The Big Toll Paid By Vulnerable Road Users

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There has been press about the important ramifications of reducing vehicular speed in cities and places to 30 kilometers per hour (km/h)  from 50 km/h. Studies show that vulnerable road users-those folks biking or walking without the metal frame of a vehicle to protect them-can better survive car crashes at those speeds. Pedestrians and cyclists have a 10% risk of dying in a vehicle crash at 30 km/h. That risk increases to 80% being hit by a vehicle at 50 km/h.

Dr. Perry Kendall, British Columbia’s  Chief Medical Officer has released his  Annual Report entitled “Where the Rubber Meets the Road” which identifies motor vehicle collisions as a significant threat to the health of people in this province. Although the motor vehicle collision fatality rate has declined from 18.4 deaths per 100,000 population in 1996 to 6.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2012, British Columbia has a high rate of deaths, as well as a high rate of collisions causing serious injuries-444.5 major injuries per 100,000 population. That translates into 280 people being killed on roads annually, with another 79,000 seriously injured.

The human factors contributing to fatal crashes are speed (35.7%) , distraction (28.6%) and impairment (20.4%). It is troubling that for vulnerable road users, the rates of crashes and serious injuries has been increasing, from 38.7 % of crashes resulting in serious injuries  in 2007 to  45.7 % of  crashes resulting in serious injuries in 2009.

The Medical Health Officer’s report is comprehensive and points out the current challenges broken down by region. The report cites road design, distraction and speed as three major contributors that can be addressed, and recommended lowering speed limits to 30 km/h in cities. Not surprisingly, Minister of Transportation Todd Stone has put the kibosh on lower speed limits, citing that this was something  he has not heard about from local municipalities, and that such a change needed strong support. You would think when the Province is also paying for health care that they would be mindful on how to keep vulnerable road users as safe as possible with minimal investment. Slower road speeds in municipalities could prevent serious injuries and deaths to pedestrians and cyclists.

 

 

 

 

The Elephant in The Yard-Point Grey Road

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The owners of residences on the north side of Vancouver’s Point Grey Road have some of the most spectacular  views of English Bay and the North Shore mountains, unfettered by public walkways between their properties and the ocean. The City of Vancouver used to have a policy to purchase land along the north side of this street, so that all Vancouverites could enjoy the magnificent views. The intent was to eventually provide access to the beach, which is public in Vancouver.  Margaret Pigott Park is one example of a north side of Point Grey Road private property that was purchased for public use.

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While the bikeway portion of the Seaside Greenway has been developed along Point Grey Road, the news for walkers has not been as positive. The city sidewalks on the north side of Point Grey Road are often squished beside the curb, with private landscaping from the large houses encroaching on the city boulevard, making the sidewalk feel even narrower. Most of this private landscaping encroachment consists of hedging and trees.

And then came the elephant. Yes, there was an elephant sculpture installed in the front yard of a house on Point Grey Road’s north side. The property owners fenced the elephant in with a handsome black wrought iron fence that encroached on city owned boulevard land right up to the sidewalk.

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In other parts of the city, this does not seem to happen. There is a public understanding that the city owns the land that is called the public boulevard, and that this strip of land extends on both sides of the sidewalk. The location of the water service in front of Vancouver properties is an indication of where the City’s land ownership ends and the private homeowner’s property begins.

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Jeff Lee’s article in the Vancouver Sun describes how homeowners on the north side of Point Grey Road are upset with the city’s plans to upgrade the sidewalk as part of a 6.4 million dollar project completing the seawall walkway. This upgrade will mean the city is taking back city land usurped by private hedges and fences to make a sidewalk wide and comfortable, like the rest of the seawall walkway. There will be a 1.2 meter strip between the homeowner’s front yard and the start of the sidewalk.

The City’s plans were originally to place a seawall walk right beside the ocean, in front of the Point Grey houses. This was nixed by the residents, as well as by environmental concerns.

