Toronto Public Health published a report this week analyzing the police statistics for collisions where vehicles hit pedestrians and cyclists, Pedestrian and Cycling Safety in Toronto (PDF).
The report counters some common myths that are heard whenever vehicle-on-pedestrian collisions are reported in the news. The first reaction, from police and the public, is often that pedestrians are always jaywalking, so their own behaviour is the cause of the problem.
However, the report’s analysis of the statistics (Table 18, p. 27) shows that, in 67% of cases, pedestrians had the right of way when they were hit by a vehicle. Only 19% of the time were the pedestrians crossing without the right of way, and the other 14% cannot be determined.
Another common reaction is that pedestrians are hit because they’re texting or on the phone or otherwise not paying attention. But the report’s analysis shows that pedestrians were inattentive in some way only 13% of the time (p. 30-31).
In other words, most pedestrians are hit while they are obeying the law, and paying attention to their surroundings, but a vehicle comes at them in a way they can’t possibly see, predict or avoid. It is time to stop the knee-jerk blaming of the victim whenever pedestrians are hit.
The report’s detailed analysis does identify one type of pedestrian who is disproportionately likely to be taking risks or not paying attention when hit — young people (children and youth up to age 19). Even then, it is only a minority. However, this finding suggests the value of integrating walking safety into the curriculum of Toronto school boards, something that is long overdue.
The report uses the same type of police report statistics as the City Transportation Department’s old Pedestrian Collision Study (PDF), but although it is more concise, it goes into some in-depth analysis that the old study failed to do. Notably, it analyzes collisions by the type and speed of the road on which they happened (p. 19-21). As has long been suspected, the faster the road, the more likely pedestrians will be killed or injured there. Roads at 60 km/hr were responsible for 57% of deaths and 54% of injuries. Those at 50 km/hr were responsible for 33% of deaths and 34% of injuries. Between them, major arterial roads (which most often have these speeds) were responsible for 67% of collisions despite taking up only about 14% of the road network. The number of injuries and deaths was much lower on 40 km/hr roads.
Equally notable was that less than 1% of injuries, and no deaths, happened on streets signed at 30 km/hr. It’s that kind of statistic that led Toronto and East York Community Council (TEYCC) to pass a decision this week to lower the speeds on all local streets (over which the community council has jurisdiction, unlike arterials) to 30 km/hr from 40 km/hr (or sometimes 50 km/hr).
Staff argued that only a small proportion of collisions or injuries happen on local roads. However, the statistics in the staff report (PDF), which go into even more detail than the Toronto Public Health report, showed just what a difference those 10 km/hr in speed can make. In the Toronto-East York district, there are currently 152.1 km of local streets signed at 30 km/hr, and 387.1 km of local streets signed at 40 km/hr (p. 8), or 2.5 times as much. On the 30 km/hr streets, over the 5 years 2009-2013, there were 28 collisions causing injury, and no deaths (Table 8, p. 7). On the 40 km/hr streets in the same period, there were 475 collisions causing injuries and 2 deaths — that’s 17 times as many collisions on only 2.5 as many kilometres of local streets.
Not surprisingly, the Toronto Public Health report’s recommendations reiterate its previous call to reduce local street speed limits to 30 km/hr throughout the city, and reduce the default speed limit to 40 km/hr for arterial roads. It also calls for infrastructure changes to calm traffic, and awareness and education campaigns for all road users.
Image from City of Toronto “We’re all pedestrians” safety campaign, 2005.