SAFETY: Crosswalks, Intersections, and Neighbourhoods

Crosswalks

After returning from Japan to my home province of Nova Scotia, my wife and I first rented temporarily in the South End of Halifax.

Very quickly I recognized there was a major safety issue with the push-button flashing-amber crosswalks that are commonplace here.  I said to my wife and friends that these crosswalks are going to lead to deaths.  And since then, I have seen in the news of deaths and injuries in our crosswalks.

There are a few problematic issues with crosswalks of the above type:

  • Pedestrians are often lulled into a false sense of safety: “The light is on, so it is safe for me to cross!”
  • Flashing amber is an international symbol for caution, but not STOP!
  • Pedestrians sometimes make mistakes and walk out immediately after pressing the button.
  • Vehicle drivers (especially from out-of-area) are often not prepared to stop as quickly as the amber “caution” lights begin flashing.

When I lived in Montreal, there was a dedicated crosswalk light which operated this way:

  1. “Don’t walk” lights are regularly displayed.
  2. Pedestrian pushes button.
  3. Amber light is activated for vehicle drivers to indicate slow down and stop when safe, or proceed past the intersection if it is impractical to stop immediately.
  4. After a delay of a few seconds, the roadway light turns red to instruct vehicle drivers to stop.
  5. Once cars have been given a chance to stop safely, then the walk light appears instructing the pedestrian it is safe to cross.

This method is no more expensive or only nominally more expensive than our present “flashing amber caution” dedicated crosswalks.  But it is magnitudes better in terms of safety.

No matter whose “fault” it may be, a pedestrian injury or death will leave an indelible impression on the individuals involved and their friends and family.  A safer plan for our crosswalks exists already in Canada!  Do we choose status quo, or do we choose to improve the safety of our community crosswalks in order to avoid injuries and deaths?

There is no price that can be put on a human life.

 

Intersections

Having lived in two of Canada’s great cities, as well as having lived in Japan, I have seen many different styles of intersections that have dealt with different modes of transit in different ways.  There are still many intersections in our municipality that are troublesome to cross for able-bodied pedestrians, let alone pedestrians that are mobility compromised – elderly, injured or disabled, and parents/grandparents pushing strollers.

There are other ways that presently exist in the world to successfully design intersections with a high degree of safety.  I would like to see a plan developed in the HRM to identify hazards and weaknesses in our intersections, and a plan to bit-by-bit improve the quality of our intersections to help calm vehicle traffic and increase safety for people choosing other modes of transit.

Examples of intersections that could be improved include “Five Corners” and Alderny/Portland intersections .  These intersections are no fun to cross as an able bodied middle aged adult.  And it is even more stressful to cross these intersections with a stroller, with young children, or as any person whose mobility is compromised in any way.  With the Alderny/Portland intersection, when waiting on the corner near the federal building, the standard waiting spot is in a blind spot for cars turning right from Alderny onto Portland.  The crosswalk “walk” timing at both intersections can be challenging for slower persons.

These are only 2 examples of several intersections that could be improved in Dartmouth.  Neither of these intersections can be called “pedestrian friendly”.  They are “adequate” by certain standards, but these intersections discourage, rather than encourage, pedestrian traffic.  For a vital downtown core in Dartmouth, we need to improve these intersections so that pedestrians can feel safer when crossing.  All that is needed is a careful assessment and a creative plan to improve the intersections for pedestrians, bicyclers, and cars alike!

(And as an aside…  Why are we seeing so much re-paving of streets whose road surfaces are still in fine condition, when Alderny Drive feels like an off-road track between King’s Wharf and Portland Street…??  We should consider repaving this section of Alderny Drive!)

 

Neighbourhoods

Many municipalities in North America have been designed with automobiles as the prime consideration for commuting.  This “car-centric” attitude has allowed us to create millions of dollars of infrastructure that is not pedestrian, jogger, or bicycle friendly.  In certain decades, many new neighbourhoods were made with no sidewalks at all.  These neighbourhoods discourage walkers, bicyclists, joggers, and other active transport (roller blades, skateboards, etc), and require everyone to share the roads.

Trouble occurs when we have taught people that “roads are for cars”.  Walkers, joggers, bicyclists, skateboarders, and roller bladers must now compete with multi-tonne vehicles for space on these same roads.  Car drivers can easily get frustrated when people using other modes of transport “infringe on the car drivers’ space”.  So now socially, the actual physical state of our infrastructure pits community member against community member, and where there should be harmony and friendship, there can be mutual frustration.  As well, communities that encourage people to use cars from their own driveways to their destination means that community members have less chance of meeting each other along neighbourhood streets.

It does not make sense to design new communities that are still car-centric.  We all know we need to lessen our environmental footprint.  We all know that motor vehicles are responsible for a great deal of humanity’s output of greenhouse gasses.  It it vitally important to remember this when creating new subdivisions in the HRM.

Shall we stay stuck in the 1970’s attitude of, “It’s all okay!  Let’s build more car-centric neighbourhoods!”

Or shall we design truly progressive neighbourhoods that are fitting for the 21st century?

This is a matter that requires vision and understanding.

Traffic Calming

I have heard countless times from people in many parts of the HRM that vehicles are going too fast in residential neighbourhoods.  Many, if not most, of us have also experienced cars speeding past the speed limit on arterial roads (Portland Street, Main Street, and Windmill Road are just some examples).

There are many traffic calming methods in use today.  A cursory web search yields this as a top search result:

http://www.its.leeds.ac.uk/projects/primavera/p_calming.html

I recently travelled to Ontario.  While I was in Kingston, I noticed that many of their downtown streets have speed limits posted at 30 km/hr.

I personally don’t see the need for 50 km/hr speed limits in residential streets.  Arterial roads are different, and many HRM arterial roads can safely handle a 50 km/hr speed limit, or greater in some cases.

A review of urban speed limits and possible traffic calming methods can yield safer and more enjoyable neighbourhoods.