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Stop looking at data and start taking action to make crosswalks safer

The Crosswalk Safety Advisory Committee is missing the point.

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I trust we all agree pedestrian safety is important. As is the use of bicycles, and vehicles, to efficiently and safely move about and transport goods within a city. A vibrant and healthy city must accommodate both pedestrians and drivers, and find ways to maximize the safety of all who use the roads.

Halifax Regional Police reported crosswalk injury accidents increased 22 percent from 2011 to 2012, including three fatalities (there was a fourth fatality in RCMP jurisdiction)---one more fatality than the previous four years combined. This experience and the public's concern with pedestrian safety led to a number of initiatives: 1) Halifax city council requested a review of pedestrian safety by Traffic and Right of Way Services; 2) city council created a Crosswalk Safety Advisory Committee (CSAC) and 3) the city launched its Distractions Kill awareness PR campaign.

Regrettably these initiatives have shown little results and certainly no improvement to pedestrian injury experience. Traffic and Right of Way Services' March 2013 preliminary report to city council included only one action plan: to join in with Distractions Kill.

I believe the effectiveness of the campaign can best be measured by the pre- and post-survey response to the question "Have you recently seen or heard any radio, television, newspaper, magazine, billboard, online or any other advertisements, videos or any other messages that involved pedestrian safety issues?" In a survey prior to the campaign, 56 percent replied "Yes." Then, during the final week of the campaign a similar survey had 58 percent responding "Yes." In my view, only reaching an additional two percent of people is not success.

Then there is the CSAC. I had high hopes for this committee. I believed CSAC would appreciate the urgency of deteriorating crosswalk safety and move forward promptly with recommendations. But nothing could be further from the truth. While CSAC has met monthly since the spring there has yet to be one recommendation put forward, with no indication as to when recommendations will be presented. When CSAC does eventually get around to recommending improvements, those recommendations will need the approval of the Transportation Standing Committee. Then the recommendations will need to come before city council and then, if approved by city council, will need to be implemented.

In the meantime, lots of other ideas have been suggested, including better pavement markings, crosswalk flags, advance warning signs, pedestrian caution signs, in-road signs, reflective tape on the crosswalk poles, a Crosswalk Safety Day, improved lighting, improved police enforcement and better education. A number of these initiatives are relatively inexpensive.

But rather than considering these options, assessing and prioritizing them and presenting recommendations, CSAC appears to be bogged down---discussing collision studies; reviewing laws and regulations relative to crosswalks/pedestrians; and receiving presentations on crossing guard programs. And that's just on CSAC's November agenda.

While these issues are important, I suggest getting on with actually doing something is much more important, particularly given the staggering 47 percent (as of writing this writing) increase from 2012 to 2013 year-to-date pedestrian accidents as reported by Halifax Regional Police. This over and above of the 22 percent increase in 2011-12.

Pedestrian safety is a shared responsibility---not only of drivers and pedestrians, both of whom need to be more attentive and aware of their surroundings when driving or walking, but also governments who need to provide the regulations, tools and funding for traffic departments; police who need to more actively enforce the Motor Vehicle Act; and traffic departments who must continually seek out improvements to make the roads and crosswalks safer.

The Crosswalk Safety Advisory Committee has the opportunity to do something positive, but they need to get on with it. CSAC is not limited to one report. The continuing increases in pedestrian incidents should provide incentive to CSAC to put a halt to ongoing research, consider the suggestions and options already on the table and move forward with a first action plan. I urge CSAC to prioritize how best to cost-effectively improve crosswalk safety in order to address the increasing number of residents being injured. And to do something, now!


Norm Collins is a crosswalk safety advocate who has actually attempted to improve crosswalk safety through a crosswalk flag program, recommended pedestrian caution signage and the website crosswalksafety.ca. He regularly tweets @CrosswalkSafety.

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