Tomorrow, Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee will look at a report from City staff that identifies the 100 worst intersections in Toronto and proposes quick-win measures to improve the worst 10 (full report here (PDF)).
The report is a response to a Global news story from 2011 that looked at the 100 most dangerous intersections for pedestrians by looking not at the pure volume of collisions, but at the proportion of pedestrians who were hit by vehicles. That way, it identified locations where something about the intersection design itself was causing problems, rather than just places where there were lots of pedestrians.
The City chose to use a blended methodology that takes both volume and proportion into consideration, and ended up with a different list. Some of the basic findings are similar, however — most of the intersections are in suburban areas, and many of them are places where most or all cars are turning rather than going straight.
In fact, 47% of pedestrian collisions in the worst 10 intersections were vehicles turning left into pedestrians crossing with the right-of-way (compared to 39% for all intersections). Overall, at least 70% of the pedestrians hit were crossing with the right-of-way.
The report looks closely only at the worst 10 intersections, where it proposes implementing some quick-win solutions that don’t need expensive reconstruction. These include better road markings and zebra stripes, better signage, and giving pedestrians more time to cross.
Two ideas stand out as potential improvements to city policies:
- Making the pedestrian signal always change along with the green light. Some of the worst intersections have what is called “Semi-Actuated “Type 2” (SA2)” signals, which means that the light can turn green but the pedestrian signal stays red unless you’ve pushed the button. This causes confusion and often means pedestrians hesitate, then cross when they don’t have enough time. The City uses these far too much – they should only be used on rare occasions.
- Wider use of “Leading Pedestrian Intervals” (LPI), where the pedestrian signal changes to “walk” a few seconds before the traffic light turns green. This gives pedestrians time to get out into the crosswalk, becoming more visible to cars and also clearing the intersection faster. It’s particularly valuable in reducing left-turn conflicts, which as we’ve seen are the biggest problem. LPIs are not useful everywhere, but they make a difference specifically at T-junctions — where all vehicles are turning — which both reports found were disproportionately represented in the worst intersections.
The report proposes to extend the findings from the worst 10 intersections to provide simple improvements for the next 90. It also proposes to integrate a pedestrian safety audit into all intersection reconstructions, which could make a big difference over time to pedestrian safety. As always with the City of Toronto, the question will be whether these good intentions are in fact implemented over time.
We often focus on people’s behaviour (as drivers and pedestrians) as a cause of collisions, but the report shows that the underlying infrastructure can also have an impact. People respond to the cues from their environment, and a badly designed intersection creates more accidents. It took a news media report to prompt them, but it’s good to see the City take a look at how to improve the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians.