December 16, 2016

Vulnerable Road Users and Where the Rubber Meets the Road

The Toronto Star and its reporters are to be commended for talking about what others have ignored for so long-the tremendous grief, carnage and cost to families, friends, the insurance corporation and the health system caused by  pedestrians and cyclists being maimed and killed by vehicles-it was called road violence at the start of the twentieth century, and that term is returning to use now.
I have been writing about the awful year that the City of Toronto has had with over 40 deaths and hundreds of severe injuries. We like to think that in Vancouver we have this under control, with our well thought out transportation hierarchy that gives pedestrians the first priority. Those triangle graphs are lovely,but as a Price Tags commenter noted yesterday, there’s a real gap between what we say and what we do in Vancouver. While I am concentrating on the road violence in Toronto because there is a true will to do something about it, it should be noted that Vancouver’s pedestrian deaths, at over one person being killed  a month is per capita  twice the rate of Toronto’s. Where is the reaction?
Road safety or the lack of it is being recognized as a major public health problem. Our own Provincial Medical Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall identified road violence as a major cause of fatalities and serious injuries in his report Where the Rubber Meets the Road released this spring. Dr. Kendall notes that 280 people die and another 79,000 people are injured on roads in British Columbia every year. Vulnerable road users (those people without the protection of an enclosed vehicle) make up 45.7 per cent of serious injuries in 2011. Vulnerable road users were also 31.7 per cent of fatalities in 2009 and that increased to 34.9 per cent in 2013.
In Toronto, City staff are now perceiving road safety as a major public health problem, where 1500 pedestrian and 950 cyclist collisions with vehicles have been reported to October 30. There is a 20.7 per cent hike in pedestrian injuries being treated at Toronto’s main trauma centre. That is not acceptable.

“Ward Vanlaar, chief operating officer of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation in Ottawa, said until the last decade or so, road safety was thought of as a transportation issue. “The take on it was that we have a price to pay for mobility, and the price is that certain people will die and that was considered to be acceptable,” he said. Vanlaar said that in recent years he’s seen a shift in thinking about traffic safety, both globally and across Canada. “People working in this field, and also in other health-related fields have had this epiphany almost, like ‘Hey, there are really a lot of people dying,’” he said.

There is a major change in seeing safety being more important than mobility, and having that applied to vulnerable road users too. If humans make mistakes that can cost human lives, then a transportation system needs to be designed to” mitigate those risks and basically eliminate those instances where, because of human error, people will die.”

Monica Campbell, a spokesperson for Toronto Public Health, said traffic safety falls within the realm of her department.“If you invest in safer roads, safer streets, better infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians – does that reduce the burden on the healthcare system? Absolutely it does,” she said.

So there you have it-traffic safety and the safety of vulnerable road users is a public health priority at the municipal level in Toronto and in British Columbia at the Provincial level. Now we just need to start designing our streets as if every users’ life truly does matter. It is the difference between injury, life and death.


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    1. Yes Dan, that is a good series in the Sun. It gives a balanced view from both sides.
      I liked this:
      It’s a Canadian thing to root for the underdog. Some people treat bikes as a religion. They’re evangelizing it,” he says. “But cars are in the future for the long term.”

        1. That accurate and important observation is from a highly esteemed SFU and UBC Professor with 24 years transportation experience, including many years at TransLink.
          Others, some with a couple of years experience with a bicycle club, say ‘absurd’.
          Are we shocked?

        2. The article stated “Some people treat bikes as a religion. They’re evangelizing it,” he says. ”
          That is true. Note the word “some”.
          And the article continues “But cars are in the future for the long term.”
          That is true too. The car might be electric or an AV or shared, but please accept the fact that many people like an individual vehicle to get them from A to B, especially in snow & ice we had the last few days, in rain, or with A/C and their choice of music in the summer. Many people rather pay $20 for that (car / shared AV) ride that might save them 1/2 to 1 h (depending on distance) than using a bus, then a SkyTrain, then a bus with loads of wait time in between but for only $3.
          Of course we should debate the cost of car use, i.e. road tolls in some form, and the lack of practical rapid transit from many parts of the region. So, for example, we could toll Lions gate bridge and in parallel build a rapid train (or shudder, a bus) on a newly designed or widened or triple decker bridge as an alternative. Only if we have viable alternatives will folks switch, and in many cases they do not exist in sufficient form.

