Thursday, January 3, 2019

How to design roads that reduce fatalities and serious injuries in Langley City

Yesterday, I posted about how motor vehicle collisions are a leading cause of preventable deaths and injuries in our province. When over 21,000 people, a mid-size city’s population, who use our road network are being injured each and every year, we can’t continue doing business as usual when it comes to the design of our road network.

Shared space for people walking, cycling, and driving in Gastown. Select image to enlarge.

In Sweden, they decided to change how they design their roads. They adopted Vision Zero in 1997 with the statement that “it can never be ethically acceptable that people are killed or seriously injured when moving within the road transportation system.”

There are three major principles of Vision Zero:

  1. The designers of the system are always ultimately responsible for the design, operation and use of the road transport system and thereby responsible for the level of safety within the entire system.
  2. Road users are responsible for following the rules for using the road transport system set by the system designers.
  3. If road users fail to obey these rules due to lack of knowledge, acceptance or ability, or if injuries occur, the system designers are required to take necessary further steps to counteract people being killed or seriously injured.

Vision Zero sets the following safe speed limits:

  • If people walking or cycling, and motor vehicles share the same space (including at intersections and crosswalks), the speed limit should not exceed 30km/h. The road design should encourage people to travel 30km/h or slower.
  • If there is a possibility of side impact between only motor vehicles at an intersection, the speed limit should not exceed 50km/h, and the road design should encourage people to travel at 50km/h or slower through the intersection.
  • If there is a possibility of frontal impact only between motor vehicles, the speed limit should not exceed 70km/h, and the road design should encourage people to not travel faster than 70km/h.

The only time that speeds can be faster than 70km/h would be when there is zero chance of side or frontal impacts between motor vehicles, and zero chance of impacting a person walking or cycling. This would be for limited-access freeways.

Langley City is responsible for the local road network in our community. What does Vision Zero look like for our community?

A good example of Vision Zero in action would be 203rd Street between Grade Crescent and the Langley Mall. The intersection at 203rd Street and 53rd Avenue is a roundabout. That roundabout encourages motor vehicle speeds of around 30km/h. This makes it safe for people driving, walking, and cycling. At crosswalks, the road is narrowed which encourages people to drive slower. People walking and cycling are also separated from motor vehicle traffic outside of intersections which is why the speed limit can be higher than 30km/h, and still be compatible with the principles of Vision Zero.

The Fraser Highway One-Way is another example of a road that follows the principles of Vision Zero as its speed limit and design results in people driving 30km/h or slower.

A safer crosswalk at 54th Avenue and 204th Street in Langley City. Select image to enlarge.

An example of a road in Langley City that doesn’t follow the principles of Vision Zero is 208th Street. While the posted speed limit is 50km/h, people exceed 50km/h regularly. People do not drive at 30km/h through intersections or at crosswalks. People cycling are not separated from motor vehicle traffic.

Could a road like 208th Street become a Vision Zero road? It could if certain design elements where implemented. The first would be to ensure that people cycling are separated from motor vehicle traffic (like on 203rd Street). Ideally, the intersections with traffic lights would be replaced with roundabouts. If that is not possible, the traffic lights could be set to allow people walking and cycling to start crossing the road while all other traffic has a red light. Before the crosswalks, design measures could be put in place to ensure that motor vehicle traffic is traveling at 30km/h while passing through the crosswalk area.

Due to its success in saving lives and reducing serious injuries, Vision Zero has been implemented in many places, and is slowly making its way into policies of cities, provinces, and states in North America. Our province has released a guide about moving towards Vision Zero which also includes some case studies from throughout the province.

While enforcement is an important component of Vision Zero, it is impossible to have universal traffic enforcement. If enforcement was all that was needed, we would not have 21,000 people being injured due to motor vehicles crashes in 2017. We need to design roads that naturally cause people to travel at safe speeds; this is the third principles of Vision Zero. If a road has a 50km/h speed limit, but has a traffic flow of 70km/h, the problem is with the road design, not enforcement.

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