British Columbia

Pedestrian safety: How engineering, planning can help

"We don't need rocket science," says a U.S.-based traffic engineer. "There are many simple things that could be done, and should be done, to keep people from being hit by cars."

Woman struck on Nov. 4 marks ninth pedestrian death this year in Vancouver

There have been nine pedestrian deaths in Vancouver so far this year. (The Canadian Press)

Proper planning can have "a tremendous impact on pedestrian safety," according to a U.S. based transportation engineer.

Richard Retting spoke to On the Coast after an 18-year-old woman and her 20-year-old boyfriend stepped into an intersection in Vancouver and were struck by a car on the evening of Nov. 4.

The young woman died of her injuries, making her the ninth pedestrian to die in Vancouver this year.

"In this field we don't need rocket science," said Retting, who is currently based in Washington, D.C., where he is the general manager of traffic safety for the engineering firm Sam Schwartz.

"There are many simple things that could be done, and should be done, to keep people from being hit by cars."

Reducing speeds, increasing lighting

Retting said traffic speeds have to be reduced in areas where there are many people crossing a road, and said that steps must be taken to make pedestrians more visible.

(Getty Images)

"Street lighting is highly effective and has a very significant effect on reducing pedestrian fatalities — almost more than anything else we can do," he said.

He also said that many roads are more wide than they need to be. In the United States, Retting said, that was because they were designed in the 1940s and 50s to accommodate the width of a tank.

"We know that the wider the lanes are, the faster drivers travel."

He added that a centre median or refuge island on two-way streets are one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of a collision with a pedestrian.

Speed cameras, distracted driving

Retting said that speed cameras, widely used in Canada — though no longer in B.C. — have had a "profound" effect on traffic speed.

"We have seen a reduction in speeding of over 90 per cent where speed cameras are installed."


He said these cameras, as well as physical traffic calming methods, could be solutions to drivers speeding down arterial roads and one-way streets in Vancouver.

Retting also said that though distracted driving is part of the problem, it is only one of many factors that affect the safety of pedestrians and drivers.

"Driver distraction has been around as long as there have been cars, and as long as there have been drivers," he said.

"If it wasn't a cell phone 20 years ago it was looking at a map ... so driver distraction is a serious perennial issue. The solution for that, quite honestly, is highly visible, aggressive, consistent traffic enforcement."

​To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: U.S. transportation engineer explains how design can make streets safer for pedestrians