        3. No argument that some (few?) people treat bikes as a religion. Especially the bike shopped called Bike Religion. But equally, some folks treat cars as a religion, or new highways and bridges, and others preach against buses. So what?
          I agree that cars will be around for some time, with alternate power sources, and appropriately charged in terms of road use. I don’t know about long term, as cars have only been with us for around one hundred years. Could we go with short to medium term?
          What is absurd to me is the construct that those who promote alternatives and choices (the ability of people to use multiple transportation modes) are somehow preaching that everyone should ride a bike, or walk, or whatever. The only ones preaching that everyone should do one thing are the automakers and car lobby (who conveniently provided input to the linked article, which was published along with the Sun’s weekly Auto section).
          The professor that Eric professes to like stated that the best solution should be chosen in each case, and that we should be modally agnostic. Eric didn’t quote that part. So in addition to the absurdity of framing this as a war, there is the absurdity of cherry picking one quote and basing an argument on it.
          I note that the professor works with simulation models, and with GHG studies. Both Eric and Thomas have expressed great contempt for anyone doing research in those areas. But apparently he is now highly esteemed. It is hard to keep up with the spinning sometimes.

        4. Jeff, you note “Both Eric and Thomas have expressed great contempt for anyone doing research in those areas.”
          Jeff, I have no contempt for folks doing research whatsoever. I can’t speak for Eric obviously. I have only contempt for people that
          a) pretend “the science is settled” ie no more research is needed, or
          b) for folks that claim the trajectory for 100 years from now is clear or
          c) for folks that promote “green living” yet jet around constantly promoting this life style, and then live a large life with big houses, private jets and multiple fancy cars in their garage, or
          d) for folks that attack every person (including renowned scientists) who raises the slightest doubt on any climate or energy argument as “deniers” skeptics or worse ..
          The solution is less energy use overall, but not pretending Canada can do it by itself and decimate its industry while the US and China and India continue pumping out coal dust unabated and unpunished (for example, by not taxing their imports). If we do not ship oil, for example, someone else will, namely those with far less perfect environmental standards: Nigeria, Russia, Iraq, Iran ..

        5. Thomas, your (frequently posted) negative comments have related to those scientists doing research (at publicly funded institutions) whereby you seem to feel that their research is somehow suspect if they have a pension, or if they get paid too much for your sensibilities, or if they produce research that doesn’t fit with your pre-existing opinions. You attack the individuals instead of looking at the evidence. Some of us call that “wobbly logic” and nobody likes things that wobble, as you well know.
          “The science is settled” is a loaded phrase. Some aspects are well understood. You should look into what is known, what is known within a certain error band, and what is unknown. But for climate change, the mechanisms involved and the related science is settled unless you have a new theory that fits with what is observed to be taking place in the world around us, and your theory explains the climate changes better than existing climate theories, various laws of thermodynamics, and so on. We await your theory. Obviously more research is needed, as we don’t know everything and it is silly to pretend we do. But overturning the vast body of evidence related to climate change is a non-trivial task. Opinions that don’t come with evidence carry no weight. Sorry, that is just the way it is.
          The trajectory for 100 years is very clear, within published error bars. It isn’t a binary situation. This is why we have confidence levels. Yes, this involves probabilities. It just does.
          If you have an objection to people agreeing with climate change theory while continuing to contribute to climate change, well, welcome to the world. This is how it is. It doesn’t alter climate change theory and projections if someone takes a trip on a plane. Science isn’t political. The range of potential mitigations is a political discussion, but the science doesn’t change. Perhaps you meant you agree with the science, but you prefer a course of no mitigation or plans for adaptation as a preferred course of action. Fine. Just be honest.
          Folks generally attack scientists that make fools of themselves by contradicting themselves, ignoring evidence, and so on. The word skeptic applies to scientists, and is a fundamental part of the scientific process. You don’t get to take that word, it is spoken for.The word denier is used to label those who refuse to acknowledge the evidence we have in front of us. If you object to the word denier, maybe we could call them climate fairy tale-ists. Or charlatans. Or political hacks. Whichever you like. Other suggestions welcome.

