Category Archives: safe systems

Open letter to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson in wake of the Westboro bus crash

On the evening of January 11, 2019 an OC Transpo bus crashed into a shelter. An  overhang tore through the upper deck of the bus, killing three passengers and maiming many more. This tragic incident had troubling similarities with the September 2013 incident, when a train tore off the front of an OC Transpo double decker. In both cases passengers were flung from the vehicle to the ground below.

On 14 Jan 2018 a number of us, including many families affected by the Humboldt Broncos bus catastrophe, penned this letter urging Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson to invite the Transportation Safety Board of Canada to aid local police with the investigations, and urging Transport Canada to take a serious interest in road safety. Continue reading

Some lessons for Saskatoon … and every Canadian city

Yet another Canadian city — Saskatoon, SK — is poised to adopt a road safety program that aims to eliminate death and serious injury on its streets. The city’s draft Vision Zero proposal is a welcome move that has garnered letters of support from the chief of police, the Saskatchewan Health Authority, Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools and Medavie Health Services West. As it stands the proposal is a a mixed bag, so this seems like a good time to take a close look, and to draw some lessons for the benefit of Saskatoon and other communities poised to take the Vision Zero leap.

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First, a little background. Yesterday I was approached by the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, and quoted as expressing my concern that no Canadian city was really grasping what I call the Vision Zero difference: Continue reading

Toronto needs real Vision Zero

Memorial near Kennedy Public School, Scarborough for 11-year-old Duncan Xu, who was fatally struck by a driver as he was walking home on Feb 27, 2018. (Photo : Jaren Kerr / Toronto Star)

What the Swedes call Vision Zero and the Dutch call Sustainable Safety is an evidence-based mobility paradigm that focuses on designing fail-safe streets. It is primarily about infrastructure improvements, but it also entails the regulation of vehicles and the setting of appropriate speed limits.

The Vision Zero paradigm is radically different from the old ‘Education, Enforcement and Engineering’ approach to road safety that still holds sway in North America, including cities like Toronto that are rebranding such programs as “Vision Zero.” A survey of traffic death and serious injury data indicates that a rigorous safe systems approach—real Vision Zero—is the only way to make our streets safe. Compared to Canada, Vision Zero countries like Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands have about half the road violence and many times the rates of active mobility for people of all ages and abilities.

It’s misleading to brand any education measures, and most if not all enforcement measures, as Vision Zero. Research over many decades has proven that educational campaigns—whether watch for cars or watch for kids, wear a helmet or don’t text and drive—rarely result in the desired behavioural change, and they certainly don’t protect us from reckless drivers. The city of Toronto could save money by dispensing with frivolities like ‘suggested speed’ signage, and focusing instead on fail-safe and evidence-based approaches to road safety. Continue reading

George Orwell on Traffic Safety

'Keep Death off the Road' campaign poster designed by William Little and issued by the Ministry of Transport, Great Britain, 1946.

William Little, ‘Keep Death off the Road’ poster issued by the Ministry of Transport, Great Britain, 1946.

Eric Arthur Blair (1903–1950), who used the pen name George Orwell, is one of the greatest English prose stylists and social justice critics of the 20th century. He is also an unsung hero of traffic safety advocacy.

After being declared unfit for passionately-desired military service during the Second World War, Orwell ultimately obtained war work with the BBC in 1941, supervising cultural broadcasts to India to counter Nazi propaganda.

Realizing that this well-meaning campaign was having little effect, he resigned in November 1943 to take up work as literary editor with the left-wing weekly Tribune. For the next three and a half years he would write a series of free-ranging columns under the title As I Please.

The 8 November 1946 column included reflections on a new propaganda effort—Britain’s Keep Death off the Roads campaign Continue reading