Environment featured

Open letter: Halifax crosswalk fatalities are easily prevented, so why not act?

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Yesterday we heard the sad news that the 68 year old woman who was struck by a driver turning from Eisener Boulevard into Portland Street on March 31 has died. The driver was fined for failing to yield to a pedestrian lawfully using a crosswalk. It has been confirmed this morning by Halifax Regional Police that the driver was turning right on a red light.  Although right on red is a provincial law, the privilege can be removed at any intersection by our Municipal Traffic Authority.

This is the 10th pedestrian fatality in HRM since January 2018, nine of those fatalities were people over 55 years old. These incidents raise questions and concerns regarding the safety of signalized intersection crosswalks, which account for around 40% of all pedestrian incidents in HRM, and urgent adaptations needed to ensure our crosswalks are fit for use by people of all ages and abilities.

This open letter is addressed to the HRM Transportation Standing Committee. That committee acts as a forum for consolidating information and direction on issues related to transportation, including pedestrian safety. Current members are councillors Lorelei Nicoll (chair), Tim Outhit, Sam Austin, Waye Mason, Lindell Smith, and Shawn Cleary. 

Dear all,

I have written to you all previously regarding our extensive location specific data which demonstrates how incredibly dangerous our signalized intersection crosswalks are for all to use due to the left and right on green (also right on red) conflicting traffic movements, all while the walk sign is on. Every year we read this same paragraph in our pedestrian safety report:

“An assessment of the data compiled for 2017 shows that the most common pedestrian-vehicle collisions are occurring at traffic signals, with left hand turns being the most predominant vehicle movement. A total of 70 pedestrian-vehicle collisions occurred at a traffic signal in 2017, 34 were related to a left turn movement. This is consistent with previous years’ findings.”

We have collected extensive data over many years (since at least 2012) which demonstrates how dangerous this traffic light timing set-up is for pedestrians. Signalized intersections account for 40% of all incidents where pedestrians are hit in HRM, yet nothing has been done to prevent this very easily rectified triple conflict.

You have no doubt all experienced for yourselves, perhaps daily, how drivers do not see you and do not yield to you at signalized intersection crosswalks, also how the sudden and fast turning movements from three directions (often simultaneously) are very difficult to anticipate and avoid as a pedestrian. This is of course all the more treacherous for our most vulnerable road users – the elderly, people living with disabilities, and children.

Although this is an established traffic system designed to prevent delay to the movement of traffic, the fact that vulnerable road users cannot cross the road safely at signalized intersections requires immediate rectification. Even prior to the leading pedestrian interval tests, Bruce Zwaniga wrote to me in October 2017 to confirm there were locations where tests were in progress to provide protected walk time for pedestrians – where turning traffic has a red light while the walk sign is on. I know of one in effect now at the busy Windsor and Lady Hammond intersection which is perfectly safe to use for pedestrians.

Known remedies are set out in Transportation Association for Canada’s 2008 Capacity Guide for Signalized Intersections, and (more recently) the Canadian Government’s Safety Measures for Cyclists and Pedestrians Around Heavy Vehicles, see for example at page 52. So why have we not yet implemented these measures? 

Action is required throughout HRM to make our crosswalks safe for use, not just at downtown locations. Protection from traffic for pedestrians is required everywhere there is a facility provided for them to cross the road – no pedestrian should expect some crosswalks to be unsafe for them to use simply because there are not too many other pedestrians at that location. 

Neither should we be asked to accept that our life and personal safety is less important than traffic flow, or that this should require us to perform a dangerous stunt. Crosswalks that are safe for use by vulnerable road users are a fundamental right and expectation, neither is this difficult to achieve. Adjusting our traffic lights, so I understand, is relatively inexpensive and does not require any new equipment, requiring staff time only

If we are serious about achieving Vision Zero, we should be taking appropriate action to effect the proven remedies without delay. Waiting until the next report due from staff could come at the cost of another avoidable death or serious injury. The fact that we have done nothing to change a traffic system proven beyond doubt over a very long term period to be so dangerous is abhorrent and unacceptable – none of us who walk want to shoulder very high risks, or accept that this is inevitable. 

Please can you all consider this issue carefully and propose publicly that signals should be adjusted so that pedestrians can cross the road safely as soon as staff are available to change traffic light timings. 

Please justify this proposal on grounds of the extensive location specific data and the fact that our most vulnerable road users, the elderly, are paying the ultimate price for our lack of action on crosswalk safety to date –  9 pedestrians killed on our roads since January 2018 were over 55 years of age . 

Please can you also provide a response explaining what you will be doing or not doing, and why. 

This is an open letter which will be published in the NS Advocate.

With best wishes

Martyn Williams

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. Please remember to report issues affecting your safety to our municipal authorities using the 311 service.

With a special thanks to our generous donors who make publication of the Nova Scotia Advocate possible.

Subscribe to the Nova Scotia Advocate weekly digest and never miss an article again. It’s free!