The Point Grey residents held a rally on Sunday protesting the installation of the sidewalk, claiming it was an example of bad fiscal spending and citing the challenges residents would have in exiting their properties in vehicles with walkers and cyclists on the city street.

But here’s the point-taking back this strip of city owned land and putting it in public use for walkers is not about today, it is about tomorrow. Anywhere else in the city I would argue we would have dealt with this landscape encroachment on a popular walking street years ago. It would have made sense to have implemented this wider sidewalk at the time of the adoption of the expansion of the Seaside Greenway. The  properties along Point Grey Road benefited from a huge real estate lift the moment this street was designated.  That was the time to negotiate the return of the public boulevard for the safety, comfort and convenience of  walkers, people pushing strollers, and wheelchair users.

Hopefully future generations of Vancouverites can vision the Seaside Greenway as a stroll, not just a bike ride. How we deal with these issues today by following established city policy and protocol shapes the public realm, our public spaces, and our future place. There will be no more elephant in that yard.

 

Japan Uses Local Convenience Stores to Aid Seniors “aging in place”.

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Those 7-11 corner convenience stores are a staple in North American cities and in Japan. Mimi Kirk in City Lab notes that the Japanese convenience stores provide the same items as North American ones-with one exception-

“convenience stores in Japan offer services that make them hubs of their communities. Customers can pay a utility bill, buy concert tickets, or make copies at a 7-Eleven or a similar retailer like Lawson or FamilyMart. In the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, convenience stores even set up emergency support centers and sent employees to aid survivors, among other good deeds.”

As Japan’s seniors population ages, the stores have become street corner mini community centres with healthier food, home food delivery and  “seating areas so that older customers can gather to socialize and practice their karaoke skills.”

Elder friendly services are increasing with 100 new locations in apartment complexes offering these services as well as room cleaning, clothes mending and dealing with maintenance problems in apartments.

Ryota Takemoto, a researcher with an institute focusing on Japan’s real estate sector states “We must prevent [the elderly] from losing their access to a convenience store so that we can use convenience store networks…as an economic and social infrastructure where aging is advancing fast.”

It’s an interesting adaptive innovation that may find credence here as we encourage more seniors to age in place in their own communities.

Buenos Aires And Seniors Inclusivity

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This article published in World Crunch describes the innovative work that another by-the-sea city, with a very  large elderly population is undertaking to improve place and home for senior citizens.  With a quarter of its residents, approximately 700,000 people as senior citizens,  the municipal government

 “has forged a comprehensive plan, called PIAM, to revamp public spaces and improve the homes of the elderly. It expects to implement the changes beginning next year. The plans include new, better-suited furniture in public places (park benches that are specifically adapted, for example, to older people’s body shapes), prototypes of tricycles the elderly can use along cycling tracks, and more roofs over bus stops. The city also plans to measure how long it really takes seniors to cross busy streets and reprogram traffic lights accordingly.”

Prototypes are needed for better wheelchair access in public places, and in the home “simple measures, such as raising the height of sockets, having fewer items of furniture, not using carpets, mats or rugs, or fixing handles” she says.

The work is based upon WHO’s (World Health Organization) age friendly city designation. But what is important here is that this process involved collaborating with all parties including seniors to ensure that old people are included-without barriers, be they architectural or cultural. It is all in the detail, and Buenos Aires seems to be on  the right track.

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Toronto and those Count Down Pedestrian Signals

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Toronto’s Metro News has written about Countdown Pedestrian Signals . In Ontario its against the Highway Traffic Act to start crossing the street if the hand on the signal  is flashing. Of course people being human will dash across the street, or be too slow or infirm to make the crossing within the designated time. It is what happens.

In Toronto  there has been a horrifying spate of pedestrian and cyclist deaths in the past few years. Every four days a pedestrian is hit by a car. Every ten days a pedestrian dies. Since 2011 163 pedestrians have died. There has been a real call for enhanced road design, increasing visibility of intersections, slowing cars down to 30 kph and driver behaviour campaigns. Not much has happened-yet. Toronto has suggested working towards a 20 per cent reduction in pedestrian deaths in ten years, which means that the other 80 per cent – 400 pedestrian deaths and 3,000 serious injuries-will be acceptable.

