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Are pedestrian issues too pedestrian for Vancouver's bicycle-automobile wars?

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  • a significant number of collisions occurred in the Downtown core and along arterial streets such as Broadway, 12th Avenue, 41st Avenue, Kingsway, Hastings Street, Main Street, Fraser Street, Knight Street, and Commercial Drive;
  • the neighbourhoods with the highest number of collisions per capita included Strathcona, Mount Pleasant, Grandview-Woodland, Shaughnessy, and Kensington Cedar Cottage; 
  • young adults aged 20 to 29 are the most likely to be involved in a collision as a pedestrian, however, collisions involving seniors are more likely to result in fatality; 
  • children aged 9 and under account for 15.4 per cent of walking trips in Vancouver, but represent only 3.9 per cent of pedestrian collisions; 
  • collisions are most likely to occur on weekdays, during the winter months, and between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m.;
  • the average societal cost of pedestrian collisions in Vancouver is approximately $127 million per year.

The Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan has several recommendations for increasing safety for walkers:

  • enforce and educate people on traffic laws;
  • implement appropriate and realistic laws for road users;
  • lower speed limits;
  • conduct more road safety campaigns;
  • focus on drivers; 
  • continue to install engineering measures to improve safety; 
  • provide better infrastructure to support active transportation; 
  • provide more incentives to use transit.

Other suggestions include advanced walk signals so that the pedestrian right-of-way is clearly established, more raised crosswalks and improved lighting at intersections.

Councillor Heather Deal isn’t surprised that most accidents occur when the pedestrian has the right of way. The Vancouver city councillor is responsible for active transportation issues (she was recently involved with the City’s “people are fragile” awareness campaign), and she believes that walking needs to be made both safe and pleasant. Safety can be improved through the measures proposed in the report, she says, while the walking environment can be made more pleasant by such steps as increasing available sidewalk space, encouraging restaurant patios, and adding public art and more amenities such as food carts, she says.

“The public realm is such a vibrant space -- it needs to be a delight for those who are most able to enjoy it -- people on foot.”

The City is also encouraging pedestrians to take back the streets in other ways, Deal says. VIVA Vancouver, which converts street spaces “into people places and giving you extra space to walk, bike, dance, skate, sit, hang out with friends and meet your neighbours” (according to the City website) returns every weekend to Granville Street beginning June 23. Car Free Days are also returning, on June 16 in Kitsilano and June 17 on Commercial Drive, Main Street and Denman Street. 

City Councillor Heather Deal

As for pedestrian safety, Deal says the City is considering adjusting the traffic signal sequence at particular intersections. Currently, at several downtown intersections (Hastings and Main, Georgia and Howe, Smythe and Hornby, for example) vehicles get an advanced green while pedestrians have to wait before they can cross. While this may ease vehicle congestion, it adds to conflict as cars continue to try to turn while pedestrians start to hurry across. Deal says some of these may be changed so that pedestrians get the advanced signal while vehicles have to wait.

Deal notes that some changes are already happening. Vancouver is gradually introducing pedestrian countdown signals at controlled intersections and is planning to experiment with “scramble” signals at some of the busiest downtown intersections. (At these intersections, besides the usual sequence of red and green lights, there’s an additional phase where all vehicular traffic has to stop while pedestrians are free to move in any direction.) The City is also building raised crosswalks and pedestrian bulges and implementing traffic calming measures at various places around Vancouver.

Ironically, many of these pedestrian improvements go unnoticed -- except to local residents -- because the City lumps them in with “cycling improvements” which get all the attention -- and controversy.

Toronto pedestrian scramble. Screenshot from Vimeo.

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