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Paths for People

Matthew Dance

Yesterday Paths for People launched a policy campaign in Edmonton asking for a redesign and rethink of Edmonton's transportation infrastructure.  Here is my take (disclosure - conflict of interest - I know the folks behind Paths for People, and participated in obtaining collision data their underpinning the map - coded by @geodarcy - and thus their policy suggestions - you can read about my role here).

Paths for People state that:

Paths for People believes in the power of urban design to encourage and facilitate people getting around the city in healthy ways. We believe that a grid of high-quality active transportation corridors in Edmonton (routes that make biking and walking safe and comfortable) will increase quality of life for residents, and get many more people outside enjoying the city.

This statement is telling as I think it identifies their goals clearly - urban design, active transportation, and thus increasing the quality of life for residents of Edmonton. This is smart and upbeat.  They also released a map that shows two main (and interesting) pieces of data - where people get hit by cars, and the percentage of people who commute by walking or biking per neighborhood. 

Screen capture of the Bike for People collision map.

Screen capture of the Bike for People collision map.

Sometimes accepted policy and design just doesn't work. You know that based on your experience with apps on your phone or that preverbal VCR with the time blinking 12:00. You just don't find them - the apps or VCR-  easy and intuitive to use. Like the VCR, our streets are designed based on policy and practice. If you were to look for data indicating areas of poor design on our road network,  I would suggest that those areas are defined by accidents which waste both time and money, and may injure or kill someone. If you see more accidents in one spot, compared to others, those are hotspots of poor design - the 12:00 blinking on your VCR.

What is it about those locations that are causing a disproportionate amount of accidents?  This is not about any one accident, or poor driving, this is about poor design.  For instance, is there an obstructed field of view for drivers or pedestrians? Perhaps a bottleneck putting too many cars, bikes and walkers in one place? I don't know. I am not a design expert. That does not mean the question in invalid.

Paths for People are stating another policy option - 30km/hr residential (not arterial) speed limits.  We already see this speed limit in Edmonton's school zones, and the city has a number of neighbourhoods with a 40 limit. 30km/hr is not a random number, but rather one based on what the pedestrian safety data indicates (see an interesting Wikipedia article here). In addition to being safer, a speed limit of 30 makes roads friendlier - these public spaces can then be used by the public for cycling, running, whatever. I know my back goes up when my kids are playing out front and a car zooms by. I am less anxious when cars slow down recognizing the off chance that my kids may do something stupid and run out on the road.

I don't have answers. But I do appreciate Paths for People opening a policy based discussion with the citizens of Edmonton that has been respectful (check out the comment section on this Edmonton Journal article) and needed (and based on data!). We don't need to live with poorly designed streets, we just have to demand better.