Toronto’s latest  answer has been to do an “enforcement blitz” to remind pedestrians they can not cross the street when the hand on the signal is flashing. While Toronto is harassing pedestrians  New York City scrapped the countdown law altogether last monthframing it as a matter of life and death.

Nearly every day, someone is injured or killed crossing our streets and it is past time we update our laws to adequately protect pedestrians,” said New York’s Public Advocate, Letitia James, after city council unanimously approved the change. “This common sense legislation will ensure that countdown clocks accurately portray the time pedestrians have to cross our streets,” James added. Pedestrians in the Big Apple are now allowed to start crossing during the countdown, until the ‘don’t walk’ signal appears.

New York City sees as part of their Vision Zero for pedestrian deaths that they are going to allow pedestrians to cross the street, and that drivers making turns into crosswalks must yield the right of way to the pedestrian every time-even if the orange hand signal has already started flashing”.  New York has figured out that not everyone walks at the fast pace indicated by the countdown signals, and is giving disabled, elderly, and others the legal right to safely cross the street until the countdown ends.

With this law, New York City takes a big step toward earning its reputation as a “walking city,” and many traffic crashes will surely be avoided.  Toronto? No answer yet.

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Seniors, Visibility and the Walk and Be Seen Project

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In 2016 11 pedestrians  died on Vancouver streets, the last being a senior who was struck by a car at Yew Street  and 49th Avenue. That is  one citizen a month that is being killed, and the majority of those deaths are senior Vancouverites.  If it was a disease and  not cars killing residents, we would be calling this an epidemic.

In 2012 seniors (those folks that are over 65 years of age) were only 13.2 per cent of the population. Forty per cent of  pedestrian fatalities that year were seniors.

Two mindful and very involved women in the west side of Vancouver decided to do something about this. Lynn Shepherd and Sabina Harpe come from professional librarian and social work backgrounds and were deeply concerned with the fact that no one is looking at seniors’ pedestrian safety in Vancouver winters.  Even the City of Vancouver gives short shrift to pedestrian issues, with no dedicated staff resourcing,  lumping those issues with cyclists in a volunteer advisory committee to Council.

Pedestrians issues are very different, and it is also the disenfranchised that do a lot of walking-those too young , too  infirm, too old and/or too poor to choose other alternatives. They are truly the voiceless, and no matter how well meaning  any volunteer advisory committee is, the importance  of walking mobility deserves to be championed and staffed separately and aggressively at city hall.

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Lynn and Sabina have done a lot of the work that the City of Vancouver should have done-they met with experts in the field, spoke to seniors groups and those with mobility challenges, and decided to focus on a project to encourage seniors to walk prudently and safely in winter, the time where most seniors are the most vulnerable to being hit by cars. They formed a committee through the Westside Seniors Hub at Kits House that included representatives from BEST, the Dunbar Residents Association/SFU, the Jewish Family Agency, Walk Metro Vancouver, Kits Community Centre, Brock House Society, ICBC and the Vancouver Police Department. They did their research and found that Sweden has had a three-fold reduction in vehicle and pedestrian fatalities and injuries since the adoption of a Vision Zero campaign in 1997. Besides encouraging better driver behaviour and pedestrian compliance to using intersections and crosswalks, visibility was key.

Vancouver’s low-light winters and rainy days mean that walkers need to be visible-the use of reflective items similar to those used in Finland could bring traffic accident and deaths down. While countries like Finland mandate that children must wear reflective items on their clothes, there is nothing like that in North America. By creating the “Walk and Be Seen Project” seniors that are walking in winter will be asked to walk with and trial various reflective items, including the reflective safety sash and snap on reflective bracelets. They are creating a pilot  project for 150 walking seniors on how to increase safety and visibility in winter by the use of reflective items. Their objectives are to encourage safe walking in low-light, complement ICBC and Vancouver Police Department safety campaigns, gather feedback, and use the date for further initiatives. And I completely expect those seniors to model behaviour and lead the way in us all wearing reflective items while walking  in our low light and potentially dangerous winter street environments, and start the dialogue on championing other pedestrian initiatives-road design, speed, and driver behaviour.

