British Columbia

'We need to implement this everywhere': Is Vancouver dragging its heels on pedestrian safety?

A critic calls for the City of Vancouver to make alterations to the timing of traffic lights to give pedestrians a head start at crosswalks.

Critic calls for installation of LPIs, which give head start to pedestrians at crosswalks

An LPI was installed last year at the intersection of Pacifc and Thurlow streets. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC News)

If a city possessed a proven solution to a problem, it would be reasonable to expect they'd use it. 

However, that's not the case when it comes to a specific alteration made to the timing of lights at intersections in the City of Vancouver that can significantly improve pedestrian safety, according to retired Vancouver city planner Sandy James.

She says Leading Pedestrian Intervals [LPIs] are proven to lower the number of pedestrian and vehicle collisions at intersections, and she can't understand why the city doesn't implement them on a wider scale.

LPIs give pedestrians a head start 

There are currently four LPI intersections in Vancouver, one of which has been in the pilot stage since 2014.

"We need to implement this everywhere," said James, who is now the managing director of Walk Metro Vancouver.  

LPIs give pedestrians a three to seven second head start when entering an intersection. The vehicles' traffic signal stays red for a few extra seconds while pedestrians begin to cross.

The practice improves pedestrian visibility, and according to the City of Vancouver's website, "reinforces their right-of-way over turning vehicles."

Sandy James, managing director of Walk Metro Vancouver, says the city needs to install more LPIs at intersections to protect pedestrians. (Daniel Beauparlant/CBC News)

James says the delay is especially "curious" considering the city's 2040 plan, which states that pedestrians are supposed to be the No. 1 priority in the city, ahead of cyclists and vehicle traffic.

"The easiest way to do that is to give them priority on the street," James said. 

Statistics paint clear picture

In Vancouver, the statistics for pedestrian safety at intersections paint a clear picture.

According to the Transportation 2040 Plan, 75 per cent of pedestrian collisions occur at intersections, while a 2012 report said the most common driver action in pedestrian collisions was a left-turning movement.

In that same report, a suggested solution was installing LPIs. The first one was installed in 2014 at Burrard and Davie streets.

"We see close to a 17 to 20 per cent reduction in conflicts between pedestrians and motorists at that particular location," said Winston Chou, manager of traffic and data management with the City of Vancouver.

"It's proven itself to be an effective tool [in] reducing those conflicts." 

Winston Chou, manager of traffic and data management with the City of Vancouver, agrees that LPIs are effective, but says the city is taking a measured approach to implementing them. (Daniel Beauparlant/CBC News)

New York City has more than 2,000 LPIs

Last year, the city installed three more, for a total of four. Toronto currently has 80 LPIs, while New York has more than 2,000.

James believes implementing more LPIs could lower pedestrian collision fatalities by up to 60 per cent.

Chou says despite the positive results from the pilot, the city is taking a thorough approach when it comes to installing future LPIs.

"It is something that we want to look at in a sort of measured way and take the evidence-based approach," Chou said.

But James says, based on her 25 years of experience as a city planner in Vancouver, a five-year pilot is more than long enough.

"In the City of Vancouver, we've had, at times, almost one pedestrian a month dying," she said.

"It's happening at intersections and we need to do a better job in the city looking at that."

Police at the scene of a hit and run at Victoria Drive and Marine Drive where a woman was hit while using a crosswalk on Sunday, March 31, 2019. (Shane MacKichan)

Chou says LPIs are another tool in the city's kit but city staff are not going to rush the process. 

"We still want to take at least a year or two to make sure that it's working well and we're going to continue to operate in this way," he said. 

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