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How Calgary crosswalks are reviewed for safety upgrades

When a Calgary crosswalk is put into the spotlight after a pedestrian collision or a near miss, there are often calls for upgrades to the crossing.

Earlier this week, Calgary MLA Craig Coolahan videoed his walk across 14 Street NW at 21 Avenue with several vehicles “zipping” by while he, another adult male and his four-year-old son crossed on their way to preschool.

“In this particular crosswalk, there needs to be lights. Flashing lights. Certainly, I think it would make it safer,” Coolahan told LiveWire Calgary.

It’s a common response to these situations from area citizens. That particular intersection will be reviewed in 2019, the city said, for possible pedestrian upgrades.

So, when the city says “review”, what does that mean?

Tony Churchill, Traffic Safety lead for the City of Calgary, said they began implementation of an new review system last year, based on updated information from the Transportation Association of Canada’s (TAC) Pedestrian Crossing Control Guide (third edition, Oct. 2017).

It’s worth describing the old review system to contrast with the new one as there are some obvious differences.


The old warrant system used by the City had five main criteria considered in the calculation. (Warrant is the term used to describe if a crossing upgrade is warranted.)

  • Pedestrian / Vehicle warrant: This is the volume of pedestrians and the volume of vehicles.  Adjustments were made based on vehicle speed and observed pedestrian age.
  • Facility type warrant: This took into account two things – number of lanes and if there’s a median. “This one’s strongly focused on the geometry of the crossing,” Churchill said.
  • Distance warrant: How far a pedestrian would have to go to reach the next crossing system.

Churchill said in Coolahan’s case there was a set of lights 80 metres away at 20 Avenue NW. Coolahan said that it becomes a challenge, especially during winter, to trek with children down to the lights, especially if one has a stroller.

“Then don’t put a crosswalk there,” Coolahan said of the location where he crossed.

“You either have one, or you don’t. And if you have one, you make it safe.”

  • Preventable accidents warrant (still using accident terminology, while city uses “collisions,” Churchill said): This takes into account the number of collisions involving pedestrians that have occurred in the past two years. This category does not consider severity of injury or potential death.
  • Visibility warrant: This factor looks at stopping sight distance, or the available distance that a driver can see a pedestrian intends to cross. Also taken into account is the grade of the road and the ability of the drivers to stop their vehicles.

Each of these areas was given a numerical score based on performance in these areas. That score was then combined for an overall score. Churchill said crossings that scored above 64 were reviewed annually for changes and if the score was above 80, they would be recommended for an overhead light system.

RELATED: VIDEO Cars ignore Calgary student’s attempts to cross residential road


Rather than a numerical scoring system, the new system acts as a matrix. You start at factor 1, add in factors 2 and 3 and it takes you through a grid that provides the appropriate crossing treatment for those areas.

  1. Number of vehicles and pedestrians
  2. Speed limit
  3. Geometry – number of lanes and directions of lanes

“By taking out the distance warrant, the visibility warrant and the preventable accidents warrant, you basically have a more proactive tool which is saying, just based on how this system operates, this is the type of treatment that would be appropriate for that type of a corridor,” said Churchill.

He noted that by removing the additional factors that narrow down potential treatment spots, you are able to create a more consistent application, thereby creating a more uniform driver response along a corridor – like 14 Street NW, he said.

Pedestrian collisions aren’t totally erased from the equation though, Churchill said. They collect that data already and they’ll use it to prioritize certain locations that may grade out with the same treatment on the new crosswalk review matrix.

“If they have a larger historical incident rate, we’d want to do those ones first,” he said.

The new system also allows them to apply this to new communities, because they have much of the data on design and the proposed speed limit already. They use forecast models to predict vehicles and pedestrian traffic in the area and apply it to the grid

“This does give us a tool that’s more proactive. Without doing it as a response request,” Churchill said.

The new system also includes the use of rectangular rapid flash beacons as a crossing application, and the city already has more than 130 locations where they are in use.