No part of Calgary is immune to pedestrian versus car collisions.
They happen in every quadrant, on any type of street and in parking lots. Logically, most conflicts happen where the volume of both cars and foot traffic compete for space.
The dataset we’ve put together shows 337 locations where pedestrian-involved collisions occurred this year. There are very specific areas where the bulk of these collisions take place. This piece explores some of the inherent challenges where the conflicts happen most. We’ll also look at steps being taken to reduce these collisions.
The Calgary pedestrian collision data
We’ve mapped where all these conflicts have occurred in 2019. The data comes from the @YYCTransport Twitter account, via the @PedDownYYC Twitter account, which retweets these events. It’s also been cross-referenced, where possible, with the Calgary police data they provided on Calgary pedestrian collisions.
The @YYCTransport data has been plotted with all incidents up to Nov. 15, 2019. The Calgary Police data only went to end of July. It should be noted that in a January-to-July comparison, the Calgary police log substantially more conflicts than the @YYCTransport social media accounts because the latter is not monitored 24/7.
A quick analysis of the data shows the following, and, as mentioned, many conclusions are logical:
- The downtown area has the highest concentration of incidents
- Compared with the rest of the city, 36 Street NE has a high number of conflicts
- 17 Avenue SW has a high number of collisions, as does 16 Avenue NW
- The conflicts in residential areas aren’t happening on residential roads; they’re happening on the collector routes connecting them.
Things to note with the data: The Calgary police data does include parking lot incidents, but by our tally, those incidents make up a very small number of overall collisions.
Further, the people we spoke to said some of these areas are traditional problems and reflect City of Calgary internal data. Other areas appear quite random; in some cases, we were told an area that logs a collision may not have seen a collision there in several years, and may not see one again for several years.
The problem pedestrian areas – 36 Street NE
Tony Churchill, leader, traffic safety with the City of Calgary, said the data in our exercise reflects data similar to theirs. They’ve heat mapped it to show the prevalence of these pedestrian collisions and it shows problems in the downtown and along 36 Street NE. Some of this work was done as far back as 2012.
The 36 Street NE corridor has one major impediment unique to other roadways in the city: At-grade LRT service.
“It’s one that has the issues of the of the LRT there, and it makes the signal operations very complex,” Churchill said.
The issue there is with something called a “pre-empt,” Churchill said. It’s when a person would begin crossing and then a train approaches, triggering the gates and lights, leaving them on an island in the middle. When the train passed, instead of continuing with the signalling from where it was interrupted, the signalling software would start at the beginning again.
“It’s creating this kind of trap situation where the pedestrians aren’t provided that safe crossing across the rest of the way and so that creates a lot of issues in terms of disregard for signals frustration, lots of people running because they don’t want to get caught,” Churchill said.
“So, all kinds of undesirable behaviors.”
Churchill said they’re modernizing those call buttons and controllers to prevent the trap situations along 36 Street.
Other problems, such as the barriers around the LRT, turning left across two lanes of traffic with a potential sight impediment and not expecting or seeing pedestrians on the cross streets are also issues.
Downtown Calgary pedestrian collisions
Lots of traffic and lots of pedestrians, Churchill said. Still, the city is taking steps to improve safety downtown.
Crossing areas are getting improved lighting users, including one pilot they’ve tried where the lights project the crosswalk down on the roadway. Another small measure they city has taken is to put a thicker crosswalk material down in high traffic locations. With traffic volume and things like sanding material, many of these crosswalks had to be painted twice annually.
“We can actually put out some material that’s thicker so it will last five years instead of half a year, and so that’s hopefully going to make those crosswalks a little bit more visible during the winter,” Churchill said.
They’re changing signalling in some areas to restrict right turns on red lights and also to time the turn signals and pedestrian lamps to give pedestrians a head start in crossing.
In one location, at 5 Avenue and Macleod Trail, they’ve implemented a triple right turn at a high pedestrian collision location and changed the signalling to separate the pedestrian crossings but still allow a high volume of traffic to turn right.
Investigating Calgary pedestrian collisions
Sgt. Colin Foster of the Calgary Police Service Traffic Unit said investigation into these Calgary pedestrian collisions begins with physical evidence: tire marks, scuff marks from clothing andshoes and they compare the pedestrian injuries to the damage on the vehicle.
Foster said those often provide an indication of how fast a vehicle was travelling.
Speed is typically a factor in the resulting injuries, Foster said, but determining speed as a cause of the incident is often very difficult. Police determine whether the vehicle was travelling within the posted limit, Foster said.
Inattention – on the part of both pedestrians and drivers – is often the primary cause in these collisions, Foster said.
“A pedestrian steps into the roadway in a pedestrian crossing without checking to make sure vehicle are actually stopping for them, and vice versa. Drivers not paying attention, playing with cell phones, or whatever they may be,” Foster said.
