November 3, 2022

Why is Pedestrian/Cyclist Safety Not as Important as Driver Vehicular Speed?


The 20th century was all about ensuring vehicles and their drivers, seen as efficient models of the emerging world economy and industry had full throttle of the road. And they did. But there were some interesting gaps. When motor car drivers first started driving in the streets of Paris, they were relegated to proceed at only the walking pace of pedestrians. That was the law.



Fast forward to the 1920’s when a very successful campaign of victim shaming commenced.  Pedestrians who walked across streets mid-block  were called  “jays”. That stood for a country rube or bumpkin, that did not know the ways of the big city. Vehicle driver supporters goaded and shamed pedestrians to cross at intersections, where there were four different directions of traffic, not two directions like mid-block. Which is actually a safer place for pedestrians to cross.


In Canada it appears that  Vancouver is the place where “jaywalking”  is  first identified and scorned. The Montreal Gazette in August 1918  had an article entitled “The Jaywalker”, and identified that  a “peculiar expression that had arisen in Vancouver”.  The article then describes a jaywalker as someone who crosses the street but not at the intersection. The article then points out that in the United States anyone not crossing the street correctly “proclaims himself a foreigner“.

And here in the 21st century where in every transportation plan pedestrians and cyclists are listed as the most vulnerable users, and at the top of the transportation pyramid. But little has changed in the relationship between vehicle drivers and walkers and cyclists.

There is a new study showing that 80 percent of adults see their own walking habits impeded by the speed of traffic, perceiving that as a danger. 

Even though slower vehicle driver speeds save lives, those 50 km/h speeds still rule in municipalities, and vehicle drivers don’t want the inconvenience of a few extra minutes to impede their vehicular journey.

Viewpoint Vancouver has previously discussed work in Edinburgh showing a data driven approach that  introducing 30 km/h speeds not only decreased deaths and serious injury by 30 percent, but saved society 60 million dollars in just three years of operation.  It has been so successful that the City wants to add more areas with the slower driver speeds.

But the secondary impact was that more citizens used the road network for walking and biking, and became active on the slower streets.

It’s completely possible and should be a no-brainer for the Provincial government to support municipalities in allowing residential areas to be limited to 30 km/h. Until that time the Provincial government makes that decision to lessen carbon emissions, slow streets for all users, and to save lives and serious injury (which means less dollars spent on Provincial health care) Viewpoint Vancouver is going to continually remind about why this is needed.

And if a study guide is demanded, here is the National Association of City and Transportation Officials (NACTO)  guide on how to set safe speed limits for cities.  

It’s the 21st century thing to do, and the Province needs to stop ignoring the municipalities that have unanimously voted and requested this at the Union of Municipalities of British Columbia years ago.

You can’t have safety and vehicular driver speed. Let’s champion slower driver road speeds for today and for the future to make every road space more equitable for everyone.

Smart Growth America has done some thinking on this as well, and includes examples in the YouTube video below.


image: quavondo,wrexham

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