Special Report: Walkable Streets

Coroner's Report on Pedestrians Recommends Complete Streets

The Ontario Coroner's report on pedestrians recommends a "road safety paradigm shift" to reduce vehicle speeds and improve the accessibility and safety of streets for all modes, especially the most vulnerable road users.

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 20, 2012

Earlier this year, the office of the Ontario Coroner released a study recommending a number of policy changes to make cycling safer and more viable. Now the Coroner's Office has done the same for walking in its review of pedestrian deaths.

Ontarians not only need to walk, they need to walk safely. To do so, they need safe walking spaces. It is believed that with high quality engineered design, universal accessibility and a dedication to safety where pedestrians are of paramount importance, it will be possible to decrease pedestrian deaths.

Noting that Ontarians also want to walk and cycle more, the study calls for a "road safety paradigm shift" that emphasizes the accessibility and safety of our streets for pedestrians, based on the following central premise adopted by the World Health Organization's World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention:

The vulnerability of the human body should be a limiting design parameter for the traffic system, and speed management is central. [emphasis in original]


After examining the 95 pedestrian deaths in Ontario in 2010, the Coroner's office has made a number of recommendations that will sound familiar to urbanists.


No one with a basic understanding of classical physics will be surprised to learn that vehicle speed was a huge determinant of fatality risk, given that a vehicle moving at twice the speed has four times the energy.

The study found that only five percent of deaths occurred on a street where the speed limit was lower than 50 km/h, and 67 percent of the deaths were on a street where theh speed limit was 50 km/h or higher. (The speed limit was unknown in the other 28 percent.)

Interstingly, the driver was exceeding the speed limit in only 12.7 percent of the fatalities studied, which strongly indicates that legal speed limits are too high to protect pedestrians safety.

The study also cites the Toronto public health study Road to Health: A Healthy Toronto by Design on the geometric increase in fatality risk associatd with vehicle speed. Incidentally, the Road to Health study also found:

A review of 19 traffic-calming initiatives in four European countries found that injuries caused by collisions for all road users fell by 41-83 percent, while fatalities dropped by 14-85 percent. After 30 km/h zones were introduced in London, these zones experienced a 42 percent reduction in fatalities. In 1988 the Town of Baden, Austria restricted speeds to 30 km/hr for about 75 percent of its road network. This and other measures reduced the rate of casualties by 60 percent.

Meanwhile, in Hamilton, the North End Neighbourhood Association's effort to establish a 30 km/h speed limit in that neighbourhood is at the Ontario Municipal Board after City Council rejected its proposal of a three-year pilot project.

Other Risk Factors

The recommendations all reflect the fact that the most vulnerable pedestrians were over-represented in the pedestrian deaths the Office studied. People over 65 years of age are only 13 percent of the population but accounted for 36 percent of the deaths. Similarly, 10 percent of the pedestrians killed were using some form of mobility aid, like a cane, walker, crutches or wheelchair.

19 percent of the deaths took place at an intersection when the pedestrian had the right of way, and only 12.5 percent took place at an intersection where the pedestrian did not have the right of way. 13.5 percent took place when the pedestrian was on a sidewalk or shoulder, and 30 percent took place while the pedestrian was crossing mid-block.

The driver's failure to yield to the pedestrian was a factor in 21 percent of fatalities, and the pedestrian crossing against the signal was a factor in12 percent.

In 11.5 percent of the fatalities, the pedestrian had some form of distraction, like a cell phone or music player. In 8 percent of cases, the pedestrian had some form of encumbrance, like a dog or a shopping cart.

It is more difficult to determine driver distractions or inattention, but 14 percent of fatalities were when a pedestrian was walking on a sidewalk or shoulder, suggesting that the driver lost control of their vehicle. Tthe study also cites an Ontario Ministry of Transportation collision data review encompassing 2000-2009 that found driver inattention was identified by police in 10 percent of fatal collisions with pedestrians.

Alcohol and other drugs were a factor for 28 percent of pedestrians and 7 percent of motorists. Pedestrians, in particular, are at vastly increased risk of dying in a collision if they are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

One interesting datum is that the drivers involved in collisions where pedestrians were killed were disproportionately male. Of the 95 deaths in 2010, 67 percent of the drivers involved were male.


The study recognizes that the most effective way to prevent injury and death is to design the street for safety to reduce the inherent risk of collision between motorists and pedestrians.

While recommending reductions in vehicle speeds, the study also notes that merely lowering speed limits is not enough in itself.

When the City of Ottawa reduced speeds from 50 km/h to 40 km/h, studies which followed indicated that there was no substantial change in speed at which motorists travelled the roads. They concluded that the roadways themselves must also be changed to encourage slower speeds, as motorists will likely travel at speeds at which they are comfortable in the absence of enforcement.

It also recommends other engineering changes to the street to improve pedestrian safety, including giving pedestrians an exclusive opportunity to cross intersections before motorists can proceed.

The study also recognizes that mid-block pedestrian crossings are both common and a significant risk, and that the best way to reduce the risk is to facilitate safer mid-block crossings.

[C]urrent deficiencies in the Highway Traffic Act should be amended to allow for the council of a municipality to provide, via a by-law, for the erection of non-signalized pedestrian crossings for mid-block crossings in residential areas, an option not currently available in Ontario, but available in other provinces in Canada.

The current law on mid-block crossings is clear as mud and drivers may not be expecting to find a pedestrian crossing there.

Evidence-Based Road Design

The study also recommends that each municipality undertake a forensic audit of pedestrian deaths to identify high-risk areas, understand root causes and implement engineering changes to reduce the risk.

