As long as we continue to deform our built environment to accommodate high-speed, high-volume automobile traffic, people will continue to die. It's really that simple.
By Ryan McGreal
Published November 03, 2014
A pedestrian is dead after being struck by a vehicle on Cootes Drive between York Street and West Street.
The pedestrian, a 19-year-old man, was crossing Cootes Drive northbound in front of the McDonald's restaurant on Saturday, November 1 at 7:08 PM. A Honda Civic driving westbound on Cootes struck him and he was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries.
He died on Sunday, November 2 at 1:30 PM, the city's 12th traffic fatality and 4th pedestrian fatality of 2014.
Hamilton Police ask any witnesses to contact Detective Constable Wes Wilson at 905-546-4753.
Cootes Drive is a particularly problematic street for safety because it functions as a four-lane, 80 km/h highway as it runs along the Desjardins Canal between the western edge of McMaster University and downtown Dundas.
The design of Cootes inevitably creates a conflict between pedestrians emerging from an urban, walkable environment where it's safe to cross the street and drivers emerging from a highway environment where it's safe to drive at very high speed.
Regardless of who is found to be 'at fault' in this tragedy, the real culprit is the street itself, which is designed for fast driving in blithe disregard of its surroundings, which can reasonably be expected to contain people.
The posted speed limit on Cootes drops from 80 km/h to 50 km/h about 200 metres east of East Street North, or around 600 metres east of where the collision took place.
However, not much else about the street changes with the reduced speed limit. It continues to look and feel like a four-lane highway until York Road, where it finally reduces to a lane in each direction.
A human body can reasonably withstand a collision with a hard metal object moving around 30 km/h or slower. As the speed of the hard metal object increases, the likelihood that a human body can survive collision drops exponentially toward zero.
At 32 km/h, a pedestrian has a 5 percent chance of dying in a collision. At 48 km/h, a pedestrian's risk of dying in a collision jumps to 45 percent. At 64 km/h, a pedestrian's risk of dying reaches a devastating 85 percent.
We can thank the laws of physics for this: the kinetic energy of a moving object increases as a square of its speed. In other words, a vehicle going twice as fast has four times as much kinetic energy, not just twice as much.
Not only is a pedestrian exponentially more likely to die in a collision as speed increases, but also the collision itself becomes exponentially more likely since the vehicle's stopping distance also increases as a square of its speed. In other words, a vehicle going twice as fast takes four times as far to stop.
It is possible for a city to reduce its traffic fatality rate toward zero. The City of Vancouver, for example, has committed to the goal of "zero traffic-related fatalities" through a series of changes that will sound familiar to anyone who has been paying attention: increasing the share of trips by walking, cycling and transit; reducing automobile speed limits to 30 km/h; using bumpouts and neckdowns to reduce dangerousu vehicle speeds; establishing more neighbourhood greenways that prioritize walking and cycling over cut-through driving; widening sidewalks and adding crosswalks; adjusting signals for longer pedestrian crossing times - do I need to go on?
Vancouver has already enjoyed some dramatic successes. Its rate of pedestrian fatalities is already among the lowest in Canada. It has only had one pedestrian fatality so far this year in a city of over 600,000, compared to four pedestrian fatalities so far in Hamilton, which has a smaller population.
More broadly, Vancouver has managed to increase its population density while reducing the number of vehicle trips, mainly through a series of land use and transportation policy choices that favour walkable, mixed-use development over automobile-dependent sprawl.
Vancouver refuses to widen streets to accommodate more single-occupant vehicle trips. Hamilton blocks new developments on streets that are already four and five lanes wide in case we might decide to widen them even further.
Vancouver invests heavily in high-quality transportation and rapid transit - including its famous Skytrain system, which Hamilton actually turned down three decades ago. Meanwhile, many of Hamilton's leaders are poised to turn down a fully-funded rapid transit system again, in a staggering refusal to learn the painful lessons of past bad decisions.
As long as we continue to deform our built environment to accommodate high-speed, high-volume automobile traffic, people will continue to die. It's really that simple. Hamilton is the second most dangerous city in Ontario for pedestrians, a predictable result given the fact that our city is riddled with streets designed for deadly automobile speeds.
Nine of the 15 successful candidates for Mayor and Council responded to our policy question asking if they support a Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities.
Mayor-elect Fred Eisenberger, Ward 1 Councillor-elect Aidan Johnson, Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr, Ward 3 Councillor-elect Matthew Green, Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla, Ward 9 Counicllor-elect Doug Conley, Ward 10 Councillor Maria Pearson, Ward 12 Councillor Lloyd Ferguson and Ward 13 Councillor-elect Arlene Vanderbeek all submitted responses. Of the nine, Ferguson was non-committal and all the other candidates were supportive.
Pearson, who successfully ran for re-election in Ward 10, may have put it best: "Of course! Who would not support the elimination of pedestrian and cyclist deaths?"
Who, indeed. The question is: will this mayor and council have the policy understanding and political courage to implement the changes we know we need to make in order to achieve this goal?
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