Hamilton's Police Deptartment, demonstrating compartmentalized thinking at its best, have launched a campaign to reduce pedestrian deaths: people need to wear reflective clothing and cross only at intersections with traffic lights if they dare to go outside without a car for protection.
Never mind that the city has huge stretches right downtown with no traffic lights. The woman killed on Main St. East near Prospect st. was "hundreds of metres" from the nearest signalized intersection, according to the police report.
Never mind that the legal limit and the timed traffic lights on Main Street, running right through the downtown core, are fast enough to kill most of the people unfortunate enough to be hit by cars.
The only way Hamilton will significantly reduce the number of pedestrian deaths is to slow down the motor vehicles.
Just a couple of days ago, I was driving down a residential street above the escarpment and a three-year-old boy dashed out in front of my car before his parents could react.
Because I was only driving 25 km/h, I had plenty of time to see him, react, and bring the car to a stop in plenty of time. Even if I had hit the boy going 25 km/h, he may have been hurt but almost certainly wouldn't be killed.
The risk of death in a collision with a car is exponentially related to speed. At 32 km/h, he would have a five percent chance of dying. At 48 km/h, just under the standard speed limit in the city, his chance of dying would have been almost half.
At 64 km/h, the speed at which the lights on Main St. are timed, he would have had an 85 percent chance of dying. No amount of fluorescent material can overcome such lousy odds.
Not only do collisions at higher speeds have a higher likelihood of death, but also vehicles travelling at higher speeds take longer to stop.
Braking distance is related to the square of the speed. If you're going twice as fast, it takes four times as far to stop. If you're going four times as fast, it takes sixteen times as far to stop.
In addition to their pedestrian campaign, the police are also cracking down on speeding. That's fine, but it obscures the fact that legal speed limits in Hamilton are far too high.
60 km/h on a street running through the heart of the downtown core is lunacy. It's a recipe for death even if the police can enforce it, which we all know they cannot.
Similarly, 40 km/h in a residential street is also far too high. It does not give drivers enough time to stop if a child runs out onto the street.
According to a report on creating child-friendly cities by Richard Gilbert and catherine O'Brien, speeds on residential streets should be reduced to 25 km/h.
RTH bangs on about this incessantly, it sometimes seems, but the only way to produce sustained reductions in traffic speeds is to engineer our streets to make it physically and psychologically difficult to speed.
All the police enforcement and public service announcements in the world will amount to a hill of beans as long as it remains easy to drive at killing speeds on Hamilton's streets. The police department - and, more importantly, city council - need to approach this in global terms if they want to produce a sustained reduction in pedestrian fatalities.
The side effects of such an approach - safer, more livable streets, healthier communities, neighbourhood reinvestment, and better quality of life - aren't so bad, either.
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