        6. Thomas, your objection to the science based on your perception of the actions of some who speak to the need to address climate change, deserves its own post. It even gets a wiki entry.

          In some ways, this can also apply to your claim that there is no sense in us reducing our GHG emissions, because “what about China, India, etc” when they make commitments to reduce GHG emissions.

        7. Eric, you are correct. The difficulty is in allocating resources to make vision zero a reality in a most cost effective manner. Or in allocating any resources at all. Also, a focus should be placed on first reducing injury and death among vulnerable road users since these have the highest risk and are most often innocent victims of the pervasive culture of motordom.

    2. Get ready for the Sun’s Monday special. Perhaps because it is the slowest news day, the upcoming article is titled “Cars vs Bikes”. Very predictable.

    3. Virtually all of Vancouver’s congestion is caused by artificial measures put in place in the misplaced belief that people will just stop driving if you make it slow enough. We’ve had 20 years of that theory and it doesn’t work.

        1. There is nothing artificial about regulations linked to road safety and casualty reduction. If there was no right turn allowed, for no reason other than to deter drivers from driving, that would be artificial. Do you consider lane markings and traffic lights to be artificial as well?
          You are promoting the absurd concept of there being a “war on cars.”

        2. There are ;turning phases as most intersections on Hornby. Travel time on Burrard bridge has remained the same since safety upgrades and travel time along Hornby have not changed much after safety upgrades.
          There are some right turn bans on Dunsmuir but no right turn on red restrictions. The few turn bans are for the safety of people walking and cycling. Surely people can turn on Beatty or Cambie and use other streets.
          Like Jeff mentions, these are not artificial measures but have everything to do with improving safety and providing mobility choice. With more people cycling there are less cars on the road therefore congestion is reduced. Would you rather ban cycling and have car trips among Vancouver residents increase by up to 10% or even higher?

        3. Street parking on larger sections of Howe St, one of the main routes out of downtown. Unnecessary sidewalk bulges at numerous points, the most recent and most pointless at Jim Deva plaza on Davie, effectively ensuring Davie becomes a one lane road. Great when you’re stuck on the bus behind some idiot crawling up the Davie Hill on his bike, when there’s a bike route a block away.

      1. Very wrong, Bob. “Congestion” is caused by many people choosing to drive at the same time. And though you casually conflate ‘driving less’ with ‘everyone get rid of their cars’ (a sadly common approach), restraining road capacity while improving transit has worked very well. Unfortunately, most of the rest of Metro Vancouver has not followed the City’s example. They chose to cater almost exclusively to car-centric development. Now they have too many people on the roads at the same time. And blame the City. Can’t build your way out of that problem. Hasn’t worked for the 80+ years we’ve been worshipping cars.

  2. “Now we just need to start designing our streets as if every users’ life truly does matter.”
    Well, that is part of the solution. Perhaps the bigger part is to stop spending money create more road space for private automobiles, and invest more in safer & healthier modes such as public transit.
    We need to understand that spending $3.5 billion to replace the 4-lane Massey Tunnel with a 10-lane bridge will induce a certain amount of road violence. And that road violence will be fatal for a significant number of people.

    1. If you look at the accidents map prepared by the Ministry of Transport of the lower mainland you will see that both entrances to the Massey Tunnel are in the top tier with a terrible and high rate of accidents. With thick congestion and traffic moving in a stop/start manner and merging into often just one narrow lane it is understandable.
      Whether it is a pedestrian or a person in a vehicle we must try and reduce injuries. Relieving the congestion at the point of the Massey crossing will reduce horrible accidents and save lives.

      1. Which accidents map are you referring to? The ICBC data show 381 crashes in or near to the Massey tunnel over a 5 year period.
        This compares to 852 crashes on the Alex Fraser Bridge and 613 on the Pattullo Bridge. Ministry estimates a crash reduction of 35% with the new bridge. There is no fatality count, but about half the crashes result in casualties (injury or death). So you want to spend $3.5 billion to eliminate about 20 casualties per year? This could be close to $20 million per injury!
        Note also that fatalities among vehicle occupants has been steadily dropping while fatalities among vulnerable road users has been steady over the last 10 years. Surely we should do more to eliminate these fatalities.

