At this time last year, Vancouver had recorded two pedestrian deaths for the year. As of May 26th this year when according to newspaper reports, a recycling truck turning left from Seymour onto Robson killed a northbound pedestrian in the crosswalk, seven pedestrian deaths have occurred.
This tragic statistic has caused some municipal counselors to suggest a speed limit reduction from 50 km/hr to 40 km/hr, and “increased police enforcement, longer walk signals and new curb bulges.”
Lowering the urban speed limit is not a new idea. Vancouver asked the provincial government for authority to impose a 40 km/hr limit in 1997 and, reportedly, is still waiting for an answer. Lowering the urban speed limit, it is said, would make downtown areas more livable by allowing for a more mixed use of the street. Opponents say the costs would greatly outweigh the benefits. They would increase driver frustration, which would require more law enforcement (a cost), not to mention the costs of new signage, described by a city engineer as a “massive undertaking.” Commuters crawling from block to block in congested traffic might conclude that both sides of this debate are missing the point— “If only we could reach such speeds!”
“Increased police enforcement” of existing rules and regulations seems to work but is also costly, although perhaps a savings compared to the alternatives. The costs of this strategy include more traffic police handing out more tickets, the installation of more photo radar, and more speed limit signage.
On the face of it a “longer walk signal” strategy seems sensible and pedestrian-friendly. More pedestrians at busier intersections would seem to call for longer signals. With respect to some of the wilder streets and intersections, the old joke is that there should be a “run sign” not a “walk sign”. A longer signal for pedestrians will certainly make things easier for moms with strollers and little children, the elderly, and the disabled. Longer pedestrian signals will also slow down the traffic flow.
The strategy of using a “curb bulge” – a horizontal structure, a bulging out of the curb –narrows the width of the road. In the right context, it can be one of the most effective traffic calming devices. Traffic calming strategies are designed to reduce speeding and dangerous driving by drivers who must use the road. The design of the most effective calming devices is based on the premise that drivers speed when they feel it is safe to do so. If drivers feel that an area is ‘wide open’, that nothing ahead makes it dangerous to speed up, then many will speed up. But if a road is narrow, and their visibility is obviously restricted, most drivers (hopefully) will slow down.
The question remains, though, whether speed has indeed even been a factor in the many pedestrian fatalities that have recently occurred. Probably most drivers will agree that there are pedestrians who are over-confident in stepping out into crosswalks.
Please drive safely.