August 04, 2016

The Pedestrian Take on Road Safety

During the three years I have been blogging, I covered transportation matters associated with cycling, public transit, and driving. There has been one perspective that has not gotten the attention it deserved and is one we are all part of; that of a pedestrian. Maureen Coyle is on the steering committee for Walk Toronto and offered to provide this critical road safety perspective.
RZ: What were your initial thoughts upon City Council’s approval of the Road Safety Plan?
MC: I am disappointed the plan was a lot less robust and the sub-report should have been more substantive. The $80 million proposed over five years is not in keeping with other cities our size. In New York City, they have a plan to spend $1.04 billion over ten years on road safety. There is a need to rethink public spaces.

RZ: Why has there been a spike in pedestrian injuries as of late?
MC: The streetscapes are changing globally with more users of different modes. In the 1880’s, cyclists campaigned for paved roads. After World War 2, roads were designed for higher speeds with a tacit assumption of increased road deaths. While there used to be more driver deaths, culture changes and vehicle engineering made driving safer while placing pedestrians at a higher risk.

Vehicles today have higher front ends (e.g. SUV’s), which lead to the head and upper torso being hit. Such injuries are more lethal, difficult to recover from, and especially bad for seniors and children. There is a tendency to try to control behaviour, but most fatalities happen to law abiding people and there is no space for pedestrians and bikes.

Collisions happen most with right turns, then left turns and mid-block crossings. Seniors and the disabled are not able to travel long distances to intersections.
As of August 3, 123 cyclists (+ 1 death) and 116 pedestrians (+ 7 deaths) have been struck
in Toronto since Kyle Miller started tracking collisions on May 30. (link to updated chart)
RZ: What are some of the causes between pedestrian conflicts with cyclists?
MC: Conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists indicate something wrong with the culture. The default position is to blame other road users and cast pedestrians as careless and footloose. There is a social construction of a cyclist being a 30 year old male that is careless, too fast, and not subject to regulation. The facts do not support these assumptions, but indicate competition for space.

As a pedestrian, I get frustrated with the presence of street furniture, patios, and other people; which make it impossible for two people to walk side by side. At times, it is necessary to pop off the sidewalk and walk on the road, where the presence of cyclists (and drivers) means I have to look over my shoulder.

RZ: What improvements would you like to see with the Road Safety Plan?
MC: We need to analyze what other cities have done and learn from them in order to re-imagine streetscapes; something not really done by Transportation Services. Having car-dominated roads are no longer acceptable, which are worse in Scarborough and Etobicoke where some crossings are placed 1.5 kilometres apart. Two things Toronto needs in order to adapt to its changing mode share are funding and political commitment, yet there are city councillors unwilling to risk political backlash.

We must recognize speed kills. Collisions at 50 km/h lead to a 95% fatality rate. The fatality rates often do not take into account the elderly, just as how medication to elders is not tested on them but rather on young, healthy people. The issue of speed leads to victim blaming, in which the cyclist recently killed on Dupont was blamed for going too fast.

RZ: What other campaigns has Walk Toronto worked on?
MC: Twenty five percent of Toronto has no sidewalks; meaning people cannot use the streetscape to get to hospitals, doctor’s offices, and schools. They must use the roadway, which is an indicator of social closure.

Improving access ways into parks, as well as addressing accessibility and inclusion issues, are also part of our mandate. During construction, we are concerned about the impacts on sidewalks and the need to augment the sidewalk when it is removed. This is similar to the Richmond cycle track being closed to cyclists, but is by far not exclusive.

We are a tiny organization which is all volunteer run, but we punch above our weight at city hall.

RZ: What message would you give to those interested in pedestrian advocacy?
MC: We need to understand public spaces and each other, as well as avoid blaming other road users. Vision Zero is not the only strategy, but we can start by not legislating for human error, which is designed to fail. Instead, we need to mitigate the effects of error so people are protected, given we cannot legislate young children or seniors with arthritis. An example is to put in a barrier between parking and the bike lane.

While people may not self-identify themselves as pedestrians, we must remember we are all pedestrians once we get off the bus, park the car, or lock the bicycle. By ensuring their safety, we can make our roads work better for everyone.

You can read Maureen's deputation at the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting on June 20, 2016 at this link.

Walk the talk!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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