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Markham committee wants city to eliminate pedestrian, cyclist deaths

Vision Zero goal is to make the city completely safe for those who don't drive
April 16, 2019
Tim Kelly

Markham cycling and walking advocate Elisabeth Tan has a vision for Markham and that vision is zero.

As in zero deaths or serious injuries per year from vehicles striking pedestrians and cyclists.

And if Tan sees her vision come to fruition in the future, Markham will become a safer place for those who get around the growing metropolis without the use of motorized vehicles.

“Edmonton is the first city in Canada that adopted Vision Zero,” said Tan who points out that three years after the large Alberta city adopted the plan, there was a 41 per cent decline in fatalities and serious injuries for pedestrians and cyclists.

“That is a huge number,” said Tan.

While Tan, who is a member of the Markham Cycling and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (CPAC), is a big booster of Vision Zero, which was discussed late last month at Markham’s development services committee, Ward 1 Coun. Keith Irish is less convinced of its merits.

Irish pointed to recent data presented by City staff that show serious injuries and deaths on a slight downward trend over the past few years as a reason to question whether pursuing Vision Zero was necessary.

“The data does not support your argument,” Irish argued, as staff reported that 20 to 25 per cent of all reported collisions have resulted in injury but show that slight downward trend.

The argument Irish made was that the case for Vision Zero is hard to make given the data on fatal collisions between pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles appears to be lessening year over year.

“It seems a little premature to me, like a solution in search of a problem,” he said in an interview.

In spite of the councillor’s concerns, council has approved $180,000 for a traffic consultant to study the safety of Markham’s road system and report back to staff.
Irish said he believes “zero is unachievable; I think it’s a lofty goal, but I don’t think it’s realistic.

“At the end of the day we can’t legislate against stupidity. People are still going to drive fast in school zones, when they shouldn’t. And cyclists too, they’re going to cycle without helmets, they’re going to cycle too close to the road or into live traffic. It’s always going to be difficult and I don’t think it’s going to be achievable to get to zero,” he said.

Markham’s traffic safety strategy is built on a five pillar system involving: Education (speed-display boards, signage in school zones, social-media campaigns); Enforcement (York Regional Police targeting specific safety issues, ROAD WATCH reporting, on-street parking crackdowns); Engineering (All-way stops, traffic signals, pedestrian crossovers, roundabouts, lay-by parking bays, bike lanes, pedestrian accessibility, Sidewalk Network Completion Program, Engineering design guidelines); Encouragement (Supervised school crossings at 92 locations, partnerships with school boards to promote school travel initiatives, Events like Janes’ Walk, Markham Cycling Day, Bike to Work Day, Winter Walk Day); and Evaluation (City-wide traffic data collection to measure daily traffic volume, intersection volumes, vehicle speeds and collisions. Data collected from 250 street segments and 80 intersections in 2018.)

The City is planning to do a traffic safety adult and road safety plan.

Even with the work of the consultant and if the work forges ahead, Vision Zero implementation, if it comes, is years into the future. Traffic safety data won't be fully available for more than a year and Vision Zero is more than two to three years away from becoming a reality if the city chooses to go in that direction at all.

Tan is hoping it happens sooner rather than later.

“Vision Zero is not just a fluffy philosophy,” she said.

“(Even though) severe injuries and fatalities are on the decline in Markham, some councillors are saying why do we have to do anything. People know it is something that is hard to reach, probably not attainable, but it is a good aspiration, no lives should be lost when there is a way to prevent it.”