Update: see previous posts – May 3, 2012 Dr. David McKeown is Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, April 24, 2012 Toronto Board of Health Wants to Lower Motor Vehicle Speed Limits in Favour of Cycling and Walking.
It was a gruesome opener to 2010: 14 pedestrian deaths in 14 dark January days in the GTA. They were among the 23 fatalities across the province that month that would account for one-quarter of the 95 such deaths that year.
They were also the inspiration behind the Pedestrian Death Review published Wednesday by the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario.
The survey of 2010 pedestrian fatalities shows that seniors were disproportionately vulnerable, representing 36 per cent of the deaths, although they are only 16 per cent of the population. Pedestrians are also most likely to be killed between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. in cities in the winter, said Deputy Chief Coroner Dr. Bert Lauwers.
Among the report’s 26 recommendations, Lauwers identified three key findings: Ontario needs to reduce traffic speeds; it needs a “complete streets” policy that requires roads accommodate all users; it also needs a provincial walking strategy to support pedestrian improvements that would reduce fatalities by half by 2022.
The Highway Traffic Act should be amended, says the report, to allow municipalities to set the default speed limit in unsigned areas at 40 km/h rather than the current 50. Municipalities also have the power to lower neighbourhood speeds.
“In heavily dense areas where there’s kids everywhere, why wouldn’t we set that down to 30 km/h, and then you can live with the 40 km/h everywhere else,” said Lauwers.
Lowering speeds was rejected as “nuts” by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford earlier this year when Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David McKeown proposed a 30 km/h residential-area limit and 40 km/h on other streets.
But Lauwers said speed reduction has little to do with the frustration of gridlock.
“I travel down the Don Valley Parkway, Bloor St., Wellesley. By the time I hit Bloor St. I never get over 20 km/h. If they set the speed limit lower it’s not going to change my behaviour because my behaviour is slow driving anyway,” he said.
Lauwers suggested that a provincial walking strategy could emulate the one adopted by Toronto in 2009.
That policy has changed the city’s culture, said John Mendes, acting general manager of transportation services. Among other things, pedestrian countdowns at traffic lights have been lengthened to let older people cross more easily.
He pointed to Roncesvalles as a recent example of a “complete street.” A makeover coinciding with the placement of new streetcar tracks eliminated the step-up to stores along the street for greater accessibility. Sidewalks were bumped out to take pedestrians right to the door of the streetcar, and an innovative bike lane means cyclists don’t have to weave into traffic to avoid the pedestrians waiting for transit.
“A death sentence is not an appropriate sentence for a moment’s inattention or some other minor error in judgment on our roads,” said Albert Koehl, an environmental lawyer, who along with lawyer Patrick Brown, fronted a request from five advocacy groups for the coroner’s office to review cycling and pedestrian deaths.
The review of cycling deaths was released in June. Both reports recommend truck sideguards to protect cyclists and pedestrians.
Causes of Pedestrian Fatalities
Where did pedestrian deaths occur?
31% at mid-block crossings; 14% by the side of the road; 11% crossing against the light at an intersection where the car had the right of way; 7% where the pedestrian was crossing with the light and was struck by a right-turning vehicle; 7% when the pedestrian was crossing with the light and was struck by a left-turning vehicle.
76% of fatalities occurred in urban areas and 75% happened on wide, busy arterial roads.
Why were they killed?
Only 5% were hit in areas where the speed limit was less than 50 km/h; 20% were distracted by a cellphone, stereo or pet; 21% were killed by drivers who failed to yield. Only 7% showed signs of drug or alcohol-related impairment.
When did fatalities happen?
25% of deaths were in January, 12% in August and 10% in December; about 15% occurred between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.; 21% were on Thursdays; 17% on Monday and 15% on Sunday.
Pedestrian Death Review by Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario