Thursday, 6 December 2012

One small idea, very big reward

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Last night, my husband and I discussed the extreme number of pedestrians that have hit by cars here in the Lower Mainland. Just last night, six pedestrians were hit by cars in 5 different incidents in Vancouver, Richmond and Coquitlam (story here). This just shortly after it was released that between 2005-2011, 56% of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians. While writing this post, I found out there were two more incidents this morning. This number is completely unacceptable, as is the manner in which it is reported in the media, which discusses these tragedies in such a matter of fact way. Why don't these injuries and deaths warrant outrage, rather than comments stating that pedestrians need to wear brighter clothing, as if reflective clothing is going to save them from motorists ploughing through stops signs and crosswalks? Check out here for some ideas the city thought would help pedestrians be safer, instead of putting the onus on motorists.

I have actually had a very big beef with the crosswalks in Vancouver since we moved to the city in 2007. Most of the crosswalks in this city consist of just white painted lines on asphalt and the assumption that motorists will graciously stop to let the pedestrians waiting cross the road safely. My children and I use one of these crosswalks every weekday, at least 4 times a day, when I walk or ride with my eldest to school. We live a short distance from her school, and our commute involves crossing with dozens of other families at 10th Avenue and Victoria Drive in East Vancouver. We stand there, waiting for drivers to stop as they race to and from the red lights at Broadway and 12th Avenue. It has become such a painstaking process that my children now smile and wave at the passing cars in an attempt to make them realize there are human beings trying to cross the road.

In the year and a half since my daughter started school, I have witnessed more near hits at this intersection than I wish to remember. From cyclists crossing from 10th Ave to the beginning of the Central Valley Greenway, to a father a son nearly getting hit by an SUV who couldn't wait two more seconds for them to finish crossing, it seems like the simple act of taking my children to school has become an extreme sport where the prize is not getting hit by a car and getting to survive one more day. 

Over a year ago, I took action, contacting the City of Vancouver's engineering department and letting them know about the lack of safety at this crossing. I was told that the site would be evaluated and that my concerns were important. When nothing had happened between the early fall and mid-winter, I contacted them again. This time I received a phone call, letting me know that a survey would be done in the coming weeks and I would be contacted personally with the results. As you can imagine, I never heard from them. So this week, after witnessing that father and son's narrow escape from the SUV, I contacted them yet again, expressing my disappointment and anger in the City's lack of action. Now, 48 hours later, I have yet to hear anything, and with the recent pedestrian related accidents, I can't help but think that now is the time for the City of Vancouver and the province of BC to take a serious look at the traffic infrastructure and ways to make being a pedestrian less of a dangerous activity. (UPDATE Dec 6 4:30pm: I just got a call from the gentleman I spoke to back in February at the Engineering office. The survey for this intersection has happened, but unfortunately due to budget cuts, it is not a priority on the list of 3-4 intersections to get pedestrian controlled crossings for 2013. Time to start an email campaign to the mayor and councillors to increase funding for pedestrian and bicycle crossings!)

There are numerous things that can be done to improve safety for pedestrians. An obvious one for me seems to be pedestrian controlled crossings, with flashing lights that indicate to motorists that a pedestrian is there. It seems a simple step to making the most vulnerable of road users more obvious to their two-tonne metal counterparts. There is something more that can be done, though. It's a radical step, that I know will displease many people commuting by car, but the simple act of reducing the speed limit to 30 km/h from 50km/h could reduce a pedestrian's chances of dying if hit by a car from 85% to 5% (Source). At a time when so much focus is being placed on saving just one cyclist by mandating helmet use, I can't help but think the possibility of saving many lives by reducing the speed limit in higher foot traffic areas should be the main priority when it comes to road safety.

I can only hope that in the case of my crosswalk, the more I harp on about it's lack of safety, the more the City will take me and others like me seriously. As my daughter gets older, and her responsibilities and my trust in her increases, there will come a time when she will be walking with her brother to school on her own. For right now, I can't imagine when that will be, when even I, as an adult, fear for my safety crossing at that intersection. This should not be the case, so until changes are made, I will continue to be a voice for my children and others in my neighbourhood. As they say, "The squeaky wheel gets the oil".

My daily crossing, East 10th Avenue and Victoria Drive

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  1. That crosswalk scares me too both as a pedestrian and as a driver. There really needs to be overhead lights there.

    1. Email the mayor and council and tell them they need to dedicate more budget to safe intersections :)