Harvie also hired his friend Param Grewal who ran unsuccessfully for a Delta city council position on the same slate as Mayor George Harvie. Mr. Grewal is the “Director of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs” on  a six figure salary with no public posting of the position.

Harvie and Jackson appeared to be kindred spirits, so it was a surprise when Lois Jackson was booted off the Metro Vancouver board by Mayor Harvie right before the crucial vote last week for the Massey Immersive Tunnel approval.

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Last week the Metro Vancouver Board met and approved the recommendation of their task force for an eight lane immersive tunnel to replace the Massey Tunnel crossing of the Fraser.  This has not been a seamless process, and as reported by Simon Little of Global News  the approval was subject to conditions.  Those conditions call for a thorough environmental impact assessment, addressing First Nations concerns regarding river habitat, and the development of a structured construction timeline for project completion in six to seven years time.

The other piece, and this is major, is conducting a full review of the traffic currently using the tunnel as well as the land-use concerns of Vancouver, Richmond and Delta. This also gives the Province and Metro Vancouver a chance to work with the Port to identify a more methodical way to schedule container trucks through the tunnel, and also consider going on a 24 hour schedule like every other major port in North America. Such scheduling would also have major implications for smarter use of the port, which is currently saying they need a new terminal without addressing the fact they are only open for business half of the day.

What also needs to be discussed is that allowing three lanes of traffic in each direction and dedicated transit lanes means that work must occur on getting more people on transit. Congestion in vehicular traffic is a good thing as it makes transit more timely and convenient in dedicated lanes. I have already written about  Marchetti’s Constant. “As travel times become shorter with more dedicated travel lanes through a new tunnel, commuters can locate farther out, with the “constant” said to be about one hour in travel time. Of course as more people locate farther away, more congestion will occur at the Massey Crossing.”

You can’t build your way out of congestion, and that will need to be emphasized in meetings with Delta, Richmond and Vancouver. This might be the time that road and congestion pricing are considered for this new Fraser River crossing.

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Last year I wrote about  the  University of British Columbia study that identified Halloween night as having a 43 per cent higher risk of pedestrian deaths than any other night close to that date. Using available traffic data from the United States, the researchers looked at 608 pedestrian deaths that occurred on 42 previous Halloween nights, and found similar findings to that of a study done 20 years ago.

The graphs below show the spike in deaths of children occuring on Halloween. The second graph is more shocking, showing that 25 percent of those deaths occurred around 6:00 p.m.(at dusk)  with the other 75 percent being evenly distributed between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m.

As the Vancouver Sun  wrote, even though vehicles  are equipped with better safety systems and lights, “car-pedestrian accidents kill four more people on average on Halloween than on other days…Kids aged 4 to 8 faced the highest risks…” 

I have previously written about the University of Iowa study that found that  children between the ages of 6 and 14 years of age were not able to judge the speed, distance, and  safe crossing time in moving traffic. The study found they could not  recognize gaps in traffic, and that skill was not fully developed until the child was around 14 years of age. Even a 12 year old crossing experienced a “fail” two percent of the time in the study.

Couple that with the current SUV obsession. SUVs (sports utility vehicles) are responsible for a 46 percent increase in pedestrian deaths and serious injury. Because of their high front ends, pedestrians are twice as likely to die if they are hit by one. Drivers of SUVs are also 11 percent more likely to be killed driving one, as the size and bulk encourages more reckless driving behaviour.

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Via the British Columbia Society of Landscape Architects Tara Culham comes this gem from SAAQ, the Societe de l’Assurance Automobile du Quebec. The province’s automobile insurer protects all Quebecers for injuries that happen in a traffic accident anywhere in the world regardless if they are at fault or not.

With no fault coverage individuals and companies cannot commence legal proceedings in an accident. Avoiding accidents and prompting better driver behaviour has been a hallmark of the SAAQ. They produce videos that get their point across, as does this video which has now gone viral. This video literally flips the courtesy stop at a crosswalk in favour of pedestrians and has over one million views.


Another of my favourites from the SAAQ is this short video reminding drivers to drive as if every pedestrian could be their mom. Released earlier this month, the video already has over 100,000 views.

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Imagine the Netherlands in the 1960’s. It is a place where traffic and automobiles have become ubiquitous in the post war era. Where to look for inspiration on how to move more people more efficiently? The United States. Specifically American David Jokinen, an engineer who had the Big Idea to create bigger highways between cities and suburbs was hired.

In 1962 and in 1967 Jokinen created two traffic plans for The Hague and for Amsterdam respectively. In Amsterdam part  of the plan was also for new metro lines  to be constructed, demolishing housing in the Niewmarkt neighbourhood. Locals tried to stop the buildings from being demolished, resulting in the Niewmarkt riot. While the housing was lost, the expansion of the metro was halted, meaning that the centre of Amsterdam was kept intact.

While Jokinen’s plans were not implemented in the Hague,  he received funding from the Stichting Weg automobile lobby in Amsterdam, whose sole purpose was to create better access by car.  Jokinen was going to create a six lane highway and demolish several Amsterdam neighbourhoods,  with a highway  serving the city’s downtown to facilitate access to work by car.

Remember this is the time of Disneyland~Jokinen wanted monorails that allowed access from parking garages at the city’s periphery into the downtown. In many accounts, Jokinen’s concepts are compared to that of Robert Moses who was shaping New York City in a similar car oriented way. It’s also similar to the plan announced in 1967 for Vancouver  which  proposed replacing the inner city neighbourhoods of Strathcona and Chinatown with elevated highways and an “LA-style cloverleaf interchange.”

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