December 5, 2019

Three Metro Vancouver Pedestrians Die in 30 Hours-This is Not Okay

crime scene do not cross signage

Photo by kat wilcox on

Last week three people within 30 hours in Metro Vancouver lost their lives doing a very simple act-walking on the street. A senior was mowed down by a truck driver in the early afternoon. And a 40 year old woman and a  man in his thirties lost their lives at 5:00 a.m. and 5:50 p.m., both times on dark streets. The man had tried to cross the street near the Ladner McDonald’s,had tripped on the median and was then struck by a vehicle driver. He was the father of three children ranging from 13 years to 18 months. His eldest children had lost their mother ten years ago.

There is already a go fund me page for the young family of that  Dad, Robbie Oliver, who was self-employed as a roofer. He was well loved and respected in Ladner, and the community has already held a candlelight vigil for him at the site of the accident.

We somehow have to stop thinking that  these needless deaths are necessary collateral to the use of vehicles. This CBC article with author Neil Aranson  talks about making cars smarter . The large denlike vehicles so popular today increase the likelihood of a pedestrian fatality by 50 percent. Neil who wrote ” No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads” also suggests that while the European Union and Japan require pedestrian survivable design in their manufacturing rules, North America does not.  Outrage and insistence is needed to get vehicular manufacturers to do better.

But there is more to safe streets than vehicular design. Speed, visibility, road design, and driver behaviour  are also important factors.  The B.C. Coroners Service in their 2019 report identified that “from 2008 to 2016, more than one-third of traffic fatalities involved drugs or alcohol.

Of the 314 traffic fatalities in B.C. in 2018, 18 percent were pedestrians. Across the province 43 pedestrians died in 2017; that number increased to 58 people in 2018. ICBC, the insurance corporation estimates that in Metro Vancouver 2,100 vehicular crashes involve a pedestrian annually. A study done by Transport Canada in 2011 showed that 63 percent of fatalities at urban intersections were pedestrians aged 65 or older.

November, December and January are the danger months for pedestrians in Metro Vancouver. There is darkness, rain, and road glare and many intersections are not well lit. The City of Vancouver has hinted at installing more Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs) which allow a pedestrian a “lead green time” when crossing. NACTO (the National Association of City and Transportation Officials) cite LPIs as reducing pedestrian crashes by 60 percent. There are several thousand LPIs installed in New York City, and the cost per intersection is minimal at $1,200 U.S. dollars.

Reducing speed at intersections allows for drivers to have more reaction time. And in Europe as part of Vision Zero (Zero deaths on the road) Finland requires pedestrians to wear some type of small reflective toggle.

Finland actually developed the pedestrian reflector in the 1960’s and as part of an overall strategy to reduce pedestrian deaths has been relatively successful.  Finland’s rate of pedestrian deaths to all road deaths is 11%. Canada’s rate of pedestrian deaths to all road deaths is 18%.

Each school child must have three reflectors on their clothing or backpack. This allows for an increased visibility from 150 meters to 600 meters. Adults are also required to wear this reflectivity, and there is a 50 percent compliance rate in the cities, and 75 percent compliance in the rural areas. In Vancouver Sabina Harpe and Lynn Shepherd explored the use of reflectivity in their Walk and Be Seen project at the Westside Seniors Hub.

It is one more dark, rainy night tool for pedestrian safety while the wild west of vehicular driver dominance-which has little legal punitive repercussions for deaths-still thrives.

Hearing that the “driver remained at the scene” is not enough to address road violence. It is a multi-pronged approach of insisting on better vehicular design, slower speeds in poor visibility , well lit intersections, and finding some acceptance for wearing small reflective products.

Will three pedestrian deaths in thirty hours be the road violence wake up call in Metro Vancouver?

accident broken pieces shards

Photo by Snapwire on




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  1. i agree with everything you say, but there is also a responsibility by pedestrians to remember NOT to wear all dark colours on a rainy dark night and to use crosswalks. The amount of jaywalking in this city is ridiculous. Impatient pedestrians give you the finger when they cut in front of you half way down a street. They are shocked that you cant see them (in their head to toe dark clothing…is this a Vancouver thing? Wear colour people!!) Everyone is responsible when using roads….cyclists, drivers and pedestrians.