Capital planning for road work needs to incorporate the goal of reducing fatalities by making streets safer for pedestrians. The study lists several strategies for reducing vehicle speeds that add up to a road diet:

Other strategies for improving pedestrian accessibility and safety include:

Again, none of this will be foreign or surprising to people who have studied evidence-based ways of creating complete streets and healthy neighbourhoods.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2012 at 08:14:07

What fun are chicanes if you're not moving at F1 speeds?

In all seriousness, this is valuable input and should give council something to chew on. It only underlines the need to move thoughtfully on conversions rather than jump reflexively to the overnight-bucket-of-yellow-paint advocated by the more impatient two-way advocates.

I would say that in light of the mediocre conversions that have taken place to date, complete streets are liable to be a long-term project requiring a full-court press and more realpolitik than we've seen to date. (Can you imagine if the councillors driving two-way motion had waited to assemble their ducks in a row?)

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 20, 2012 at 08:34:21

Is this going to be put into Ontario law??
In other words, will it be something that citizens can take to court if they happen to live in a city (not mentioning any names) that refuses to build complete streets and encourages transport trucks to use residential streets instead of multi-million $$ ring-highways that were built for them??

There's nothing on this list we haven't advocated for. Nice to see it get some legs higher up the government food chain.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-09-20 08:35:46

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted September 20, 2012 at 09:20:44

Last winter I was dumped off from my HSR ride into a snowbank at Upper James & Rymal with live electrical wires flanking me to the left and right. I talked to an on-site worker and got a shrug. So I called the police and they fixed it by noon. Until then there was literally no recourse but to walk into Rymal Road traffic during rush hour. Anyone who knows the area knows it's one of the most over-capacity roads in town.

Complete streets doesn't mean just luxurious street-scapes. I would say in Hamilton we really need construction sites to respect pedestrian safety better. Consistently and in any part of town. It seems nobody is paying any mind to this until there are injuries.

Comment edited by brodiec on 2012-09-20 09:23:35

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 20, 2012 at 09:44:53

I found this statement particularly interesting:

"the erection of non-signalized pedestrian crossings for mid-block crossings in residential areas"

since the City of Hamilton claims that the HTA does not even permit non-signalized crossings (i.e. signs and zebra lines on the road) at intersections. The Coroner's statement implies that non-signalized crossings are in fact permitted, just not mid-block!

Hamilton's pedestrian death rate does seem extremely high: in 2011 9 pedestrians were killed in Hamilton while 27 were killed in Paris the same year (and this figure was considered unacceptably high).


Now, the population of central Paris is about 2.2 million, and the greater Paris region has a population of over 12 million, many of whom commute into the centre to work or shop. More importantly, the sidewalks and roads in Paris are jammed with millions of pedestrians all-day long (800 000 get on or off every day at the Chatelet Les Halles station alone), which suggests the risk of a given pedestrian dying in Paris is minuscule compared with Hamilton.

The difference is likely due to three factors: safety in numbers (as we've discussed here for cycling), slower traffic speeds due to volume and design, and wide sidewalks and an extensive network of pedestrian streets.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2012-09-20 09:55:08

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2012 at 10:11:15 in reply to Comment 81088

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 20, 2012 at 10:31:06 in reply to Comment 81078

McGuinty is unpopular enough as it is, he's not going to draw the ire of a million suburban commuters over something as mundane as safety.

He won't touch this issue with a ten-foot pole, sadly.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 20, 2012 at 11:36:22

This quote from the Spec article gets right to the heart of issue:

"“Common driving errors and common pedestrian behaviour should not lead to death and injury,” said deputy chief coroner Dr. Bert Lauwers, who led the review."

People will make mistakes and our road network needs to be fault tolerant, so mistakes don't lead to death and injury. This has been a fundamental principle in all sorts of safety engineering for decades, especially in the design of active and passive safety features in cars which have made driving safer for motorists.

Unfortunately, these passive and active safety engineering principles have not been implemented for the most vulnerable road users: pedestrians and cyclists. And the simplest of the passive safety measures is to re-engineer our urban streets so traffic moves at non-lethal speeds (less than 40km/h). Note that school zones are posted at 30km/h in western Canada (contrary to what the Spec article states, the school zone speed was not "cut" in BC, it has always been 30km/h, at least for the last 30 years).

The problem in Hamilton now is that even the dangerously high standard urban limit of 50km/h is not usually respected because of our massively under-capacity multi-lane one-way network and other design flaws.

As I have pointed out before, the 2002 Durand Traffic Study found that 40% of motorists exceed 50 km/h on residential streets like Bay, Charlton and Herkimer and that 200 per day exceed 65 km/h. And this is because the roads feel "safe" for motorists at these speed because of their width and lack of "distractions".

But these speeds are lethal for any pedestrian or cyclist who gets hit, and turns crossing the street at the numerous unsignalized intersections into a dangerous game of dodge-em for elderly, disabled or young pedestrians.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2012-09-20 11:55:38

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted September 20, 2012 at 20:16:41 in reply to Comment 81077

It would be fantastic to see some accountability finally. For example the recent comments talking about crosswalks creating liability for the city. Insanity, the reverse should be true.

This report is listing many things that are already being done in Europe and their cities are amazing places to be out and about, I think.

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By Berndt (anonymous) | Posted October 17, 2012 at 09:50:24

"13.5 percent took place when the pedestrian was on a sidewalk or shoulder"


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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 17, 2012 at 09:54:09 in reply to Comment 81811

Shoulda been wearing their walking helmets I guess

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