Take steps to protect pedestrians, all road users: advocates

City urged to boost street safety


THE high number of pedestrians killed by vehicles in Winnipeg last year highlights the need for a greater commitment to safe streets, including better sidewalk and bike lane snow clearing, advocates say.

Twelve pedestrians had been killed on city streets in 2022, compared to six in 2021, according to data from Winnipeg Police Service and Manitoba Public Insurance.

The number of people who had been injured was not available, an MPI spokesperson said.

Ian Walker, chairman of Safe Speeds Winnipeg, said while deaths are the worst outcome, injuries caused to pedestrians struck by vehicles can have life-altering consequences.

“We don’t hear about (injuries)… they happen so frequently that a lot of people accept it as a cost of modern transportation,” Walker said.

He recalls helping his then-80-year-old neighbour after she was struck by a vehicle while crossing the intersection at Tache Avenue and Marion Street.

“It forever changed her life,” Walker said. “She broke her hip and she went from being this vibrant 80-year-old to someone who was housebound… She just never regained her mobility, which was terrible. It took away from her quality of life.”

Walker added there are many steps the City of Winnipeg could take to bolster safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

On his 2023 wish list, he’d like to see the city commit to the Vision Zero safer streets strategy that’s popular in Europe.

The goal is to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries. It involves redesigning roads to ensure driver’s mistakes do not cost lives or injuries, ensuring speed limits are at safe levels, and collecting and analyzing data to understand how different populations are disproportionately affected.

Walker emphasized smaller steps can be taken immediately to improve safety, such as putting a priority on sidewalk and bike lane clearing.

When that doesn’t happen, pedestrians are pushed onto roads that are not designed for them, he said.

Walker referenced a recent Free Press column that detailed the plight of a man in a wheelchair forced to use the street because the sidewalk was covered in snow.

“Those kinds of images are just heartbreaking,” Walker said.

Winnipeg public works spokeswoman Julie Dooley said in an email pedestrian safety “is absolutely a priority” for the municipal government.

She pointed to the council-approved road safety action plan “designed to set the direction and pace of Winnipeg’s road safety investments over the next five years and identifies actions that will help the city meet its road safety goal of achieving a 20 per cent reduction in fatal and serious injury collisions by 2026.”

Dooley said the plan is based on the Vision Zero concept, which recognizes road safety is a shared responsibility and improvement requires a team effort by road designers, vehicle manufacturers, policy makers, enforcement agencies, families, workplaces and schools.

Christian Sweryda, a Winnipeg researcher who independently analyzes city traffic data, says there’s a lack of data about traffic incidents in general. He’s critical of knee-jerk responses from safer streets advocates following a crash. For example, the call to lower the speed limit.

Sweryda said while such steps can minimize the severity of a collision, other factors could prevent crashes altogether. He listed better designed roadways, improved eye-level lighting at crosswalks, speed limits appropriate for the area, longer yellow lights, and enforcement that targets dangerous drivers.

Decisions should be backed up by data and evidence, he said.

He questions if the pedestrian-cyclist-driver divisions prevent the public from seeing practical solutions.

“The bigger problem we see is that interests of road users are not united,” Sweryda said. “It’s become an ideological bottomless pit really.

“It is convenient to blame the driver because then you can defer responsibility away from actually making changes to the engineering.”

His hope is evidence and data drive changes that boost safety, and all those who hold the relevant data — police, the city, and MPI among them — freely share what they know about how to improve safety for all road users.