    1. If drivers can’t see people in dark clothes they need to slow down enough that they can. If they can’t see people in dark clothes they cannot see dogs, or raccoons or bears or other wildlife. It is not acceptable to hit anything while driving.

      While crashes will still occur, it is always the fault of the driver and not the fault of the pedestrian – unless the pedestrian does something that makes the crash unavoidable. Wearing dark clothes does not count.

    2. Even in the pic you’ve posted in the story, the running shoes may have some reflective bits, but the pants are black.

      The other factor to consider is that with fewer people driving (or having drivers’ licences) more and more pedestrians may not have the personal experience and knowledge of knowing how difficult it is to see from inside a vehicle on a dark rainy night with headlight glare facing you.
      A driver can be stopped at an intersection waiting to turn left and not see a cyclist or a pedestrian because of oncoming headlight glare or poor overhead lighting.

      More LED streetlamps would help.

      Last night I saw a food delivery cyclist riding on the street counterflow to traffic and was shocked when a car turned left from a side street and he came face to face with it. People need to think.

  2. Lights have never been brighter. I regularly see motorists driving without headlights at night because there’s so much ambient light around. Brakes have never been more effective. And yet. And yet. Somehow it’s the fault of the person who didn’t don their 80s era ski jacket? Not buying it now or ever.

    And all those pedestrians in dark jackets? How many are actually ‘motorists’ walking to and from their car? When I see people regularly getting out of their cars and putting on high viz (and pedestrians injuries dropping)… then I’ll start asking motorists to be my fashion consultant. Until then, some motorists simply need to slow down, learn to drive, and not kill people. Millions of motorists seem able to manage it, regardless of fashion trends.

    The problem is shitty drivers. Full Stop.

    1. exactly – this reminds me of when rape victims were blamed for wearing mini skirts.
      I seem to remember that in the Netherlands – ALL crashes involving pedestrians are legally considered the driver’s fault. We need a similar attitude.
      We also need public education re the fact that ALL intersections are pedestrians right of way – not just marked ones. So few people know this.

    2. I often see carshare and other cars without their tail lights on
      ie – with cars becoming so electronically complex, people don’t know how to operate their vehicles.

    3. Brakes and headlights have been improving, but that’s not the issue as much as visibility.

      Cars really have never had worse outward visibility than they have currently. Aerodynamic roof profiles and increase roof strength requirements have led to cars having longer and thicker pillars beside the windscreen, which can completely obscure pedestrians and cyclists. The increased number of SUVs and trucks on the road also have lead to reduced sightlines, because smaller vehicles can no longer see around larger ones.

      Another other big thing to consider is that the roadgoing populace is aging more rapidly than everyone else. Drivers have never been older. With age comes vision impairment, susceptibility to glare, and reduced sensitivity to light at night. That goes a long way to offsetting improvements in car technology.

      The question I always find myself asking is why the City of Vancouver accepts such mediocre road lighting. Compared to Burnaby or Surrey, they’re way behind the curve in adopting LED streetlights which are a huge improvement in road safety, let alone energy efficiency. Aside from a few intersections and recently developed areas, almost the entire city is still running on high pressure sodium lights which frankly destroy contrast between objects. Recently, my block had it’s light standards replaced, and to my surprise, they reinstalled the sodium lamps, in 2019! They’re not even doing opportunistic LED upgrades.

      The City also has miserably bad road marking standards. A couple weeks ago on a rather rainy night, I had several close calls with vehicles crossing the centre line on Burrard. It wasn’t surprising, considering the road markings were almost invisible (and that’s to my youngish eyes with 20/20 vision). Reflectors were nowhere to be seen, and the lines did almost nothing to show up against the glare of oncoming headlights. Typically, glass bead is applied to be paint, but it wears out quickly. Washington State uses plastic domes called Bott’s Dots which do a much better job of delineation. Thermoplastic road markings are also a good option for wet weather visibility, but they tends to be quite expensive.

  3. I regularly see motorists turning right trying to beat pedestrians attempting to cross the street. Often this stunt results in near misses, with pedestrians jumping back into the curb. Pedestrians are treated as nuisances who slow down the driver.
    I believe that the high fatality rate for pedestrians is also due to the casual attitude taken by the media and the law. When a vehicle plies into a human body, it is described as a ‘collision’, which to my mind evokes a crash between two steel entities, not one which is flesh and blood. And the driver is never named, while the injured or dead always is. And this brings me to another omission in Canadian law that allows for such continued casual indifference to human life. We need to criminalize driving with negligence. To force grieving families to spend years in civil court to seek redress is too much.

