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Walkability Fail at Aberdeen and Dundurn

Posted June 04, 2011

It was a sad day the day our local Timmies closed. Suddenly our neighbourhood meeting-place was gone. A condo tower will soon take its place and presumably lots of changes will come to the layout of this southwest corner of Dundurn and Aberdeen Avenues.

It seems timely to point out how treacherous this crossing is, even during the narrow window when there is a crossing guard in place to help children cross safely.

The problem can be summed up by watching several full cycles of lights. The east and westbound traffic directions are separated in the light cycle, so that east and west are each given a section of the cycle as the sole direction of traffic with a green light.

The result is that the east/west (largely vehicular) traffic gets twice the time to cross the intersection.

Most pedestrians at the intersection are trying to cross Aberdeen, traveling either north or south. The green light for north/south traffic lasts just seven seconds. This is the entire length of time given for all pedestrians to cross north/south and the only time allowed for all vehicles and bicycles to cross or safely turn down Aberdeen from Dundurn.

That's a lot of foot traffic, and on a corner which houses a retirement residence, it seems frankly cruel to expect the very old, the very young and, well, anybody, to have to run to get across in such a brief amount of time.

Car drivers are feeling the pressure to get out of the (very narrow) intersection, truck drivers are often trying to turn impossibly long trailers around the corner, and all these things pressure the pedestrian.

My neighbour, a very healthy independent senior, was hit by a car while trying to cross Aberdeen at this intersection close to two years ago. He was crossing from the Big Bear corner (southeast) to the Dell Pharmacy corner (northeast) and he was thrown up and over the car, landing on the sidewalk.

As if that weren't bad enough, the motorcycle policeman who responded to the accident call was himself hit, while attending to my neighbour, who was now lying on the sidewalk.

Lots has been done around other areas of the city with a large volume of pedestrian traffic, for example, in the areas around McMaster and Jackson Square. I think the intersection at Aberdeen and Dundurn needs a complete re-think in a similar manner.

There needs to be a much wider sidewalk around all four corners. A safe standing area needs to be created at the southwest and northwest corners (there is already some room on the northeast and southeast corners) and the timing of the light cycles needs to be altered to allow more time for crossing in the north/south directions.

A related matter is the speed of traffic on Aberdeen. It must be slowed down. Many drivers have either just come off the highway or are heading out onto it. In their minds, they're either still there or they're already there.

If we could have some of that textured road surface you get at the sides of the highway that makes a noise when you drive on it, it might alert drivers to look around. A carefully placed sign (speed limit, an "entering a residential neighbouhood" or some other kind of sign) politely asking for slow, attentive driving would remind motorists that people are trying to walk around there neighbourhood.

Studies in Australia and Britain have shown that if you slow traffic down you increase people's chances of survival if stuck by a vehicle. This quote is from a US literature review:

It was estimated that only 5 percent of pedestrians would die when struck by a vehicle traveling at 20 miles per hour or less. This compares with fatality rates of 40, 80, and nearly 100 percent for striking speeds of 30, 40, and 50 miles per hour or more respectively. Reductions in vehicle travel speeds can be achieved through lowered speed limits, police enforcement of speed limits, and associated public information. More long-lasting speed reductions in neighborhoods where vehicles and pedestrians commonly share the roadway can be achieved through engineering approaches generally known as traffic calming. Countermeasures include road humps, roundabouts, other horizontal traffic deflections (e.g., chicanes), and increased use of stop signs. Comprehensive community-based speed reduction programs, combining public information and education, enforcement, and roadway engineering, are recommended.

Vehicle Speed (miles/hr) Vehicle Speed (km/hr) Likelihood of pedestrian death on impact
20 32 5%
30 48 40%
40 64 80%
50 80 Nearly 100%
60 97 Nearly 100%

Adapted from Literature Review on Vehicle Travel Speeds and Pedestrian Injuries

So slowing down from 50 to 30 kilometres per hour reduces the risk of killing someone if you hit them with your car by 35%.

Most of us who drive don't think about hitting someone with our car, of course, but there are near misses at the intersection I'm talking about every single day. Though the speed limit along Aberdeen Avenue is 50 km/h, most cars are travelling along at speeds well in excess of 64 km/hr (the speed at which there is an 80% likelihood of a pedestrian death resulting from a car impact).

I'm not advocating saintly behaviour, just respectful behaviour. I like driving fast too, especially on the highway where there are no parked cars, no pedestrians, no school crossings and no old folks' homes to keep my eye out for. But Aberdeen Avenue is not the place to "gun it" and when we're walking, we need to be allowed more time to get across the street. There is a tendency on the part of people with a gas pedal underfoot to forget that!

It would make a huge difference to the walkability of this neighbourhood if this intersection could be altered. Lengthening the crossing time for north-south traffic, or even creating a pedestrian only section of the light cycle would be the first step, and presumably easy to implement.

In the very near future when the city has to replace the pole which was taken out by a transport truck just before the recent long weekend, I hope the size of the hard standing is surveyed. When the condo tower goes in I really hope a full re-think takes place and the bus stop and waiting pedestrians are kept in mind.

Further information on the relationship between killing speed and saving lives can be found through the sources listed on this page.

This article was written by Yvonne Woodley.

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