Vancouver needs a pedestrian advocate

In a recent article in The Province, SFU transportation researcher Anthony Perl says Vancouver needs a pedestrian advocate. I agree.

According to the Downtown Transportation Plan, which the City adopted seven years ago, pedestrians are the first priority for the City, followed by cyclists, transit and then private vehicles. The Plan (available here: http://vancouver.ca/dtp/dtpfinalplan.htm) recommends that the City "Provide pedestrians greater priority through pedestrian activated traffic signals, wider sidewalks, elimination of “delayed walk” at intersections, mid-block crossings and landscaped medians." Yet, seven years on, it is difficult to discern how this has been implemented in practice. Consider:

The decision to reallocate a lane on the Burrard Bridge for bicycles (which I favour) has resulted in major inconvenience and loss of safety for pedestrians going to or from downtown. Pedestrians are only allowed on the west side of the bridge -- anyone with a destination to the east has to cross several lanes of traffic in order to get there.

Many traffic lights downtown have advanced greens for cars (in fact, a new one - at Thurlow and Nelson - was put in place last month). Not only do pedestrians have to wait before they can cross, when they do so, they are in conflict with a stream of vehicles which have already psychologically established a right of way.

Traffic lights are not synchronized in favour of pedestrians, but in favour of motor vehicles. For a pedestrian walking downtown, it's almost always stop and go. Cross at one intersection, walk a block and find yourself encountering a red light. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

Pedestrian-activated signals are timed to synchronize with auto traffic patterns. Instead of instantly (or even quickly) changing, they often take upwards of a minute to change, in order to keep auto traffic flowing smoothly.

Walk signals change quickly. At some intersections pedestrian traffic has barely begun to cross before the light changes. Yes, you can still complete your crossing, but motorists waiting to turn assume that you are impinging now on their right-of-way and get annoyed, some honking and others creeping up to harry you along.

The assumption is that the pedestrian is at fault when an "accident" happens. The above-quoted Sun article notes that bars are located near 21 of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians - implying that the injured pedestrians were drunk and therefore brought it on themselves. There's no cause and effect correlation proved though. The mere presence of a bar near an intersection (and how is "near" defined in the study?) does not prove the injured pedestrian was drinking. Yes, pedestrians are sometimes at fault in collisions and near-collisions, but automatically assuming the victim is at fault is a counterproductive and dangerous strategy.
It's not too late to turn the vision of the Downtown Transportation Plan into reality. Here are some recommendations, easy and inexpensive to implement:

City Council should appoint both a pedestrian adviser (as Perl recommends) and a pedestrian advisory council.

Advanced greens for cars should be replaced by advanced greens for pedestrians (as is done in many cities). This allows the pedestrians to establish their right-of-way before cars begin turning into the crosswalk.

Right turns on red for motor vehicles should be prohibited at many of the busier pedestrian crossings (for example, all the crossings along Robson between Granville and Bute).

More pedestrian-controlled intersections should be established. Alberni especially could use traffic calming west of Bute.

Pedestrian-controlled crossings should be made more responsive and stay active longer.

Traffic lights should be adjusted on some downtown streets so pedestrians get the green light flow.

No doubt other initiatives could be undertaken. Send your suggestions to the Mayor and Council at mayorandcouncil,,,vancouver.ca.

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