Kudos must be given to these two extraordinary women who are championing vulnerable seniors’ walkability and safety.

30 Kilometer Zones Reduce Pedestrian Accidents, Injury

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Some municipal transportation staff  believe that lower speed limits do not in fact slow vehicles, making it safer for pedestrians and cyclists to also share the street. In Edmonton new lower speed signage around schools HAS slowed traffic.

As reported in the Edmonton Metro News last Friday in areas around schools subject to new  30 km an hour zones, there has been a marked decrease in car accidents with pedestrians and cyclists. There is also some handy information about stopping distances on the City’s website, as well as some very sobering statistics:

  • Children aged 5 to 14 years are at the greatest risk for pedestrian-related deaths
  • Children aged 10 to 14 years have the highest incidence of pedestrian-related injuries 
  • The most common action that results in injury or death of a child is crossing at an intersection

In Edmonton twelve school zones had new pedestrian crossing lights, freshly painted sidewalks, reader boards indicating drivers’ speed, and reflective stop sign poles implemented.

Collisions causing injuries to cyclists and pedestrians fell by more than 70 per cent from an average of seven before the change was implemented in 2014 to just two during the school year in 2015.

This is all part of Edmonton’s Vision Zero strategy to stop road deaths and injuries within the city. Some residents are now asking for the 30 km/h to be extended throughout the neighbourhoods.

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The Future for Seniors? It’s all about Walkable Communities

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The New York Times reports on a new phenomenon-the seniors are leading the way in retirement by showing us how we SHOULD be living-in walkable communities.

While people look for a comfortable house that works for families when they are younger,  “aging in place” is not necessarily the right term for older folks-“aging in community” appears more apt. This is especially important as the baby boom goes into their senior years, and will need access to shops and services, and may not necessarily be able to use a car.

In the age of the Fitbit and a growing cohort of active, engaged retirees eager to take their daily 10,000 steps, retirement communities have been slow to change. Eighty percent of retirees still live in car-dependent suburbs and rural areas, according to a Brookings Institution study.

Retirement communities are normally in two types: isolated gated communities, or large homes on golf courses, such as Tsawwassen Springs. The challenge is both of these types of developments are car dependent, and not great for walking, with curvilinear streets and dead ends. There is a new shift-getting out and walking to shops and services. Among senior housing projects, examples include Waterstone at Wellesley along the Charles River in the Boston area and The Lofts at McKinley in downtown Phoenix. 

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Walkability, though, is much more than a hip marketing pitch. It’s linked to better health, social engagement and higher property values. Research shows that walkable mixed-use communities can reduce disabilities for the aging, enhance social contacts and creates community. The challenge is building senior friendly mixed use developments within existing cities, as mainstream retirement developers had traditionally favored suburban or exurban sites that involve sprawling “greenfield” building on relatively cheap farmland. The new approach, by contrast, is for dense, urban or town-centered sites that are accessible for services and socially vibrant.

Changes that will be needed to accommodate seniors are rezoning mixed use developments and infrastructure changes such as wider sidewalks, bike lanes, more public transportation options and longer pedestrian signal walk times. That way instead of moving to remote locations away from family and familiar services, Grandma and Grandpa can stay where they have always been and be part of the whole community.

Designing or Ticketing Our Way to Safer Streets?

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Fastcoexist.com weighs in on something we all think about: is the way to stop vehicular crashes a design one? Should we be insisting that engineers design better roads? The answer is yes, by slimming vehicle lanes down,  factored in with the magical ingredient of slower speeds.

Slower cars means safer roads, and while adding speed cameras and reducing speed limits can help, nothing beats a design that stops drivers from speeding in the first place. Also, slower cars mean less injury in the case of a collision, but again, avoiding the collision to begin with is even better.