He also said driver awareness in areas where pedestrians are expected, like downtown, plays a role. Once you’re outside the congested areas, however, speed does increase.
Churchill understands that often speed isn’t a determining factor because of the posted limit, but he said that if speeds were lower, both the driver and pedestrian have more time to react in potential conflict situations.
“Quite often those are described or pointed in an individual, in part because the purpose of the police reporting forms, in many parts, is to assign blame or fault or figure out who was responsible,” said Churchill.
“It’s very easy to point to an individual and say this person made the made the mistake, but the environment that we create does contribute to how likely it is that people are going to be making the most mistakes.”
Roadway design factoring into collisions
Foster said each time there’s a serious or fatal pedestrian collision they meet with the city roads department for review. Roadway design and the pedestrian corridor are examined. He said through that, the city decides if changes or modifications need to be made.
He said, in some areas, like 36 Street NE there are a lot of things that can potentially go wrong for pedestrians. There are locations that present both pedestrian and vehicle problems.
Churchill said it’s likely many things that contribute to these higher collision locations, including design, traffic controls, speeds, crossing apparatus and individual driver and pedestrian decisions.
“It’s a little bit more broad than just ‘what was the cause that’s reported,” Churchill said.
“Quite often, there’s an underlying story there that we can influence through environmental design, the design of the environment that people are operating.”
Improvement like rectangular rapid flashing beacons, or the Calgary-made temporary curb extensions are two ways they’re trying to improve these locations around Calgary, Churchill said. They’ve also been using the curb extensions as medians so they can erect another crosswalk sign to improve visibility at problem intersections.
Transit locations and increased collisions
Churchill acknowledged that one area they’re also aware of is in places where there’s a cluster of Calgary Transit stops. These are typically found along the collector routes in many Calgary communities. It’s a common factor in where many of the pedestrian collisions take place.
Churchill said these are locations where people may be more likely to make a mistake in deciding to cross a street.
“A big part of that is the time pressure as a transit rider, or even if you’re just trying to catch a ride with a friend, and they’re about to go, that definitely ups your focus ‘on I needed to make it over there,’” Churchill said.
“And so you may not be devoting the same degree of attention as you wish to doing that crossing activity safely.”
The city has examined areas where these Calgary pedestrian collisions occur and they’re trying to find the areas over-represented and applying curb extension. This not only provides a safer crossing location but slows drivers and makes them more aware someone may be crossing.
“There’s definitely site specific things that we can do to help reduce the risk of people making mistakes,” he said.
The reaction of the Calgary pedestrian community
Micheal Jones, administrator for the @PedDownYYC account (@Chealion), said the data does a good job at confirming what local residents are feeling.
“A walk with a resident in the area and they’ll be able to tell you where to take extra care crossing,” he said.
He said that it’s apparent that higher concentration of drivers and foot traffic leads to more incidents. What’s interesting to him is the number of incidents on collectors.
“These are the items in our local neighbourhoods that are similar right across the city,” Jones said.
“Whether it’s Acadia Drive, Temple Drive, Beddington Boulevard, or Somerset Drive, the collectors may be spread apart but have very similar designs.”
Greg Hart with Safer Calgary and Vision Zero YYC also identified the collector routes as a problem – and in areas with transit routes.
“Speed is a huge factor here, along with visibility (coming to the top of a hill in some cases and distracted by multiple crossings in short space like on 14 Street SW and Centre Street immediately north of 16th Ave),” Hart wrote in an email analysis.
“I have routinely measured speeds on these arterials above 80 km/h.”
Two things Hart adds are: While our rate of Calgary pedestrian collisions is even with other jurisdictions, Hart said the unfriendly walking design makes the volume of pedestrians lower than other cities. If there were more people walking, he said we’d have far more pedestrian incidents than other cities.
He also said what’s not captured in the data is the number of near misses or unreported incidents.
“You can be sure that the number of unreported incidents and near-hits are quite high in most of these locations as reportable incidents are usually just the tip of the iceberg that is visible,” Hart wrote.
Further solutions for the pedestrian collisions
Churchill said there are a variety of solutions to help fix the number of Calgary pedestrian collisions. They can change speeds, make crossing improvements, fix signals, include better paint on crosswalks and create curb extensions.
He said people often just don’t follow the rules that are there; speed, distraction, crossing signals, etc.
“There’s lots of reasons that they don’t, some of those are institutional, some of those are physical, some of those are social norms,” he said.
“But I guess those would all contribute to that one thing of people actually obeying or following the law or choosing to comply with those things.”
If there was one solution that would solve many of these collisions?
“If we can get everybody to just go along with the rules that we have, that would be fantastic.”