Zero points for Edmonton’s confused Vision Zero

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:

“wearing a strip of reflective material or a reflector can save your life.”
“pedestrians always come out the losers”
“If you are lucky, it will only bump you.”


Zero Vision

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.

Point, look & cross: Edmonton aims to be the Fashion Capital of Western Canada

Point, look & cross: Edmonton aims to be the Fashion Capital of Western Canada

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.

Don't stop speedin' Hold on to that feelin' Pedestrian people Won't be interferin'

Don’t stop speedin’
Hold on to that feelin’
Pedestrian people
Won’t be interferin’

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.


3 comments on “Zero points for Edmonton’s confused Vision Zero

  1. David [Likely posting from: Canada]

    I’m 100% for maximizing safety for all levels of commuter traffic. Any initiative or thinking process that reduces the responsibility on the individual, (whether it be drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians) is seriously flawed. Of course road design should have safety as one of it’s primary goals but to give anyone a false sense of security is ill-fated. As bad as drivers are, they all had to pass a course that taught safety above all else. I feel that drivers should be re-tested when they renew their license as, clearly, most forgot what they were taught as soon as they received their precious piece of paper.

    I often travel on pleasure to the England and have noticed some important differences: Firstly, pedestrians don’t have the right-of-way, yet I have only ever witnessed one pedestrian accident in a country with over 60X the population density of Alberta and one with an incredible number of uncontrolled intersections. Secondly, England is has an ingrained walking and cycling culture. The cycling environment there is mushrooming as cycling is viewed as the new alternative to golf amongst the older population and it’s exciting to see. I didn’t see a higher level of cycling or walking infrastructure there as compared to here either. With all that congestion and with relative safety in place, I see the differences between there and here as basically a rule awareness attitude on the part of pedestrians and cyclists and better skill on the part of drivers.

    The comment above regarding reflective clothing should take into account that those that wear reflective clothing tend to be the more serious cyclist and they also tend to be more aggressive and less-safety conscious. A perfect example of a much need change in attitude. On the subject of attitude, the lobbying for the Idaho stop and the tendency of travelling the wrong way down one-way streets (because of convenience) needs to stop. The bottom line is, and always will be, safety. A child does not possess the skill to know when it is safe to go through a stop sign nor can they be expected to use “reasonable judgement”. The law cannot be grey, it must be black and white for everyone. Laws must take into account the lowest common denominator, usually children. Currently cyclists (and motorists for that matter) use the rolling stop and a convenient excuse. Really, it is just laziness and nothing else.

    At the end of the day, you are ultimately responsible for your own safety far more so than anything a government can build or legislate.

    1. Garnett [Likely posting from: Canada]

      – I strongly disagree that the responsibility for pedestrian safety should ultimately be placed on the individual, because this statement ignores the vital role of government in ensuring that roads are safely designed, and that road safety laws like the Traffic Safety Act are extensive enough to ensure civilian safety and are appropriately enforced.

      – Pedestrians are exposed to the risks imposed by cyclists and motorists, and cyclists are exposed to the risks imposed by motorists, but not vice-versa in either case. Motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians must drive, cycle, or walk, respectively, using behaviours which are constrained to some degree by the road design and ought to be constrained as well by laws such as the Traffic Safety Act.

      – The municipal, provincial, or federal government ought to ensure that its road designs minimize risks to pedestrians and cyclists to the most reasonably practical level. Potential examples of this include providing adequately spaced and properly illuminated marked crosswalks for pedestrians, and physical barriers between cars and cycling lanes. The latter is done in several major cities, including Montreal, and is very sensible in cold climates where icy road conditions can be a factor in cyclist and pedestrian safety.

      – Motorists have an obligation to be aware of their surroundings, and to drive within the laws. I agree that re-testing drivers is a good idea.

      – The UK Office for National Statistics reported that for the years 2006-2010, that 675, 646, 572, 500, and 405 pedestrians, respectively, were killed in road accidents in Great Britain (England, Scotland,and Wales) (

      In Canada over the same time period, 371, 375, 305, 317, and 296 pedestrians, respectively, were killed in Canada. (

      On a per capita basis, Great Britain has slightly better pedestrian safety performance and so there are likely some things we can learn from them (at least as far as fatalities are concerns, I haven’t dug into injuries. I also haven’t dug into how they compile the data and attribute causes of death). It’s good to see that both countries have made some improvements over time.

      – I challenge the statement that those who wear reflective clothing tend to be the more serious cyclists and they also tend to be more aggressive and less-safety conscious, and that a change of attitude is required. Is there any evidence or data which leads to this conclusion? I wear reflective clothing when cycling and certainly don’t consider myself to be more aggressive and less-safety conscious. My reasoning for wearing reflective clothing is that lack of visibility to drivers is one possible cause of motorists striking cyclists.

  2. Tom Gray [Likely posting from: Canada]

    Both as a pedestrian and a cyclist, I’ve had close calls with inattentive drivers. I’ve come to believe that the motorist will NEVER see me, even if she looks. When walking, I have banged on peoples’ hoods as they almost run me down. They look startled — where did he come from? — but few ever apologize or even look sorry. When cycling, I try to stay alert, and I’m careful to be visible, use signals, and so on. But I’ve had ignorant drivers swear at me, order me off the road, tell me to ride on the sidewalk (illegal in many jurisdictions), try to clip me and laugh. I don’t blame the roads — I blame the folks behind the steering wheels. I agree with David, drivers should be re-tested at least every five years.

Leave a Reply