Calgary council considers how building roads for fire trucks might make the city more dangerous

Calgary has actually made some of its roads more dangerous to pedestrians with a design that is meant to make homes safer from fire, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday.

Mayor suggests everyday threats often get overshadowed by rarer risks

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city may have actually made communities more dangerous with wide-road designs meant to make fire truck access easier but that end up encouraging speeding, resulting in more serious collisions. (CBC)

Calgary has actually made some of its roads more dangerous to pedestrians with a design that is meant to make homes safer from fire, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday.

"For a long time, we have been ensuring that the roads are wide enough for the rare occasion when an emergency vehicle has to get through," the mayor said.

"But we also know that those wide roads encourage speeding, leading to more fatalities."

The mayor's comments came during a meeting on risk management, which saw council members consider how well the city's policies match up with actual threats to the municipality and its residents.

Nenshi noted one Calgarian is hit and injured on city streets per day, on average, but that's not always reflected in the transportation decisions the city makes.

"We never talk about pedestrian risk when we're talking about how we design roads," he said.

Coun. Druh Farrell noted the relative risk to life and limb is far greater from car crashes than from house fires, yet the city often focuses more on preventing the latter.

She cited a report based on Statistics Canada data that puts an individual Canadian's annual chance of death from a motor vehicle collision at 109 in a million, versus just 7.9 from a house fire.

Common Risks in Canada
Cause of deathChance in a million of dying
Motor vehicle collision109
Falls82
Poisoning25
Dwelling fire7.9
Boating or other water transport accident3.6
Air transport accident3.2
Excessive cold3
Electrical current (artificial)1.1
Railway accident1.1
Drowning in bathtub0.8
Lightning0.2
Cataclysmic storm

0.03

Farrell questioned whether the city has its priorities straight when addressing risks facing Calgarians.

For example, she noted that council received a special briefing earlier this year on the remote threat from the Zika virus, but has yet to see something similar on pedestrian injuries.

"I would love, at some point, at the beginning of a council meeting, a briefing on why 94 pedestrians have been hit and injured on city streets," [so far this year] Farrell said.

"That is a real risk, but we just never hear that."

Nenshi noted it was just last week that an eight-year-old boy suffered serious brain injuries when he was hit by a truck while trying to cross a street in Cranston.

Ethan Nielson, 8, was crossing the street in Cranston when he was hit by a truck. The boy's parents wrote in a Facebook post that he has a traumatic brain injury. (Facebook)

Hours after that collision, a 67-year-old woman was struck in Forest Lawn. She later died in hospital.

City manager Jeff Fielding said there is a certain "normalization of risk" when it comes to regular occurrences like people being hit by cars, and admitted city staff may sometimes "sort of skim over them" as a result, but would make a point of considering that more in the future.

"Your point is well taken," he told Farrell.

"We'll take that under advisement."

'Human nature'

Farrell said it's "human nature" to pay more attention to rare risks, which tend to be scary or fascinating, while ignoring more "mundane" ones, even if they pose a much greater threat, in reality.

Nenshi said he wasn't necessarily advocating for narrower roadways when he highlighted the fire truck example but wanted to illustrate that council needs to better consider a variety of risks when making decisions, rather than focusing on one threat to the exclusion of others.

"These are questions and conversations that we have to have," he said.

"And it's important for council to think about that and determine precisely not just what is the appropriate level of risk, but which risks do we prioritize over other ones."