Pedestrian death, injuries put renewed focus on road design and safety

The death of a four-year-old girl after she and her mother were hit by a vehicle in a crosswalk on Monday has put renewed focus on pedestrian safety in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says the city is following a plan to reduce collisions

A girl and her mother were hit by a car on Isabel Street around noon Monday. (Warren Kay/CBC)

The death of a four-year-old girl after she and her mother were hit by a vehicle in a crosswalk on Monday has put renewed focus on pedestrian safety in Winnipeg.

Some people, including Coun. Janice Lukes, have called on the city to adopt a concept called Vision Zero.

Developed in Sweden, it aims to change infrastructure and road design to reduce the number of serious injuries and fatalities from motor vehicle accidents, with the aim of zero injuries and fatalities from car collisions.

Edmonton adopted the strategy in 2016 and has seen a reduction in the number of people hurt and killed on their streets.

"We feel we've been very fortunate over the last three years," said Gerry Shimko, executive director of Edmonton's office of traffic safety.

Serious injuries have gone down 17 per cent, from 385 people hospitalized in 2015 to 319 last year. Pedestrian injuries are down 21 per cent, cyclist injuries are down 29 per cent and motorcycle injuries 26 per cent over the last three years, Shimko said.

"So it's all trending in the right direction," he said.

Changes under the program include narrowing roadways so drivers don't feel like they can speed through, and setting speed limits at 40 km/h in some communities.

The strategy also proposes raising crosswalks to encourage drivers to slow down, and putting in curb extensions to reduce the distance pedestrians have to cross,

"One of the primary focuses is to really look at identifying where your high-risk locations are for fatalities and serious injuries," he said.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says the city's road safety improvement efforts are following a plan adopted by the federal government called Towards Zero.

"That's been incorporated and has been demonstrating, notwithstanding the fact that accidents are still going to happen, is still demonstrating some good, positive successes," Bowman said.

A pedestrian was hit on Osborne Street near Morley Avenue and Bartlet Avenue on Wednesday. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The four-year-old girl and her mother — newcomers to Canada — were hit while in a crosswalk at Isabel Street and Alexander Avenue around noon Monday.

On Wednesday, a pedestrian was taken to hospital in critical condition after being hit on Osborne Street near Morley Avenue and Bartlet Avenue.

And on Thursday morning, a pedestrian was hit around 8:30 a.m. near Confusion Corner.

A group of people gathered around the person, who was lying in a southbound lane on Pembina Highway near the intersection with Osborne Street.

Winnipeg police said they were not called to the scene but the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service did respond. No information was immediately available on the person hit and whether anyone was seriously injured.

A person lies in a southbound lane of Pembina Highway after being hit by a vehicle at Confusion Corner on Thursday morning. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Jeannette Montufar, a former professor of civil engineering at the University of Manitoba, said something that makes Winnipeg unique among major cities is that it has no freeway network running through it.

Freeways, or expressways, are designed exclusively for high-speed traffic because there are no traffic signals, intersections or at-grade crossings with other roads, railways or pedestrian paths.

"I have been saying this for a long time, with a system of freeways you can provide mobility. Then you can provide accessibility on the minor roads, or secondary roads," said Montufar, who now runs MORR Transportation Consulting and has helped cities across Canada put pedestrian safety measures into effect.

"Here in Winnipeg, every road has to function to provide mobility and accessibility, so we have to make safety a real priority."

That means allocating funding specifically for road safety, perhaps hiring a designated road safety co-ordinator, something Edmonton has done, and immediately evaluating all pedestrian corridors to see whether they are performing as intended, she said.

Some older crosswalks and corridors may need to be revamped because of higher traffic volumes or other changes in recent years.

Bowman said he's committed to discussing ways to improve safety for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers in the city.

Shimko said anyone interested in learning from Edmonton's experience is welcome to visit.

"At the end of the day we believe that everybody's family should leave and come home safely."

With files from Ismaila Alfa


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