January 01, 2016

Twelve Days of Bicycles - Nine Lives A Saving

If you ask any person how many road fatalities are acceptable, chances are he/she will mention zero. Unfortunately, road fatalities are a common occurrence in which 38 pedestrians (including one on December 30) and four cyclists were killed in the City of Toronto this year alone. A recent report by the Pembina Institute called “Cycle Cities” cited Toronto had the highest cycling crash rate among five major Canadian cities (five per 100,000). In June, three cycling deaths over a two week period prompted Cycle Toronto to hold the city’s first “die-in” where over 100 cyclists lied down with their bikes at Nathan Phillips Square.[1] The following asks were made at the “die-in”:

  1. Increase the cycling infrastructure budget to $20 million per year. For a reference point, $9.32 million was spent on cycling in 2015[2] and the 2016 budget includes $14.25 million plus the $7.34 million carry forward from 2015. Future spending amounts are contingent on the new bike plan expected to arrive at city council for debate and vote in spring 2016.
  2. Build a minimum grid of 100 kilometres of cycle tracks and 100 kilometres of bicycle boulevards by 2018, which 25 councillors pledged to support during the 2014 municipal election.
  3. Adopt VISION ZERO.
Many traffic fatalities occur at intersections and made worse by winter

What is Vision Zero? It is an initiative first conceived in Sweden in 1994 and made law three years later via their Road Traffic Safety Bill. Per the below video from Sweden’s Vision Zero Initiative, the vision states no loss of life due to traffic is acceptable and the responsibility needs to be shifted from individual drivers to systems design. After all, other sectors ranging from aviation to nuclear reactors factor in the potential for human error and so should roads. This vision has since spread to the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and several North American cities such as New York City and Edmonton.
As for which initiatives can be done to achieve Vision Zero, speed enforcement via cameras is one of them. I remember watching a series of clips Volkswagen did five years ago called “The Fun Theory” in which making something fun can improve health and safety. One clip was about a speed camera lottery in Stockholm (Sweden) in which speeders would be sent a traffic citation and the proceeds would be used for a lottery in which law abiding drivers would be entered. During this experiment, traffic speeds were reduced by almost 25%.
Of course, one initiative is not sufficient to eliminate motor vehicle fatalities but rather a comprehensive plan. The article which sparked my interest in doing this blog series was the Manhattan Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, which was part of New York City’s Vision Zero initiative. As was the case in Sweden per the first video, New York City’s pedestrian fatalities have fallen to their lowest point since records were maintained in 1910 and by over 60% during the last three decades. Some of the initiatives identified in the report include the following:
  • Reduce the city wide speed limit to 25 MPH (40 km/h); done in 2014
  • Use digital mapping to identify priority corridors, intersections, and areas
  • Perform 50 safety engineering projects per year
  • Implement speed cameras to improve enforcement
  • Install protected bike lanes; resulting in a 22% reduction of pedestrian injuries
  • Adjust signal timings to reduce speeding and better accommodate pedestrians
  • Encourage off peak delivery
Vision Zero has also been noticed by Toronto City Hall thanks to a motion introduced by Councillor Jaye Robinson, Chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC). On June 10, 2015, council unanimously approved PW5.9 to develop a “Road Safety Plan for Toronto” based on best practices including Vision Zero. The bylaw called for a report to be sent to PWIC in the fourth quarter of 2015, but that deadline has since been delayed to early 2016.

Since today is New Year’s Day, I would like to suggest a New Year’s Resolution for Toronto’s city councillors and Mayor John Tory. That resolution is to ensure every action possible is taken to improve pedestrian and cycling safety. By making our city safer to walk and bike (and in turn drive), the number of collisions can be reduced, which also fits with the primary priority of fighting gridlock! For those who haven’t read the rest of the blog series, here is a recap (including links) in the form of the Christmas carol.

On the ninth day of bicycles, my true love gave to me …

Nine lives a saving
Eight curbs a calming
Seven pots a planting
Six noodles swaying
Five flashing lights

Four Lake Shore spans
Three book rides
Two legal friends
And a bike lane on Bloor Street!

Happy New Year!
Rob Z (e-mail)

CORRECTION (2016/01/02): The original blog post indicated 35 pedestrian fatalities, but the correct number is 38. The link has also been modified.


[1] CBC News. “Toronto cyclists hold ‘die-in’ at Nathan Phillips Square.” June 19, 2015. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-cyclists-hold-die-in-at-nathan-phillips-square-1.3119853.
[2] This was calculated by taking the $16.66 million from 2015 Toronto Budget and subtracting the $7.34 million carry forward amount cited in the 2016 Toronto Budget. (http://www.toronto.ca/budget2016)

1 comment:

  1. The good thing is, at least the authorities are taking progressive measures to curb accidents, and especially fatalities. We should emulate other cities that have been successful in doing so. Vision Zero may not be perfect but the principle is definitely inspiring.