The Ontario Coroner's report on pedestrians recommends a "road safety paradigm shift" to reduce vehicle speeds and improve the accessibility and safety of streets for all modes, especially the most vulnerable road users.
By Ryan McGreal
Published September 20, 2012
Earlier this year, the office of the Ontario Coroner released a study recommending a number of policy changes to make cycling safer and more viable. Now the Coroner's Office has done the same for walking in its review of pedestrian deaths.
Ontarians not only need to walk, they need to walk safely. To do so, they need safe walking spaces. It is believed that with high quality engineered design, universal accessibility and a dedication to safety where pedestrians are of paramount importance, it will be possible to decrease pedestrian deaths.
Noting that Ontarians also want to walk and cycle more, the study calls for a "road safety paradigm shift" that emphasizes the accessibility and safety of our streets for pedestrians, based on the following central premise adopted by the World Health Organization's World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention:
The vulnerability of the human body should be a limiting design parameter for the traffic system, and speed management is central. [emphasis in original]
After examining the 95 pedestrian deaths in Ontario in 2010, the Coroner's office has made a number of recommendations that will sound familiar to urbanists.
The Province should revise the Provincial Policy Statement 2005 to include a Walking Strategy for Ontarians that drives municipal policy and funding to focus on making streets accessible and safe for all users - including the most vulnerable road users - with a goal of eliminating preventable pedestrian deaths.
We need a "complete streets" approach for municipalities that designs streets to be "safe, convenient and comfortable for every user, regardless of transportation mode, physical ability or age."
Reduce the unsigned default speed limit in urban areas from 50 km/h to 40 km/h, and in signed residential areas from 40 km/h to 30 km/h.
In addition to lower speed limits, municipalities should also adopt speed reduction strategies incorporating roadway, intersection and pedestrian crossing design.
Municipalities should be allowed to install non-signalized mid-block pedestrian crossings.
Streets with four or more lanes should have pedestrian crossing islands.
Side-guards should be mandatory on all heavy trucks in Canada, as they already are in Europe.
Intersections with high rates of collision should have leading pedestrian signal intervals (LPI) allowing pedestrians to cross before motorists get a green light.
Motorists and pedestrians need more and better education on how to reduce the risk of collisions with a pedestrian. This should include road safety instruction in primary school and changes to the MTO Driver's Handbook.
No one with a basic understanding of classical physics will be surprised to learn that vehicle speed was a huge determinant of fatality risk, given that a vehicle moving at twice the speed has four times the energy.
The study found that only five percent of deaths occurred on a street where the speed limit was lower than 50 km/h, and 67 percent of the deaths were on a street where theh speed limit was 50 km/h or higher. (The speed limit was unknown in the other 28 percent.)
Interstingly, the driver was exceeding the speed limit in only 12.7 percent of the fatalities studied, which strongly indicates that legal speed limits are too high to protect pedestrians safety.
The study also cites the Toronto public health study Road to Health: A Healthy Toronto by Design on the geometric increase in fatality risk associatd with vehicle speed. Incidentally, the Road to Health study also found:
A review of 19 traffic-calming initiatives in four European countries found that injuries caused by collisions for all road users fell by 41-83 percent, while fatalities dropped by 14-85 percent. After 30 km/h zones were introduced in London, these zones experienced a 42 percent reduction in fatalities. In 1988 the Town of Baden, Austria restricted speeds to 30 km/hr for about 75 percent of its road network. This and other measures reduced the rate of casualties by 60 percent.
Meanwhile, in Hamilton, the North End Neighbourhood Association's effort to establish a 30 km/h speed limit in that neighbourhood is at the Ontario Municipal Board after City Council rejected its proposal of a three-year pilot project.
The recommendations all reflect the fact that the most vulnerable pedestrians were over-represented in the pedestrian deaths the Office studied. People over 65 years of age are only 13 percent of the population but accounted for 36 percent of the deaths. Similarly, 10 percent of the pedestrians killed were using some form of mobility aid, like a cane, walker, crutches or wheelchair.
19 percent of the deaths took place at an intersection when the pedestrian had the right of way, and only 12.5 percent took place at an intersection where the pedestrian did not have the right of way. 13.5 percent took place when the pedestrian was on a sidewalk or shoulder, and 30 percent took place while the pedestrian was crossing mid-block.
The driver's failure to yield to the pedestrian was a factor in 21 percent of fatalities, and the pedestrian crossing against the signal was a factor in12 percent.
In 11.5 percent of the fatalities, the pedestrian had some form of distraction, like a cell phone or music player. In 8 percent of cases, the pedestrian had some form of encumbrance, like a dog or a shopping cart.
It is more difficult to determine driver distractions or inattention, but 14 percent of fatalities were when a pedestrian was walking on a sidewalk or shoulder, suggesting that the driver lost control of their vehicle. Tthe study also cites an Ontario Ministry of Transportation collision data review encompassing 2000-2009 that found driver inattention was identified by police in 10 percent of fatal collisions with pedestrians.
Alcohol and other drugs were a factor for 28 percent of pedestrians and 7 percent of motorists. Pedestrians, in particular, are at vastly increased risk of dying in a collision if they are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
One interesting datum is that the drivers involved in collisions where pedestrians were killed were disproportionately male. Of the 95 deaths in 2010, 67 percent of the drivers involved were male.
The study recognizes that the most effective way to prevent injury and death is to design the street for safety to reduce the inherent risk of collision between motorists and pedestrians.
While recommending reductions in vehicle speeds, the study also notes that merely lowering speed limits is not enough in itself.
When the City of Ottawa reduced speeds from 50 km/h to 40 km/h, studies which followed indicated that there was no substantial change in speed at which motorists travelled the roads. They concluded that the roadways themselves must also be changed to encourage slower speeds, as motorists will likely travel at speeds at which they are comfortable in the absence of enforcement.
It also recommends other engineering changes to the street to improve pedestrian safety, including giving pedestrians an exclusive opportunity to cross intersections before motorists can proceed.
The study also recognizes that mid-block pedestrian crossings are both common and a significant risk, and that the best way to reduce the risk is to facilitate safer mid-block crossings.
[C]urrent deficiencies in the Highway Traffic Act should be amended to allow for the council of a municipality to provide, via a by-law, for the erection of non-signalized pedestrian crossings for mid-block crossings in residential areas, an option not currently available in Ontario, but available in other provinces in Canada.
The current law on mid-block crossings is clear as mud and drivers may not be expecting to find a pedestrian crossing there.
The study also recommends that each municipality undertake a forensic audit of pedestrian deaths to identify high-risk areas, understand root causes and implement engineering changes to reduce the risk.
Capital planning for road work needs to incorporate the goal of reducing fatalities by making streets safer for pedestrians. The study lists several strategies for reducing vehicle speeds that add up to a road diet:
Other strategies for improving pedestrian accessibility and safety include:
Again, none of this will be foreign or surprising to people who have studied evidence-based ways of creating complete streets and healthy neighbourhoods.