There are a lot of excellent measures proposed in the new Road Safety Action Plan, and many will lead to safer transit on our streets for everyone. But it doesn't go far enough.
Earlier this week, the cityhref="https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/councillors-say-citys-goal-for-road-deaths-and-injuries-should-be-zero-not-a-reduction-of-20-per-cent" >unveiled its third Road Safety Action Plan, setting a goal of reducing by 20 per cent fatal and major injury collisions in Ottawa by 2024. What does that mean for you if you drive, cycle or walk anywhere in the city?
Well, if we look at the numbers between 2014 and 2018, 137 people died on our streets, including 61 drivers, 18 passengers, 19 people on motorcycles, seven cyclists and 32 pedestrians. And this does not include catastrophic and life-changing injuries.
The goal of the new plan accepts that 110 deaths over four years by 2024 is inevitable. That is not the bold shift we need in 2019.
There are a lot of excellent measures proposed in the Road Safety Action Plan and many will lead to safer transit on our streets for everyone. I look forward to working with staff to see these measures implemented. However, accepting that road deaths are inevitable is where it doesn’t go far enough.
The main tenet of what is known as “Vision Zero” is that all traffic deaths are preventable – and we must only have zero as an acceptable number. Does this mean zero deaths will occur in the near term? Not likely. We have decades of poor road design and road culture to undo. But we have to begin by accepting and acknowledging that our public space (in this case streets) belongs equally to all of us. Then we have to ask ourselves: How far are we willing to go to ensure that we all have safe ways to travel around our neighbourhoods and our city?
I often hear from residents that cyclists break the rules of the road and therefore do not deserve the space we’ve allotted them. If we are honest, we know that everyone – including cyclists, pedestrians and drivers – break the rules at about the same rate, although the consequences to others is not equal. However, Vision Zero is not about blame. Attaching blame only allows us to continue to do too little to stop the carnage.
As a policy, Vision Zero considers all traffic fatalities as preventable; notes that people make mistakes but those mistakes should not result in death or catastrophic injury. When I sent my 12-year-old to school this morning, I trusted that she would do her best to obey traffic rules, but if she makes a mistake I want her home tonight. We all feel the same way about the people we love.
Whether you set out on your day today as a driver, a pedestrian, someone who uses a wheelchair, or a cyclist (and many of us are interchangeable here), you should be able to travel within the proper infrastructure that allows for some mistakes without risking death or injury to yourself or others.
Our residential streets must be designed for operating speeds of no more than 30 kilometres an hour (something the staff recommendations aim for); sidewalks should be wide and intersections complete so that pedestrians have safe travel; and cycling lanes must be well segregated – to point out the most obvious measures.
The city will grow by another 400,000 residents by 2046. Congestion will only get worse unless we greatly reduce our reliance on the car. Key to this will be making streets safe for vulnerable users.
The City of Ottawa has moved the marker on many fronts in building safer streets. But we cannot be content with any goal except zero. So let’s all start by slowing down, giving pedestrians and cyclists the space they need, respecting each other on our streets and aiming for zero.
The people you love will thank you.
Catherine McKenney, the city councillor for Somerset Ward, is a long-time supporter of the safety principles of Vision Zero.