Over 30 pedestrians have died each year on Vancouver's streets
It's a little known fact, but pedestrians are actually the official number one priority (check out the page's embedded image) for the City of Vancouver. Some days it hard to see that reality given council's penchant for listening to and acting upon almost all of the policy recommendations they get from the powerful cyclist lobby. When you consider Vision is not well known for listening to nor consulting with the public, it says a lot that the cyclist lobby have had almost all of their requests acted upon by this government.
Although my family does own a car we balance our transportation choices between driving, public transit and occasionally bike commuting. I walk about 45 minutes per day to and from my transit stations, and I also take the Skytrain and rapid bus line along the Broadway corridor at least 4 days a week (often more if I use it to attend meetings). As for my wife, she shares the car two days per week and either walks or cycles to work and other appointments.
Walking and transit are just as important to our household as well-maintained roads.
I firmly believe that Mayor Robertson has missed a big opportunity by ignoring the needs of pedestrians and transit riders in his quest to build high-profile and costly separated bike lanes. He's focused on them to the point that most refer to him now as the "chickens, gardens and bike lanes" mayor. In terms of Robertson's real accomplishments in office, the nickname is actually quite appropriate.
Robertson's focus on cyclists is perhaps the motivation behind what seems like a half-hearted motion being introduced at Vancouver council this week. Vision is trying belatedly to appeal to pedestrians by letting them know they just don't care about cyclists, but they like foot power as well.
For many people Robertson's motion, which was placed at the bottom of Tuesday's council agenda, is too little too late. However, even when it does pass, it will not change the fact that pedestrians have unofficially moved down the list of transportation priorities. Pedestrians in Vancouver now sit a distant fourth behind cyclists, electric cars, trains to Seattle and only marginally ahead of transit users.
While this council regularly pulls out the safety card to justify spending millions of tax dollars on so-called separated bike lane "trials," the number of pedestrian fatalities continues to climb in Vancouver. Tragically there are over 30 pedestrian fatalities in Vancouver annually. This is the reason previous councils made pedestrian safety a priority.
Fellow blogger and civic affairs journalist France Bula summed it up nicely in her Vancouver Magazine article from earlier this year:
Vancouver likes to think it has an almost European culture of walkability. But more pedestrians die here each year than in any other place in Canada. In Montreal, after 27 pedestrians died in 2006, police launched an offensive to bring down the fatality rate, extending crossing times at major intersections, putting on a massive public-education campaign, and hiring an additional 200 traffic-enforcement officers. They also wrote a lot more tickets. As a result, pedestrian deaths have fallen to 18 each year for each of the last two years. Toronto went through a convulsion of blame after 10 pedestrians were killed in nine consecutive days in January across the region. This after making pedestrian safety a top priority and producing a 100-page report two years ago on new measures that would help achieve that.
She goes on to state:
The statistics here are little-known and often obscured (because of the region’s separate police forces), but in 2008, 34 pedestrians were killed. Two years before that, 38 people died. Vancouver’s rate works out to 1.7 people killed for every 100,000 in population—more than double Calgary’s
As you can see, the situation for Vancouver pedestrians is rather grim and it should have remained council's top priority over the last two years. Unfortunately, it took Mayor Gregor 24 months to draft his back-of-napkin motion asking for yet another lengthy study. Haven't we studied the issue of pedestrian safety to death?
Pedestrian safety, my colleague Mike Klassen wrote in 24 Hours, will be the subject of Walk 21, a conference being hosted in Vancouver next fall. Is it possible that Robertson is waking up on the subject of walking so not to be embarrassed at next year's conference?
As we previously wrote about, there are a lot of interesting pedestrian-friendly ideas from other cities that Vancouver could pilot right now. What's holding Vision back? Why wait for months for yet another report? Is there nothing this council could do right now to improve pedestrian safety before this long, dark and dreary winter is over? Seems odd doesn't it. Vision is rushing in a separated bike lane in time for the winter rain...but are asking for a report on pedestrian safety to come out in the spring.
It's pretty clear to me that this motion has been cynically designed to help cover Robertson's political backside heading into the civic election next year. The last thing he wants is a few pedestrian deaths during the campaign then have his political opponents slam him for having ignored this issue for three years. Robertson's motion states:
THAT City staff, in conjunction with the Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver School Board, identify locations and priority measures for improving pedestrian safety and accessibility in Vancouver.
THAT staff be directed to report back in the spring of 2011, and that as part of the report, staff include recommendations on how to better improve pedestrian input into the City’s Transportation Plan.
Does the Mayor think that ICBC, the police department or school board don't already have stats on pedestrian accidents? Wouldn't the City's engineering department already have a long list of sidewalk bulges and pedestrian improvements already planned and ready to work on? Why develop a study that would take months when you probably already have all that data ready to present?
What will be most interesting to see is whether immediately after the report is passed next spring, city crews are out building new pedestrian friendly infrastructure throughout Vancouver. If you recall, only hours after they passed the Hornby separated bike lane trial report, crews were out in earnest pouring concrete.
I somehow think the upcoming pedestrian infrastructure report may not get quite they same attention nor garner the same interest from this cycle-obsessed council as the bike lanes received. Keep in mind, getting from Point A to B as a pedestrian is the most eco-friendly form of transportation – by a country mile.
In other words, it's the best way to help Vancouver become the greenest city in the world.
As a regular transit user in Vancouver, I can only hope that since Robertson has mused about electric vehicles, separated bike lanes and now pedestrians, he might want to put mass transit and Skytrain riders on his list of priorities next.
What do you think? Has this council been putting too much attention on two-wheeled transport at the expense of public transit and pedestrian improvements? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
- post by Daniel
UPDATE: CTV news has now reported on the Mayor's pedestrian motion. A few skeptics out there are asking why he's asking for more studies and more delays. Check out the video report by clicking here.