Slow down and stop the ki­lling

Our speed li­mits are too high, our vehi­cles are ever-lar­ger, and our ur­ban de­signs fail to ac­count for pe­des­trian traf­fic on our streets

La Jornada (Canada) - - ENGLISH SECTION -

Ca­na­dians are ki­lling each ot­her on our streets, even in broad day­light. The ki­llers are usually known but ra­rely pro­se­cu­ted. Mo­reo­ver, the ki­lling could ea­sily be pre­ven­ted.

Who are the­se people?

The vic­tims are people wal­king and the cul­prits are people dri­ving. Or­di­nary, every­day people.

Mo­re than 300 pe­des­trians are ki­lled by mo­to­rists in

Ca­na­da each year. In To­ron­to alo­ne, 163 pe­des­trians have been ki­lled sin­ce 2011.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Most co­lli­sions bet­ween pe­des­trians and vehi­cles are, one could ar­gue, by de­sign - po­licy de­sign, that is.

First, let’s look at who’s at fault in most pe­des­trian-vehi­cle co­lli­sions. Ac­cor­ding to the chief co­ro­ner of On­ta­rio, 35 per cent of pe­des­trian deaths we­re clearly cau­sed by mo­to­rist traf­fic vio­la­tions (e.g., fai­lu­re to yield, jum­ping the curb); 33 per cent of pe­des­trian deaths could not be de­ter­mi­ned; and, in 32 per cent of ca­ses, the­re might have been a com­bi­na­tion of pe­des­trians dis­re­gar­ding traf­fic ru­les (e.g., cros­sing against the light) and dri­vers not pa­ying enough at­ten­tion.

The bot­tom li­ne is most pe­des­trian deaths are pre­ven­ta­ble.

And evi­den­ce shows that the pe­des­trians struck by vehi­cles are not just young da­re­de­vils or chil­dren dar­ting in­to the road - com­mon mis­con­cep­tions. Rat­her, 35 per cent of pe­des­trians struck we­re se­niors, even though they re­pre­sent only 13 per cent of the po­pu­la­tion. Only th­ree per cent of fa­ta­li­ties in­vol­ved chil­dren.

Most pe­des­trian vic­tims we­re just trying to cross the road at an in­ter­sec­tion.

Se­cond, con­si­der the in­crea­sing si­ze of vehi­cles in pe­des­trian fa­ta­li­ties. Vehi­cles are get­ting hea­vier and ta­ller. The market sha­re of light trucks has in­crea­sed dra­ma­ti­cally sin­ce 1980. Ac­cor­ding to Neil Ara­son, aut­hor of No Ac­ci­dent, light trucks in­crea­se the li­ke­lihood of pe­des­trian and cy­clist fa­ta­li­ties in co­lli­sions by at least 50 per cent com­pa­red to re­gu­lar cars.

In ot­her words, our out­da­ted ru­les meant to pro­tect all tho­se using the road have not caught up to the deadly reality of our new plus-si­zed vehi­cles.

One sim­ple so­lu­tion is to lo­wer speed li­mits, which we know dras­ti­cally re­du­ces the risk of pe­des­trian fa­ta­li­ties in co­lli­sions. Re­search shows sig­ni­fi­cant re­duc­tions in pe­des­trian death by re­du­cing and en­for­cing speed li­mits to 30 km/h in city cen­tres, ur­ban re­si­den­tial areas and ru­ral neigh­bour­hoods with high le­vels of pe­des­trian ac­ti­vity.

At 30 km/h, the pro­ba­bi­lity of a co­lli­sion or fa­tal co­lli­sion are both very small. In­crea­se the speed and the risk for both co­lli­sions and re­sul­tant deaths in­crea­ses dra­ma­ti­cally.

Re­cent da­ta (2009-2013) from To­ron­to shows how pe­des­trian deaths go up with the speed li­mit: whe­re the speed li­mit was 30 km/h, no pe­des­trian was ki­lled; whe­re the speed li­mit was 40 km/h, 12 pe­des­trians we­re ki­lled; whe­re the speed li­mit was 50 km/h, 44 pe­des­trians we­re ki­lled; whe­re the speed li­mit was 60 km/h, 77 pe­des­trians we­re ki­lled.

If we re­du­ce speed li­mits from 50 to 30 km/h, we could re­du­ce pe­des­trian deaths to one-se­venth of what they are to­day. Real-li­fe ex­pe­ri­ments con­duc­ted in Eu­ro­pe al­so show that im­po­sing low speed li­mits de­crea­ses the num­ber of pe­des­trian in­ju­ries and fa­ta­li­ties.

One fre­quent ob­jec­tion to lo­we­ring speed li­mits is that it may add to com­mu­ting ti­mes. But con­ges­tion and stand-still traf­fic con­tri­bu­te much mo­re to com­mu­te ti­mes than speed li­mits. For exam­ple, the ave­ra­ge speed of a com­mu­ting dri­ver in the grea­ter To­ron­to area is only 18.6 km/h be­cau­se of con­ges­tion and traf­fic jams. Traf­fic si­mu­la­tions sug­gest that a speed li­mit of 30 km/h would in­crea­se com­mu­ting ti­me by only fi­ve per cent.

Of cour­se, re­du­cing speed li­mits might not be enough if ur­ban plan­ning as a who­le is not de­sig­ned to put pe­des­trians first. Ara­son and ot­hers wor­king on safe street de­sign sug­gest stra­te­gies such as na­rro­wing streets by buil­ding or en­lar­ging si­de­walks and traf­fic is­lands, which in turn dis­cou­ra­ges lar­ger cars; and ban­ning the right-turn on red light, which de­ters mo­to­rists from dri­ving th­rough cross­walks whi­le pe­des­trians are cros­sing the street.

Ur­ban plan­ning that puts pe­des­trians first will al­so en­cou­ra­ge wal­king. As mo­re people walk, mo­re mo­to­rists would get used to dri­ving with pe­des­trians in mind.

Our neigh­bour­hood streets should be vie­wed as zo­nes used by pe­des­trians, whe­re the in­tru­sion of dan­ge­rous ma­chi­nes can be to­le­ra­ted but should not be the ru­le. It’s ti­me we craf­ted pe­des­trian-cen­tred plan­ning in our neigh­bour­hoods.

We can stop the ki­lling on Ca­na­dian streets. -TROYMEDIA

Michel Grig­non is an ex­pert ad­vi­sor with Evi­den­ceNet­ and as­so­cia­te pro­fes­sor with the De­part­ments of Eco­no­mics and Health, Aging and So­ciety at McMas­ter Uni­ver­sity, and di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Health Eco-­jor­na­

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