Pilot project improves safety in downtown intersections

The City of Ottawa has released the results of its Pedestrian Safety Evaluation Program, a three-year pilot project aimed at preventing injuries or death among pedestrians.

The program focused on improving conditions at over 20 “high-risk” intersections in the city, including an area of Centretown, encompassing Bronson, Laurier and Arlington avenues.

A report, presented to the Transportation Committee on Dec. 4, states between 2008 and 2012 there were over 1,800 collisions in Ottawa involving pedestrians, with 66 per cent occurring at intersections. To reduce the number of such incidents, council approved the pilot-project to implement safety measures throughout the city.

In Centretown, 15 intersections saw improvements. Some changes included installing pedestrian-crossing countdowns, adding audible signals, including coloured concrete around crosswalks, adjusting curb lines to reduce crossing distances and create a traffic-calming effect, providing additional pedestrian “refuge” areas and reducing the speeds vehicles can turn onto and from Bronson Avenue.

Phil Landry, head of the city’s traffic management and operational support branch, says the pilot program is considered a success because “it provides an opportunity for residents to raise issues with the existing conditions of a particular location and ensures any potential opportunity to reduce pedestrian risk factors are taken into consideration.”

Landry says measuring the effectiveness of improvements can be challenging because “collisions involving pedestrians are relatively rare so it’s not always possible to evaluate whether the modifications have resulted in a measurable improvement, in the short term”. In the meantime, Landry says, his department continues to “collect feedback from pedestrian users to try to determine which measures are more effective at making pedestrians feel safer and more secure”.

Centretown has a high volume of pedestrian traffic, increasing the need for new safety measures. Recently, on Oct. 30, a driver in a Mini Cooper at Bank Street and Laurier Avenue struck a pedestrian. The driver was later charged with dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon.

Robert Dekker, co-chair of the planning committee for the Centretown Citizens Community Association, says the organization has noticed improvements but is still looking ahead to more changes.

“Our concern is whether they’re accommodating everyone who is using sidewalks,” he says. “You know, the Centretown population is aging so that means more people will have to use assisted devices such as walkers, scooters, or wheelchairs or even canes. We would hope the city is providing sidewalks that are wider moving forward.”

The Pedestrian Safety Evaluation Program states that it “currently receives no funding” so not all busy intersections in the city could be improved upon. It states that “the projects are selected based upon planned construction schedules and the program depends on planned roadway reconstruction funding to implement the measures.”

Michael Powell, president of the Dalhousie Community Association, says keeping pedestrians safe is something the city struggles with.

“The city puts a lot of focus on road construction and maintenance, but it is not proportionate with what they put into sidewalks and pedestrian safety.”

Powell also agrees with Dekker that the pilot project has been a good start, but there is still much to improve upon.

“In the winter, too, half the time there are (narrowed) curbs from the snow, which make it difficult to get across. The countdown timers help, and I’ve noticed lights have been added, but there has to be greater recognition that in an urban area many people get by on foot and more improvements have to happen.”

The program report states the public works department will be requesting additional funding in upcoming budgets so stand-alone locations can see improvements and the program will not have to rely on previously planned construction schedules.

However, it also notes if funding is not directly granted to the safety-enhancement program, the city will continue to make improvements in connection to “capital rehabilitation projects.”