Pedestrian traffic safety put on hold despite increased dangers during winter

At Calgary’s combined city council meeting held on Nov. 18, Councillor Andre Chabot raised concerns regarding construction around Bow Valley College and the dangers of having only single-lane traffic in a busy downtown area.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi was leaning forward in his seat sporting a knowing grin as Chabot finished voicing his complaint.

“I’m smiling because I’ve called (city transportation general manager Mac) Logan’s department on this issue probably every two weeks since that change (from two-lane to single-lane traffic) was made,” Nenshi said, directing his gaze to Logan.

“We’ve had a lot of complaints about that as well Your Worship,” Logan responded. He then proposed putting in an additional drop-off zone in front of Bow Valley College as a tentative solution “rather than reconfiguring the entire street.”

While pedestrian safety is clearly a concern of the citizens of Calgary as well as the city’s councillors, Councillor Brian Pincott still pulled item 5.2: Pedestrian Traffic Safety Overview from the consent agenda — it was not mentioned why the item was pulled.

Pincott made clear his concerns regarding the need for more reporting on timelines, potential costs and the coordination of the plan’s initiatives. However, nothing more on the issue was mentioned besides the “amendment of adding in annual report updates every October.”

Nenshi commented that he “wouldn’t have pulled it” from meeting’s agenda, and further questioned transportation GM Logan further on whether there was more information available regarding a crosswalk pilot project that was started over the summer.

The project was said to involve extensive research and experimentation with crosswalk standards, stencils, paints and other visibility testing measures in areas around the city.

An example of one of the world’s largest scramble crosswalks is portrayed above in Shibuya, Toyko. The City of Calgary is planning on constructing one on 5th Street S.W. near Chinook Centre at an approximate cost of $15,000 per scramble crossing added to a signalized intersection.

Photo courtesy of Chensiyuan

“It was a fascinating project that we initiated out of my office for council’s interest,” Nenshi said while leaning forward in his chair looking fairly serious. “I’d be very, very interested in seeing the results of that.”

Fatality count climbing

With Alberta boasting the third lowest traffic fatality rate in Canada, it’s a major concern that our quota of six pedestrian fatalities a year due to motor vehicle accidents has almost been reached within the past three months. Four citizens have been killed between August and October and though not fatal, one toddler was seriously injured after a hit-and-run in the Marlborough Mall parking lot.

Kimberley Nelson, president of Bike Calgary, released a statement earlier this November expressing concerns about “victim blaming,” and Calgarians needing to be more “mindful of the fact that many pedestrians, such as children and persons with impaired mobility, might not be able to process or navigate complex traffic situations.”

While news of pedestrian-motor vehicle accidents remains troubling, data provided by the City of Calgary states that “based on the three year rolling average between 2002-2004 and 2009-2011, the fatality collision rate has declined by 45 per cent.” Furthermore, only 2.3 per cent of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are involved in collisions in Calgary.

Unfortunately, due to the high vulnerability of those travelling on foot or by bike, this sector of the population still “accounts for 20.5 per cent of collision causalities.” But whether it’s the victim’s or the driver’s fault when a fatal accident occurs, there are still more factors to consider.

According to information provided by the Calgary Police Service and the City of Calgary, potential contributors to pedestrian-motor vehicle accidents include:

  •  Sun glare
  •  Early darkening in winter months
  •  Construction and road obstructions
  •  Pedestrian negligence
  •  Poor crossing conditions
  •  Distracted drivers
  •  Visual impairments

In December 2011, approximately 60 people were hit by motor vehicles. This was a drastic increase compared to the May 2011, where fewer than 20 pedestrians were involved in a collision with a motor vehicle. This in part indicates these factors — sun glare, early darkening and visual impairments— are more at play during the winter when, for example, crosswalks tend to blend in with snow and ice on the roads.

During heavy traffic hours, single-lane traffic blocks up the street where Bow Valley College is situated. Vehicles have been stopping and dropping off students in no-stopping zones, further backing up traffic and creating visibility problems for those trying to get around them.

Photo credit: Anna Brooks 

While winter cannot be helped in a city like Calgary, what was referred to by the city as “construction hoarding,” can be further investigated.

In 2007, Calgary’s downtown core suffered from over-congestion after a large portion of 6th Avenue S.E. was shut down for 10 months during the construction of Encana’s new Bow tower, the second biggest skyscraper in Canada. During this time, causality collisions were 70 per 100,000 population compared to a much lower 50 per 100,000 population noted in 2011.

Though lack of evidence cannot pin the unusually high incidents of accidents in 2007 on construction alone, it’s interesting to note that the numbers presented in 2011’s data still remain significantly lower despite the 60,000-something new drivers on the road that year.

Former councillor Gael MacLeod’s concerns regarding pedestrian safety sky-rocketed after Wong Shuk Yee was killed Feb. 20, 2013 after being struck by two separate vehicles in northwest Calgary. Not even two weeks after the incident, MacLeod initiated a notice of motion to implement the Calgary Safer Mobility Plan, which was put into place this past July.

The four-year plan aims to “decrease the fatal and injury collision rate by 50 per cent before 2036” through extensive investigations of pedestrian-vehicle collisions, and by establishing further preventative measures that include:

  • 30 more traffic signals with pedestrian countdown timers by 2014
  • Enhanced pedestrian amenities in traffic-heavy areas
  • Installation of more countdown timers, audible signals and increased pedestrian walk times
  • Reviews of the effectiveness of paint markings, signage and flashing beacons in pedestrian crossing areas
  • Development of “scramble crosswalks,” which stop traffic in all directions to allow pedestrians to cross in any direction, including diagonally
  • Adjustments to detour set-ups during construction

Although citizens like Helen Mowat, public school board candidate for Wards 12 and 14, say she’s concerned about the high costs and hidden agendas (“It’s all going to be about surveillance, not safety,” Mowat said vehemently outside chambers. “Everything’s rigged. It’s all just propaganda.”), the Calgary Safer Mobility Plan states that meeting its outlined targets “could result in an estimated $5.1 million annual savings in collision costs to society.”

abrooks@cjournal.ca