Our streets are designed for fast driving, and that has made them far more dangerous than average. When are we going to 'recall our streets' to fix their fatal design flaws?
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published April 02, 2014
Last night on the news I watched a report on the United States Senate hearing into a fatal design flaw in some of GM's vehicles.
This faulty ignition switch design sometimes causes the engine to suddenly cut out and has apparently led to 13 deaths since 2001. There were huge protests and public outcry over these deaths.
The Senators were livid that GM ignored this design flaw and continued to fit vehicles with this ignition for five years, and refused to recall faulty vehicles when they finally fixed the design in new vehicles. They grilled the president of GM for hours.
That's 13 deaths in 13 years, or one death per year for the United States, a population of over 300 million. It is appalling that GM callously ignored the risks to save a few dollars.
Now contrast this with another fatal design flaw.
Police block Herkimer at Queen on March 7 after a vehicle collided with a pedestrian (Image Credit: Andrew Spearin)
Here in Hamilton we've known that our standard 1950s minor- and major-arterial road design in the lower city reliably leads to more pedestrian deaths than other alternative designs.
I'm talking about our system of wide multi-lane one-way streets, with no pedestrian crossings for many blocks, narrow sidewalks with no buffers, right turns on red and lights timed for a "green wave" in which cars can travel for blocks at 50-70 km/h and higher.
We see clear evidence of this in the 2002 Durand Traffic Study, which found that 40 percent of motorists exceeded the 50 km/h speed limit on residential streets like Bay, Charlton and Herkimer, and that 200 vehicles a day exceeded 65 km/h on these streets!
According to the City's 2010 Traffic Safety Status Report [PDF], in the 13 year period from 1998 to 2010, our roads killed killed 61 pedestrians and injured 3,233.
Last year, the Social Planning and Research Council produced a report that found Hamilton is the second most dangerous city in Ontario for pedestrians, with a pedestrian injury rate almost one and a half times the provincial average.
This is despite the fact that Hamilton is governed by exactly the same Highway Traffic Act and the same legislation and standards as the rest of the province.
One of the sad facts that comes out of Hamilton's Traffic Safety Report is that about 95 percent of collisions with pedestrians lead to injury or death. It is vital to avoid collisions in the first place.
The simplest way to do this is to slow traffic, and to force motorists to pay attention by making it impossible not to pay attention to their surroundings. Good design can do that:
In 2012, the Ontario Coroner completed a study of all 95 pedestrian deaths in Ontario in 2010. It concluded that these deaths were preventable and that the best way to prevent pedestrian deaths is to reduce vehicle speeds.
The most dangerous streets are streets that, like far too many of Hamilton's streets, are designed for the goal of fast vehicle speeds. The safest streets are those with a "complete streets" approach to roadway design.
But we have deliberately chosen to maintain a uniquely dangerous road design despite knowing, and being constantly reminded by experts, why our roads are dangerous and how we can fix them.
In the USA, a known design flaw killed 13 people in the entire country in 13 years. That statistic can't be explained away by shifting the blame to "careless" victims. The Senators didn't say: 'Motorists should know how to deal with a power loss of their vehicle. You really can't blame GM since it would have been expensive and inconvenient to fix the problem and recall all those vehicles.'
But here in Hamilton, we accept as fatality - helplessness in the face of fate - that the known engineering design flaws in our roads have killed 61 pedestrians and injured 3,233 in a similar 13 year period. That's an average of about five deaths and 250 injuries per year, against a population of just 500,000.
Yet the most common response is to blame pedestrians and tell them they should have been more careful!
To make another comparison, if a common piece of factory equipment killed 61 workers and injured 3,233 in 13 years, the response wouldn't be: "Workers just need to pay attention and be more careful". This piece of equipment would be banned and re-designed to be safe for workers in short order!
Americans are outraged over 13 deaths from faulty design in a car that was known to the experts, but ignored. Where is our outrage over 61 deaths from our dangerous arterial road designs in our city of 500,000?
Just like GM, we've been told how to fix it, but we decided the expense and inconvenience was too great to bother.
When are we going to "recall our streets" to fix their fatal design flaws?