Alon Levy, writing for Pedestrian Observations, makes the argument for better infrastructure. One of the main causes of accidents is driver fatigue and sleepiness, which is in turn caused in large part by monotony. “It is better to design roads to have more frequent stimuli: trees, sidewalks with pedestrians, commercial development, [and] residential development,” writes Levy. Another trick is to make lanes narrower. Drivers speed up in wider lanes, and they’re also pedestrian-hostile, making it harder to cross streets safely. Narrowing them helps in both cases, and could create more space at the side of the road for bigger sidewalks or wider bike lanes.

Levy cites Sweden as a good example of road redistribution. In Stockholm, the few arterial roadways in the city have “seen changes giving away space from cars to public transit and pedestrians.” Many roads only have one lane in each direction for cars, with other lanes given over to pedestrians, buses, and bikes. Levy also covers “setbacks,” the wasted land in front of a building that sets it back from the road. Some U.S. zoning laws mandate these setbacks, and these should be repealed, for a more pedestrian-friendly space.

The article also discusses the use of bollards to cut off residential streets used by short cutting commuter traffic, which also allows cyclists and pedestrians better and safer use of the street. But these changes require knowledgeable politicians and citizen resolve-those decisions require a political will that is often too weak in the face of bullying from car drivers. Design may be more important than enforcement, then, but it’s strong politics that will make those changes.

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35,000 People Died. That’s the Population of Penticton B.C.

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Did you know that 35,092 Americans died on roads last year. They were drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. They all had families. They didn’t think they would be dead.  A population of 35,092 is similar to the population of Penticton, Powell River, or Prince Albert. It is a lot of people.

Tree Hugger author Lloyd Alter notes the contradiction of the unfortunate and strange policies in the City of Toronto, “where the mayor wants to reduce congestion and speed traffic up, while at the same time, reducing the carnage on the road that killed or injured a thousand people since June, and which can mainly be done by slowing traffic down”.

It’s absolutely clear that vehicles and their movement have precedence over vulnerable road users, those pedestrians and cyclists. “Especially troubling, this national data shows that the most vulnerable road users – people walking and biking, statistically more likely to be old or very young, poor, or of color – are, each year, an increasingly larger proportion of traffic fatalities. These fatalities, and the more than 2.4 million serious and life-altering injuries that happen annually on U.S. streets, are statistically predictable and preventable through better street design and reduced vehicle speeds”.

There is actually a paradox right now-while cars equipped with airbags and seat belts have been saving the lives of folks driving them, the environment for pedestrians and cyclists has really not improved in the same way. Vehicles are getting better, and are becoming mobile living rooms, with video players and distractions. It is suggested that this increased distraction coupled with busier roads is the reason that American pedestrian deaths were up 10 percent last year, the biggest increase ever.

We know that road speed can mean the difference between life and death for a vulnerable pedestrian or cyclist. NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) “have proven that better street design, coupled with smarter, automated speed enforcement, is the best way to increase safety and save lives on U.S. roads. In Seattle, shortening pedestrian crossing distances on Nickerson Street reduced crashes by 23% and brought excessive speeding down from 38% to less than 2%”

Redesigning our streets is absolutely key, because car drivers drive at the speed the road is designed for. Anyone driving Highway 17 out to Langley can attest that no one is driving the posted 80 kilometers per hour on that stretch. And there are many arterial roads in Metro Vancouver  where drivers are speeding above the posted speed limit.

Sure we can lower speed limits, but we need to couple that with road design and enforcement. Sweden has led the way with the Vision Zero program. The Medical Health Officer of British Columbia’s Annual Report this year, Where the Rubber Meets the Road calling for lower speed limits and better road design to halt the 280 deaths and 79,000 injuries resulting from annual vehicle crashes. As Lloyd Alter notes, we can’t wait for driverless car technology to save us. We need to start this conversation now.

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Creating Walkable Accessible Places for Everyone