Edmonton not taking pedestrian deaths seriously, doctor says

A critical care doctor in Edmonton says he sees little evidence the city is taking pedestrian fatalities seriously.

'I really wish our councillors could see what the families go through,' Dr. Darren Markland says

A 49-year-old woman died after being struck by a cement truck in downtown Edmonton in January. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

A critical care doctor in Edmonton say he sees little evidence the city is taking pedestrian fatalities seriously.

"There's not enough information and data out there to prove to me anything is being done," said.Dr. Darren Markland, a critical care doctor at the Royal Alexandra Hospital..

Last weekend Markland tweeted about one of the city's recent victims.

His comments Tuesday also came as Edmonton police confirmed a 55-year-old man had become the city's eighth traffic fatality and the third pedestrian death this year. 

Markland is especially frustrated by the city's adoption last year of Vision Zero, a long-term strategy aimed at zero fatalities and zero major injuries on city roads.

"It's lip service right now," he said. "I haven't seen anything yet. I may be early, but from where I sit the bodies keep rolling in." 

It's lip service right now. From where I sit, the bodies keep rolling in.- Dr. Darren Markland

Edmonton accepts pedestrians will get hurt or die on city streets as a trade off for moving traffic conveniently, he said.

"We've normalized this. We've decided it's OK that people die crossing the street.

And that's our first mistake."
Dr. Darren Markland is a critical care physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. (Twitter)

The hard question, Markland says,  is how did the city get this way?

"It's because of convenience," he said. "We're a sprawling city. We're opening up more subdivisions further away with no transit and we make people dependent on driving."

Surprisingly, Markland does not blame drivers.

"People just want to get where they're going," he said. "You can't drive in a city designed only for cars and not have these accidents. The onus is to change the design of the city."

What's shocking, Markland said, is that other cities with similar climates, traffic density and population have found solutions.

"They've done it at the inconvenience of motorized traffic," he added.

A couple of simple solutions is to program a pedestrian-only phase into traffic lights at problematic intersections or give pedestrians six seconds lead time so that drivers can see them in the intersection.

After that, he says, the solutions get more expensive, such as redesigning intersections and vehicles.

"You take away those 'protection'  bars on SUVs which cause a lot of trauma," he said. "You make hoods softer and sloped, so if pedestrians are hit they don't have a second injury when they hit the hard concrete. They stay on the hood."

Markland said if he could reveal to lawmakers the human cost, maybe, just maybe, true change could begin.

"I see young people who are productive," he said. "I see them in the unit for a very long time when they come in for a head injury. During that time I see the families and I watch the agony that happens.

"I really wish our councillors could see what the families go through in the months that these patients stay in hospital, and they can stay in hospital and subsequently rehabilitation for up to a year.

Even if victims do well "that means not going to a nursing home when we're done with them and not having to be fed with tubes into their stomach," Markland said. Still, the consequences are life changing and include short-term memory loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and unemployability, he noted.

The worst, of course, is when the hardest of decisions must be made.

"You see people's heartbreak and you watch people struggle. The worst part is that you watch the families break up when there's disagreement about where to go on this.

"When they finally decide the doctors are making sense and my son or daughter wouldn't want this ….  and we take the tubes out, we take them off the breathing machines, we stop all the things that we're doing, patients with head injuries just don't die. They wither."

And it's then loved ones see the victims without the tubes and start to think of them as who they are, almost like they are sleeping.

"You just watch people shrink. And at that time it's hard," he said.

"If I could just show this to council, maybe they would actually put something forward," he added. "At least make it transparent so I can see they're working on it."


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