A recent local newspaper article concerning road safety is well-intentioned, but as with many such viewpoints takes conclusions to lengths which should be challenged.
After positing the ethos of Vision Zero as it applies to our urban commuting needs to inspire safety, he makes the declarations, “Our streets need diets; they need to be narrowed. Our streets need to be slower…” He then goes on to state that streets need to be ‘forgiving’, and to ‘limit the damage’ when people inevitably make mistakes. Narrow streets are not forgiving. Going slower is not a panacea.
For about six years before moving to Ottawa many years ago, I lived in Toronto. Anyone familiar with that admittedly much bigger landscape of urban traffic knows that a positive side is wide streets with sidewalks abounding. When I came to Ottawa and saw the contrast – Bank Street from downtown to Billings Bridge being a prime example – I was chagrined at the safety implications of travelling through tighter quarters. This situation is exacerbated by an endless parade of street construction blockages and diversions in warmer months, replaced by winter’s crusts of snow along roadways, reducing traction, and piles of snow along residential streets, reducing visibility for those attempting to enter roadways. Narrower avenues are particularly an anathema these months. (I was a victim of such in January 2012 when my parked car was hit by a truck without sufficient room to maneuver.)
Yes, people make mistakes, including bicyclists and joggers who incessantly wear headphones along roadways, largely oblivious to their surroundings. So do city planners and do-gooders who act on the basis of enacting, without considering consequences for those regularly affected. One-size solutions do not fit all.
On our relatively benign street, made busy during rush hours when serving as a bypass, we have had what our councillor has termed ‘flex sticks’ bolted in the middle, to serve as ‘traffic calmers’. (They have just been removed for the season.) These seem to have popped up like dandelions on a number of residential roads this year. While better for us than the more drastic alternatives proposed by city planners, i.e. narrowing islands and speed bumps, they remain intrusive.
There is a gauntlet effect of squeezing between these mid-street signs and parked cars, a contentious issue faced by drivers, or even bicyclists in some add-on circumstances. I’ve been told anecdotally that the ‘flex sticks’ must indeed live up to this description, given that they’ve survived hits numerous times by truckers especially who have little other room to proceed.
To make matters worse, many of us in the south end of the city did not escape the moratorium on expanding community mail boxes – ours went into effect the day before Canada Post’s announcement – which result in even more temporary parking hazards as drivers stop to get their mail. Impingements like narrower streets would be detrimental.
Since the ‘flex sticks’ are not a year-round measure anyway, why not put up more electronic speed signs? These can be in place year-round, are not menacingly on the street, and are clearly effective in slowing traffic. Whether on a major or residential urban road, whenever I’ve seen them I observe drivers reacting to the flashing verdict. There’s something about the public spectacle which confronts speeders, or vindicates those not doing so, with its selective nature of identification, which draws out self-consciousness. We had one of these electronic signs on our street a while, and I saw it cause reaction. In any event, warning devices should be along roads, not on or part of them.
Emphasizing safety measures which are impactful, but not intrusive so as to actually engender resentment and reduce safety, should be a logical, acceptable policy in our city. Such would be a measure of vision.