  4. I disagree with all of the comments so far. The problem is not drivers or pedestrians.

    When you have a consistent large-scale pattern like this, it cannot be explained by individual choices – and it cannot be remedied by individual actions. Drivers are responsible for their actions, but if we actually want to save lives – rather than just find someone to blame – then we have to look to the system that gets people killed.

    Blaming the driver is the equivalent of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Regardless of what you think of that argument, fewer guns leads to fewer deaths. Blaming individuals is emotionally satisfying; it’s also the go-to tactic for preventing real change.

    The problem isn’t that people are irrational, selfish, careless, unlucky or ignorant. That will always be the case. It is that we built a world where human imperfection kills. Individuals must be held responsible for their actions. But that’s a separate issue. If we want to reduce the carnage, we need to set aside blame and look at the system. Which is motordom. It’s killing us.

  5. “Blaming the driver is the equivalent of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Regardless of what you think of that argument, fewer guns leads to fewer deaths.”

    I hesitate to equate a decision-making human with an inanimate object. Only one can make a choice. but I am def. OK with fewer motorists.

  6. There’s a shameful lack of empathy that’s keeping traffic deaths from being a regional priority. We’ve all been stuck in slow-moving traffic, so “reducing congestion” is something we can directly relate to. It is always listed as a critical regional objective. We can’t spend enough money, it seems, on forever trying to slay that dragon. But few of us have been seriously injured or killed in a car crash, so there’s not much urge to consider those that have. or those that could.

    There was a campaign a couple of years ago to humanize the homeless by showing photos of street people as children and adding captions of who they were and what their hopes were for the future. The anti drunk-driving folks have also used this approach with success, describing people killed by drunk drivers. Why stop there? It’s not right we care far more about the childish concept of “congestion” than we do about the thousands of people killed on our roads every single year.

  7. Thank you Sandy for your tireless work in the area of pedestrian safety! These deaths are avoidable and it is shocking to hear this kind of news year after year.
    Thank you for mentioning Walk and Be Seen ( Sandy, you were a major driver behind this campaign where in the second year alone, 517 participants registered and wore reflective or light emitting gear. Pedestrians can do their part and drivers need to slow down.

  8. exactly – this reminds me of when rape victims were blamed for wearing mini skirts.
    I seem to remember that in the Netherlands – ALL crashes involving pedestrians are legally considered the driver’s fault. We need a similar attitude.
    We also need public education re the fact that ALL intersections are pedestrians right of way – not just marked ones. So few people know this.

  9. This is a city which is unable, and unwilling to properly care for roads and the driving environment. When I moved here over thirty years ago, I was appalled at the lack of painted lane markers, reflectors and proper street lighting. Nothing has changed in that time. The other day I drove north on the Knight street bridge, where the paint on the lane markers has completely faded, and the reflectors are nowhere to be seen. It has been this bad, for so long it is accepted as normal. We can do much better.

  10. Further on the the comment above by Geof, I read a thoughtful opinion piece by Eric Reguly in yesterday’s Globe Report on Business regarding the possibility that the hundred billion plus currently being invested in electric vehicles by European car makers may in fact be wasted there because residents of European cities do not necessarily want to pay more to switch over.

    Euro cities have much better transit and a far more complex scope of pedestrian-friendly smaller and tighter street networks, and they afford a car-free status to thousands of families and individuals in every city. The move may not be toward personal cars, regardless of the propulsion system, but toward NO MORE cars as a climate-fighting policy initiative along with building more electric transit infrastructure.

    Pedestrian-only streets (or pedestrian-dominant streets with provision for service vehicles) are laughed away here considering the the dominance of car culture. The fact remains that SUVs and light trucks now outnumber other vehicles on our roads and have singularly driven up Canada’s per capita emissions to nearly the highest on the planet and cancelled out the fuel efficiency gains by cars under prior regulation, despite the presence of a carbon tax.

    The extent that Motordom / Autotopia has permeated our collective psyche is the underlying cause of the tragedy on our roads, not dark pedestrian clothing or driver’s mistakes, which are just the effects.

    In other words, Motordom needs to become Peopledom.

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