We had an interesting discussion in Council this week about pedestrian safety, a particular concern of mine. And although I have not yet completed my Council Report for this week (its coming…I promise), I wanted to get some words out about this story, as it appears in the newspaper under my photo this week, so I expect some feedback.
The conversation arose out of some good work Vic Leach has been doing in the Sapperton neighbourhood about increasing pedestrian safety through encouraging higher visibility. I support his call for the federal government (through the CSA) to produce standards for reflective products, so that consumers who know when they buy what are essentially safety products, that those products represent an actual increase in safety. This is a great idea.
But I also need to emphasize that I do not think lighting up pedestrians like Christmas trees is the solution to road safety. Putting responsibility for pedestrian safety wholly on the pedestrian is a perverse form of victim-blaming, akin to asking if a cyclist run over by a truck was wearing a helmet, implying that if there was no helmet, the truck driver and crappy roadway infrastructure that made them share space was immediately absolved of blame.
Ultimately, the responsibility for the personal safety of persons sharing space with 1,500kg high-speed metal boxes should fall on the persons operating the 1,500kg high-speed metal boxes and the persons designing the infrastructure where pedestrian and the metal boxes are expected to share space.
As the City, we are responsible for creating those safe spaces, and we are working towards that goal. We have a long way to go, but the emphases in our Master Transportation Plan are on protecting the pedestrian and in making all forms of active transportation easier and safer. We are prioritizing our spending on those aspects, truly putting our money where our mouth is.
However, there is one proven way to improve the safety of the pedestrian realm that is (for the most part) outside of the authority of the City, and that is speed limits in residential and urban areas.
During his presentation to Council, Mr. Leach cited how long it takes a car going 50km/h to stop, how much distance a car going 50km/h covers in 2 seconds. But there is another statistic we need to talk about: a pedestrian struck by a driver going 50km/h has a better than 50% chance of being killed (up to 80% according to some studies)* where a pedestrian struck at 30km/h have a less than 10% chance of being killed. This does not even factor in the fact that the collision is more likely to be avoided if the car is going 30 km/h. The fact that Stockholm, a City similar to Vancouver in weather, size, population, and transportation patterns has such a remarkably lower incidence of pedestrian fatality is a product of many things, including the higher reflectivity standards in Sweden, but it is notable that pedestrian deaths dropped there in 2007, when urban speed limits were reduced to 30km/h.
It is my opinion, backed with a significant amount of accident research, that 50km/h is a dangerous and unsupportable speed for automobiles to be traveling on residential streets. If we want to take the next steps in supporting pedestrian safety, to make a real change to the conditions that cause 400 pedestrian deaths in Canada every year, 60 deaths in BC annually, we need to make changes to how the automobiles operate, not limit ourselves by making the pedestrians – the victims – more visible.
The Province has a “statutory” speed limit of 50km/h for municipal areas. A City like New Westminster may choose to do local speed reductions around schools, parks, or high-pedestrian areas, but there is an onerous requirement for signage to make this enforceable. I would like to see the statutory limit in urban residential areas reduced to 30km/h, and provide the Cities the authority to allow 50km/h on major arterial streets where they see fit.
The potentially most effective way for us to move this forward as a City is to get the Lower Mainland Local Government Association to pass a resolution of support, then take that resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities meeting, where the municipalities can actively lobby the Provincial government to make the change. That is the path we will be hoping to take.
The safety of our citizens is, and should be, the #1 priority for all local governments, and the demonstrated safety benefits of 30km/h make this a no-brainer. I hope we can get it done!
*here is a list of studies, if you don’t want to take my word for it.
A great literature review from the NHTSA in the USA;
A recent published study with slightly different results;
Research from Australia;