Ottawa·ELECTION 2018

CBC Ottawa explains: Traffic safety

Speeding. Traffic. Roads. Across the city, candidates and incumbents alike say that's what residents want to talk about most often out on the campaign trail. So what is the city doing about it? How much money are we throwing at the problem, and is it enough?

The city is spending lots of money on slowing speeders, but is it enough?

Speeding. Traffic. Roads. Across the city, candidates and incumbents alike say that's what residents want to talk about most often out on the campaign trail.

So, how serious are these issues? What is the city doing about it? How much money are we throwing at the problem, and is it enough?

Let's take a look.

Speed kills

In a 2015 survey conducted by Ottawa police, distracted driving and speeding topped the list of concerns among Ottawa residents, ranking above drug dealers and street gangs. Residents hate it when drivers take short cuts through their neighbourhoods or speed down residential streets and past schools, councillors say.

Police deal with up to 50 collisions per day, adding up to between 14,000 and 15,000 each year during this term of council. Between 20 and 30 per year proved fatal. There's no obvious upward or downward trend on either measure.

Check out this map of where some of the 14,394 collisions happened in 2017. Locations in red saw more than 40 collisions, orange denotes more than 30 and yellow shows 20 or more. Fatal collisions are marked in grey. Spots that saw at least three collisions involving pedestrians or cyclists are in blue.

Interestingly, the roundabout at St. Joseph and Jeanne d'Arc boulevards saw the most collisions in 2014, 2016 and 2017, and came second in 2015 after Hunt Club and Riverside.

Bumps and lights

Certain intersections become busier over time and require a stop sign or traffic light. But councillors frequently express frustration at how dire the situation must become before improvements are warranted.

Neighbourhoods can also ask for pricier fixes such as speed bumps, or get in line for a "traffic area management study." Those take a couple of years and involve lots of consultation.

The city launches seven or eight studies per year, but puts just $690,000 of its $729 million capital budget toward the program. That's less than one-tenth of one per cent.

The list of pending studies currently sits at 80, so community groups need patience.

That's part of the reason why each councillor also gets a bag of temporary, cheaper fixes to choose from.

$40K fund

This term, each councillor has received $40,000 a year for what's called "traffic calming." It's now the end of term and almost every councillor has spent the bulk of his or her allowance, except Scott Moffatt and Rick Chiarelli. It will be up to the next council to decide if the funding source continues.

Councillors choose which streets to target and select from a menu of methods to slow traffic:

Outgoing Orlé​ans councillor Bob Monette said he's proud to have used his funding to install flashing speed boards in front of every school in his ward, for instance.

The city says the speed boards and flexible stakes have been slowing drivers by an average of 3 km/h to 5 km/h. Arguably, that means these measures do more to slow traffic than a speed limit sign.

New powers from the province

The blanket speed limit on urban roads in Ontario is 50 km/h. The City of Ottawa feels that's too fast for neighbourhoods, but plastering streets with signs for 40 km/h or even 30 km/h costs money.

Now that Ontario has allowed cities to create "gateway" zones, Ottawa can start lowering neighbourhood speed limits with less signage.

That said, the city has a measly $55,000 set aside through 2019 for the gateway signs. At that rate it would take more than 30 years to slow every neighbourhood to 40 km/h. Watch for this issue to come up when a new council debates the budget.

Photo radar could arrive in Ottawa by 2019, but only in school zones and community safety zones. The former Liberal government passed legislation, but municipalities across the province still need the new Progressive Conservative government to issue regulations granting them the power to hand out tickets.

That could eventually mean a new revenue stream that politicians say they'll spend on traffic safety and enforcement.

Call the police 

Councillors want you to call the police when you see an aggressive or distracted driver, but data also helps build the case for enforcement.

Did you know those speed boards don't just flash your speed at you while you drive? They also record the data — though not a speeder's licence plate —so councillors know how many cars went by each day, and at what speeds. That helps them — and police — pinpoint where the speeders are.

But police get their funding from the city, too. Chief Charles Bordeleau has made traffic safety one of his three priorities, alongside guns and gangs and violence against women. And yet, every year at budget time councillors say residents want more cops out enforcing the rules of the road.

Is it enough?

About $1 million for stakes and signs. Another $2 million on pedestrian signals and red light cameras — 20 during the most recent term of council. Operating funds for police to enforce the law. Slower speed limits and photo radar on the horizon.

It all adds up.

Other cities including Toronto and New York have "Vision Zero" plans. That means their ultimate goal is zero deaths on their streets, and they commit millions toward that goal.

Ottawa is not at that point. 

Maybe part of the answer is closer to home than many people think.

Monette explained that when police crack down on speeders in his ward, the perpetrators are often local.

"A lot of times it's people from the community, neighbours who are doing it. Same ones who are sending emails about the speed," Monette told CBC News.

Council could vote to spend more money, yes. But drivers could all also learn to lay off the accelerator.

What do you think? Given all the measures the city takes to keep its roads safe, is it doing enough? 

About the Author

Kate Porter


Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past 15 years, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.


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