KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A sickening series of incidents on our roads since the beginning of November has not revealed anything new – our roads are brutally dangerous for all users.
A combination of high speed limits and conflicting traffic and pedestrian flows at signalized intersections results in constant danger and incidents. Over a 24 hour period this week, eight pedestrians were reported hit by traffic on social media and local news sources.
Perhaps we could have looked at this situation more closely and implemented urgent safety countermeasures after the first, second or even the third year Halifax was identified through insurance statistics as the most collision ridden community in Canada?
Or perhaps the incidents could have been reduced if we had followed the recommendations of the intra-governmental report Crosswalk Safety in Nova Scotia of 2007, which recommended departments responsible for road safety develop a comprehensive and evidence based road safety strategy, also that departments responsible for collecting collision data do so in a timely, comprehensive, consistent and accurate manner?
More than a decade later we still do not have a road safety plan with named safety countermeasures, because we do not yet have the foundational data analytical tools needed to establish what countermeasures we should introduce where.
Despite the oversight, with the frightening rate of incidents on our roads we do not need to be gathering data for long to see how incidents are caused and where:
On 21 November, a pedestrian hit by a car turning right on a red light.
The day before, two elderly residents hit in the evening at Astral Drive in Cole Harbour on a crosswalk reported to be poorly designed, dark and dangerous.
Also on 20 November, two pedestrians hit while crossing Spring Garden Road on a walk sign. This is a location with a leading pedestrian interval, but the few second head start over turning traffic for pedestrians was not adequate to avoid this incident. The pedestrians were reported to be crossing the second half of the road when they were hit, by which time the “head start” had ended and the taxi had a green light.
A browse through the location information on incidents involving pedestrians for November reveals what our long term incident data confirms – our wide crosswalks at signalized intersections are deadly for pedestrians.
To achieve a safe crossing, pedestrians need what is obvious and known to all – dedicated and protected time to cross signalized intersections, free of turning traffic. This is how signalized intersections are set up in countries which have a much lower rate of incidents on crosswalks. In the UK over 2010, only 13% of casualties occurred on pedestrian crossings. In our municipality, usually more than half of incidents occur on crosswalks, 68% in 2017.
In my experience, drivers glance at the walk sign while I am crossing, see it flashing (which happens almost as soon as I start to cross on a solid walk sign) and zip straight through the crosswalk ahead or behind me. Perhaps they assume I am crossing illegally? Or they don’t even notice me because it’s too dark or they are looking for other traffic, not pedestrians to the periphery of their vision.
A legal right to cross is not safety for vulnerable road users when they walk among heavy conflicting traffic flows. Waiting for traffic to stop never happens – traffic is moving everywhere through the intersection at all times. One thing has been clear for some time; pedestrians need protected walk time free of traffic, more than a few seconds head start on traffic, also safer and well lit crosswalks.
Residents sent a joint email last week to the Transportation Standing Committee asking for urgent action with implementing countermeasures which would prioritise pedestrian safety over traffic flow. The relatively inexpensive measures suggested included adjustments to our traffic lights which would give pedestrians time to cross the road when they are protected from turning traffic, and the removal of right turn on reds.
Despite what many locals say and believe, I do not think Halifax is full of distracted and incompetent pedestrians and drivers who care little for their own safety and that of others – the courtesy and patience shown by drivers and care taken by pedestrians is very noticeable to immigrants such as myself.
So long as there are constant incidents involving vulnerable road users on crosswalks, our municipality will not be a safe, practical and enjoyable place to walk, cycle or use a wheelchair. Neither do our drivers want constant close calls or incidents involving other vehicles and vulnerable road users. Road users need infrastructure which does not let them down and allows them to complete their journeys safely and without injury to themselves and others. With the rate of incidents we have on our roads per day, we need the budget and will to make that happen now.
If you walk, cycle or use a wheelchair and are affected by road safety issues, please join HRM Safe Streets for Everyone. If your local crosswalk needs a crosswalk flag, please contact the Crosswalk Safety Society.