When you step out of your car, do you immediately don your safety vest? When you step out of the office after work, do you flick on the flashlight that you always carry with you?
Are you properly equipped to cross the road?
According to the City of Edmonton’s latest “traffic safety” campaign:
Under the banner of Vision Zero, Edmonton’s “Heads Up” campaign firmly offloads responsibility for pedestrian injuries and fatalities from the City’s poor road designs and dangerous speeds and onto pedestrians themselves.
This is the antithesis of Vision Zero.
Give the City your feedback
The City is conducting a survey that includes a question about this ad campaign. You can give your feedback until noon, Tuesday, September 20.
Vision Zero is the Swedish approach to road safety thinking. It can be summarized in one sentence: No loss of life is acceptable.
The core principle of the Vision Zero concept is that in every situation that a person might fail, the road system should not.
In Troy Pavlek’s excellent post on this campaign, he writes:
Vision Zero accepts that humans will make errors, so the system must account for that. Typical roadway design has focused on maximizing capacity, and then assigning blame to users when incidents occurred. But with Vision Zero design, the entire system is focused on increasing safety at every turn, so the system takes leadership in preventing scenarios where user error could cause injury.
The City’s responsibility in Vision Zero is to use its limited resources as efficiently as possible to make the roads safer. It can do this by designing better roads, improving pedestrian connectivity, and improving dangerous intersections. An ad campaign that misdirects responsibility and implies that pedestrians (even those wearing yellow or orange!) are “lucky” to only be “bumped” by cars does not improve safety.
To be clear: we know very well that as a driver, it can be difficult to see unlit pedestrians or bikes at night. We have hosted workshops on making retroreflective clothing, and making your own bike lights. We sell hundreds of bike lights, starting at $1.49, at both of our volunteer-run, non-profit community bike shops, BikeWorks North and South.
But the City of Edmonton is in a position to do much more than just admonish people to dress shiny: their focus here is misguided. Even if they truly felt that this was the best focus for their resources, they would likely be better served by spending the same money to hand out lights and reflective bands at busy trails and intersections.
But it’s likely not the best bang for our buck: a New Zealand study of car-bike collisions found that “the most physically conspicuous group had a higher risk [of collision involving a motor vehicle] in Auckland”, i.e. those that wore high-visibility clothing and reflective gear were actually more likely to be hit by a car. A study of Calgary and Edmonton found that “the risk of collisions with a motor vehicle was increased by wearing fluorescent clothing”, even after adjusting for commuting and bicycling location.
In Edmonton in 2015, 225 (68%) pedestrians were injured or killed while crossing with the right of way. Only 57 were crossing without the right of way. The majority of pedestrian collisions occurred during regular work hours, between 8am and 6pm. 40% of fatally injured pedestrians have been drinking; before you drunkenly stumble out of the hockey game, will you always don your safety vest and contemplate the anti-jaywalking billboard you saw earlier in the day?
What is the problem, and what are the solutions?
The problem is the City placing lights that illuminate only the road but not the sidewalk. The problem is the City poorly lighting or poorly marking crosswalks. The problem is the City creating long stretches of road without marked pedestrian crossings, encouraging pedestrians (especially those with small children or mobility challenges) to cross without a marked crosswalk. The problem is the City designing road networks that don’t have strong pedestrian connectivity, forcing pedestrians to walk along either busy arterial roads or dark, unpopulated trails. The problem is the City designing roads for more cars to move faster and faster without having to worry about slowing or stopping, and then using long signal timings or other anti-pedestrian measures to deter walking.
The problem is the City continuing to unfairly direct blame onto pedestrians rather than taking responsibility.
Imploring anyone on foot to arm themselves with personal protective equipment in case they get “unlucky” is not a solution.
It is a signal of the City’s failure to protect its citizens and to provide them with safe, healthy options to move about their neighbourhoods and their city.