        1. Arno; You have to remember that the Massey Tunnel has a north and a south end.
          From the same map as you linked to:
          649 – Highway 99 at Steveston (Richmond) the north end of the tunnel.
          281 – George Massey Tunnel. In the tunnel.
          460 – Highway 17 and Highway 99 (Delta) where the traffic comes up from Tsawwassen to get into the tunnel.
          224 – Highway 99 and River Road (Delta) the south end of the tunnel for traffic coming south from Tilbury.
          Total: 1,614
          This means that with the new bridge the accident rate, the injuries and the possible deaths will be half what they are now.
          Heck, the City of Vancouver is spending how many millions for that suicide prevention barrier to save, what, 1 life every year or so?
          Did I mention the pollution not created because traffic will flow freely? Did I mention the rapid bus service in the dedicated bus lanes? Did I mention the new smooth access for cyclists that will now be able to cross the bridge?

        2. I note we’ve gone from ‘it will save lives’ to ‘ halving possible deaths’ and yet our resident booster for this project seems unable to quantify the existing fatality statistics at this location. Where’s a ‘skeptic’ who won’t act without 110% certainty when you need one?

        3. Not only is Eric claiming “halving possible deaths” for vehicle occupants, but that figure that is 50% more impactful than the 1/3 that Arno tells us the project team projected. Nice math.
          This thread is about vulnerable road users, those walking and on bikes. Eric is instead promoting investment at road locations that don’t allow either, by regulation. That suggests that Eric’s plan to reduce vulnerable road user casualties may be to outlaw walking and biking.

        4. Eric, there are also lots of crashes at both ends of the Alex Fraser Bridge especially on the Nordel Way approach. All these crashes have more to do with inattention, tailgating and excess speed than road or bridge design. Fortunately, car on car crashes cause few fatalities while motor vehicle on vulnerable road user can easily result in a fatality.

        5. Not funny, factual.
          Still waiting for your response to the lack of return on investment for investments at Massey compared to other locations, wrt casualties (see below). All I see is an attempt at diversion.

      2. I could only find a couple of online references to fatal crashes in or around the Massey Tunnel since 2010 Eric. Your concern for road safety is commendable, but appears to be quite literally, misplaced. There are many places in Metro Vancouver that should arguably take precedence if saving lives is the goal of the money to be spent.
        I would suggest that the slow, stop and go nature of traffic congestion in that area is more likely to result in minor fender benders before fatal motoring incidents.

      3. OK, let’s count both ends of the Massey Tunnel, since Eric believes that is the critical spot for crashes (not accidents, crashes). Let’s just look at casualties, and ignore crashes with only property damage. Five years of data, from ICBC.
        Massey Tunnel: 242 (both ends)
        Boundary Road and Grandview Hwy: 252
        1st Ave on and off ramps to Hwy 1: 272
        Burrard and Pacific: 277
        Knight St Bridge: 379
        Lions Gate Bridge: 470
        Knight St Bridge: 530
        I agree with Chris, Eric. Your concern for road safety is commendable, but you are aiming at the wrong target. Especially when you factor in the cost of the new bridge, compared to required improvements at those other intersections and bridges. There are far better places to invest infrastructure dollars to improve safety. The Massey Tunnel may be justified lots of different ways, but as a crash reduction effort, it appears to be a very poor investment compared to the alternatives.

        1. It is both tragic and sad when technocrats and technocrat wannabes trivialize accidents because the victims were not crippled or killed. You see them in court telling the judge that a few years of physiotherapy for the sad victim will set them right. No blame need be assigned. They come armed with often fudged statistics and say, any preventative measure would have been, “a very poor investment”.
          What price is a broken neck or a life worth?

        2. Are you mixing up your aliases again Eric?
          The numbers I referenced included all crashes with any persons injured or killed. All of the crashes that were not restricted to property damage only. Not unreasonable, in a thread about injuries to road users. I know it doesn’t fit your narrative of how unsafe the Massey tunnel is, but this is why we use data. It weeds out the nonsense claims and exposes their proponents for what they are.

