March 26, 2019

If It Saves Pedestrian Lives, Why Isn’t Vancouver Implementing it Everywhere?



I have written before about leading pedestrian crossing intervals  for pedestrian crossings.  Last summer I wrote about New York City’s successful implementation of them which has resulted in a 40 percent decrease in pedestrian and cyclist injuries, and a decline in deaths.

It’s a very simple concept. For a nominal cost of $1,200 per intersection, crossing lights are reprogrammed to give pedestrians a seven to ten second start (in New York City) to cross the street before vehicular traffic is allowed to proceed through a crosswalk. There are over 100 of these leading pedestrian crossing intervals installed in New York City where their transportation policies prioritize the safety of walkers over vehicular movement.

Carlito Pablo in the Georgia Straight has taken a look at the City of Vancouver’s Transportation Plan that notes that 75 percent of Vancouver’s vehicular collisions with pedestrians happen at intersections. In his article he wonders why the City is not looking at implementing more of these leading pedestrian intervals to stop injuries and save lives.

“Other major North American cities have adopted a timing option for traffic signals in a bid to reduce risks for people on foot…It reinforces a pedestrian’s right of way, and makes a walker more visible.”

Pablo points out that while Vancouver has four leading pedestrian intervals installed at crossings, these are all just in the testing phase. Compare that to Toronto who is  planning for 80 of these intervals. And then there is New York City that have a whopping 2,238 leading pedestrian intervals at intersections.

NACTO, the National Association of City Transportation Officials have deemed that using these pedestrian intervals can reduce crashes by sixty percent. That is a whole lot of injuries prevented and lives saved.

Now here is what is funny about Vancouver’s slow adoption of something that has been proven to be more effective everywhere else. Vancouver’s 2012 Pedestrian Safety Study identified that the majority of crashes involving pedestrians happened at signalized intersections, even though they are less than 4 percent of all Vancouver intersections. The most common driver crash error  was turning left, with most of those drivers not yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk when they had the right of way.

Those injuries and deaths would be substantially mitigated with a leading pedestrian interval with walkers  being given a head start to cross the street with no vehicular interference. This would also be helpful to people with accessibility issues and mobility aids who are 35 percent more likely to be crashed into while crossing. That Vancouver Pedestrian Safety Study  recommended implementing leading pedestrian intervals at intersections. That recommendation was also echoed in the City’s 2040 Transportation Plan.

You can find the City’s “pilot’ leading pedestrian interval at Davie and Burrard Streets. Last year “test” leading pedestrian intervals were implemented at  Thurlow and Pacific Streets, Granville and Smithe Streets, and Great Northern Way and Carolina Street. That is all there is in the City of Vancouver.

Respected City of Vancouver transportation engineer Winston Chou estimates that these installations have reduced pedestrian vehicular crashes by 12 to 19 percent. If that is so, what push from the public is needed to implement these at signalized intersections across the city? Kudos to Carlos Pablito for following up on the need for the universal application of the leading pedestrian interval in the City of Vancouver. Every life should matter.

Here is a YouTube video showing how the leading pedestrian interval works on a New York City intersection.






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  1. Sadly, Vancouver does the opposite at a few intersections downtown, where there is a leading Motor Vehicle Interval, generally to allow right turns. I would like to see this changed to pedestrians first, but might require some enforcement of the don’t walk countdown timers, so that cars can do their right turns at the end of the cycle, instead of at the beginning.

    1. Even with countdown timers, pedestrians will start crossing a street with 1 second left on the timer,
      as if they can magically transport to the other side.

      Enforcement of “Don’t Walk” signals would be a waste of resources and an impossible task.

  2. I have noticed leading pedestrian crossing intervals at some intersections downtown (e.g., Burrard/Davie).

    Editor’s note: as per the article above, Burrard/Davie was the first trial location approved several years ago. Article above also lists a few other locations. Vancouver is way behind implementing leading pedestrian intervals.

  3. The City of Vancouver has a number of transportation safety trials underway, including flashing beacons at crossings, accessible pedestrian signals (with audible tones and vibrotactile feedback) and leading pedestrian intervals. They report that their pilot location for a leading pedestrian signal (Burrard and Davie) has had mixed results, with a reduction in the severity of conflicts, but an increase in the number of conflicts. Not sure why that is. Details at the link:

    1. Are right turns (by cars) allowed on red at Burrard & Davie?
      Most drivers will try to catch the 1 second interval between cross traffic slowing and stopping (for a amber) and your own light turning green, to execute a right turn before pedestrians get a walk signal.
      The new change may conflict with expectations.

    2. It is signed no right turn on red, in all four directions. The advance signal for pedestrians wouldn’t give pedestrians any protection if right turns on red were permitted.

      So if drivers are jumping the light to try and beat pedestrians who actually have an advance signal, they are violating the law.

  4. Pedestrian/vehicle conflict is ridiculously high in Vancouver and both parties are to blame.
    It’s hard to find a patient driver anywhere in the city. Many will lay on the horn if you hesitate at a green light for half a second or pause to check the crosswalk before starting to turn. I’m not surprised that conflicts are up at leading walk intersections, drivers are used to jumping the moment the light goes red the other way.
    While many are quick to blame the young for aggressive driving I see a lot of grey hair going too fast and displaying little to no patience or courtesy. Shockingly those with a blue wheelchair symbol hanging from the rear-view mirror are some of the most aggressive.

    On the flip side I see way too many distracted and just plain arrogant pedestrians who don’t care whether the countdown timer is at 15 or 1. Stand around Georgia & Granville and you’ll quickly lose count of the number of pedestrians crossing after the light has gone green the other way. Up at Broadway & Cambie pedestrians don’t wander slowly across on red lights, but they do make death defying dashes for the bus. On narrower shopping streets pedestrians appear from behind parked cars mid-block confident that drivers, even those in large delivery trucks, can stop on a dime. All ages and abilities seem equally arrogant and clueless.

    Finally there are the drivers who are transitioning from driver to pedestrian or vice versa who throw open car doors without looking (or worse after looking and still doing it) and who insist on loading their groceries, children and elderly family members on the drivers’ side, even on busy streets like Broadway. It’s no wonder you see trucks and buses driving down the middle of two different lanes. They don’t want to kill you or be responsible for turning your 4-door car into a 3-door car.

    1. All ages and abilities seem equally and clueless.

      I fixed the last line of your second last para. Nobody has much sympathy for addicts. It’s a feature of our system. But between petrol addicts and texting addicts, one is the bigger threat, and deserves greater censure.

  5. The intersections of Davie at Burrard, Georgia at Granville, and Cordova at Seymour seem that they would benefit from Pedestrian Priority signals, ie, pedestrians cross all directions at once. Then drivers would need to turn would have some hope of doing so.

    1. The stupid thing is that these intersections don’t actually need it. They couldn’t have possibly picked worse. Yes they have the pedestrian volumes – but being that it’s a plaza on one side you can cross car(e)freely anyway.

  6. Here in the UK, if the “green man” is showing for pedestrians, vehicles are always shown a red light for that section. Green always means it’s safe to cross – not 100% of course, because a rogue driver might ignore the signal or an emergency vehicle might need to pass – but almost.

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