Small steps for safety

Following in the footsteps of John Tory–the ever the forward-thinking, progressive mayor of Toronto–River Ward Councillor Riley Brockington is looking to find ways to control the costs of policing while also increasing street safety.  Brockington has moved that we formally ask the province to allow the city to use technology—such as photo radar—to deal with traffic infractions, thus freeing up police officers to worry about things like, well, crime.

It takes but a second of reflection and a scintilla of compassion to realize the wisdom of this idea, an idea we in Ottawa should gladly adopt. The city always preaches the Three Es of street safety: Education, Enforcement and Engineering. Here’s a perfect tool to help tackle enforcement (the benefits to the police force and city finances are just the proverbial cherry on top).

With that in mind, here are two more ways in which Ottawa could make the city a little safer and a little more walkable.

First, install raised intersections or crosswalks (meaning that the sidewalk won’t lower to meet the street at intersections, but will continue at the same height through the interscection). This, too, is a fairly straightforward safety measure. Raised intersections serve as speedbumps, one of the most effective traffic calming measures. Drivers will be less-able to whip around corners, cutting off pedestrians. Further, without those low curb cuts, they won’t be able to cut across the sidewalk while speeding through a turn.

Moreover, raised intersections are a signal to drivers that the intersection and the cross walk belong to pedestrians just as much, if not more so, than drivers. The current system of lowering the sidewalk to the roadway is a message that pedestrians are treading into the realm of cars. It tells them that they are second class to motorists and should be submissive to the whims of driving.

And it would address the problem of all the massive puddles that form at crosswalks when winter snow melts.

This should be standard procedure. When a street is being built or re-built, all intersections with crosswalks should be raised.

Next, let’s fix pedestrian lights. Eliminate beg buttons (lights that will only change if a pedestrian presses a little button). They’re ridiculous. Whenever a car gets a green light, pedestrians should get a walk sign. Further, lights should change regularly (and not just because pedestrians can’t always safely access beg buttons when snow clearing and salting isn’t done properly). Lights should change regularly to slow traffic, because slower traffic is safer. Lights should change regularly in order to remove the incentive for people to cross against the light.

Light timing shouldn’t be used to move cars as fast as possible through communities. It should be used to increase the safety and walkability of our city streets.

But if we decide we must use beg buttons, make them command buttons, instead. If the light is not on a regular cycle, pressing the button should make the light change immediately. None of this waiting a minute and a half, make it change right away. If there are too many pedestrians and that would unduly disrupt traffic, then there are too many pedestrians for a beg button.

There are other things we could do, but neither of these measures require drastic changes to our infrastructure. No lanes are narrowed or removed (even if they should be). No space is taken away from cars. Our streets are just made a little more welcome for all. That’s it.

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