        3. Obviously, some have a different threshold of compassion than others.
          Some of us consider all accidents to be traumatic to a degree and best avoided, even if no blood is spilled.
          Only the rich and the callous can dismiss the importance and probable psychological ramifications of those affected by property damage. Empathy is sadly lacking.

        4. The vulnerable road users that this thread is about don’t suffer property damage in this scenario. When you suggest an equivalence between the traumatic effects of crashes with property damage but no injuries, to personal injury of vulnerable road users you are equating dents in fenders to lives. Shameful.

        5. Clearly, some people don’t know anything about psychological trauma. They would do well to spend some time with some of our veterans or our first nations people and ask them if they are right. Ask them if there needs to be blood spilled and bones broken to cause any ‘real’ injury. Learn the definition of empathy. They will become a better person if they do.

        6. Clearly, some people have trouble with discussing the topic at hand. It is vulnerable road users.
          First, you tried to shift the focus to the Massey Tunnel, a site that has no vulnerable road users in the sense of pedestrians and bikes not being permitted.
          Then, when continuing to push the Massey Tunnel non-issue, you referenced 930 crashes.
          It was pointed out to you that there were 242 crashes at that site with any type of non-property damage claim. When speaking about vulnerable road users, it is not unreasonable to confine our discussion to the types of injuries vulnerable road users suffer. They don’t suffer property damage, even if they were permitted to walk or bicycle in the Massey Tunnel. Which they aren’t.
          Then, in an apparent attempt at diversion, you cried out for compassion for those additional people suffering psychological trauma, presumably related to the dents and scrapes in their vehicles (since we had already counted all the crashes with injuries).
          All in trying to justify the investment in a new bridge based on vulnerable road user injuries.
          Epic (Eric) fail.

      4. Another hot spot for MoTI is the Brunette Interchange. Five years of ICBC data, crashes with casualties, shows 941 crashes, compared to 242 for the Massey Tunnel. About four times. Maybe tunnels aren’t as dangerous as some would have us believe.
        The good news is that MoTI is planning to improve the Brunette Interchange. Given the likely lower costs of an interchange vs a new bridge, it seems a better investment from a road safety standpoint.

        1. No deaths are acceptable. You should probably take a look at the video that Arno has linked to below, then get back to us. Let your buddy Keam know too.

        2. Eric, you are correct. The difficulty is in allocating resources to make vision zero a reality in a most cost effective manner. Or in allocating any resources at all. Also, a focus should be placed on first reducing injury and death among vulnerable road users since these have the highest risk and are most often innocent victims of the pervasive culture of motordom.

  3. The BC Road Safety group is doing great work and the Where the Rubber Meets the Road paper is excellent. Unfortunately, implementation strategy is lacking. Also,there is a lack of focus across government. what with Ministry of Transportation increasing speeds on many highways which has led to more road deaths, as was predicted.
    BC Cycling Coalition. working with the Trial Lawyers Association. HUB and others has submitted a proposal to the BC Government to upgrade the Motor Vehicle Act to make it more relevant for vulnerable road users. One of the key recommendations is to allow municipalities to set default speed limits below 50 km/hr. This will require a strong campaign in order to move the government to action.
    BC Cycling Coalition has a campaign which asks for an active transportation strategy and much larger investments in walking and cycling. See: .
    City of Vancouver also has a goal of zero traffic fatalities. Fortunately, they have actually done a lot to improve safety for vulnerable road users:
    – 30 km speed limit on residential bike routes
    – Lots of pedestrian/cyclist operated signal crossings at arterials.
    – Protected intersections at Burrard/Cornwall and soon at Burrard/Pacitic
    – Semi protected intersections along Hornby and Dunsmuir.
    – 30 km/hour section on Hastings
    – Lots of protected bike lanes
    – Separation of seawall path into separate walking and cycling paths.
    – Green colourized asphalt at conflict points
    – First in BC for dedicated bike signals.
    – Proposed safety improvements for 10th Ave.
    – Complete street proposal for Commercial Drive.
    – etc., etc.
    Much better to do something than to talk about it.
    Federal government appear to be coming onside, however much more needs to be done across the entire province and across the entire country.

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