Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reporting on Traffic Safety

Did you hear the one about the annual convention of transportation engineers?

I stole this one from Michael Ronkin, a Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager. Mr. Ronkin’s story:

"The Institute of Transportation Engineers is holding its annual convention in Cheyenne. The hotel is across the street from the convention center, so every morning they cross Main Street to get to their meeting.

On the first day, an extraordinary event occurs, one that hadn't been seen in over a hundred years: a herd of bison - 500 in all - stampede through town and a transportation engineer is killed. His peers lament his loss, and one of them proposes they put their collective minds together to come up with a solution. So the next day is spent in work sessions, and they devise a bison-proof pedestrian crossing.

They build it overnight and it's ready for use the next morning. Well, you guessed, against all statistical odds, another herd of bison comes stampeding through town, this time 1000 in all, and another engineer is killed crossing the street.

Lamentation, wailing, grief, sorrow and guilt are expressed, till one optimist gets the crowd to quiet down and declares cheerfully: "Hey, we succeeded; we cut the rate of transportation engineers killed by bison in half!"

Meanwhile in Our Town

This joke came to mind today when reading Burlington Council report TS-01-01 an annual report that purports to analyze traffic safety.

City staff, authors of the report, are pleased that collisions are down - 10% lower than in 2005, in fact. Using other indicators, like collisions per capita, things are good too, we’re told.

But dig around in Appendix A and you’ll find that pedestrians collided with cars far more in 2009 - up by more than 35 % since 2005 - but also significantly up over every year since 2005.

As far as cyclists, 2005 was a particularly bad year as these people contacted cars 44 times. It had started to go down (31 in 2007) but it is on the rise again.

What would it take to get transportation staff to treat the safety concerns of those not driving cars seriously?

In addition to burying the pedestrian info in an appendix, the report does not include roads under the Region of Halton's jurisdiction.

Roads that were transferred to the Region (intersections on Brant, Guelph, Appleby, Upper Middle, and Dundas) account for a large part of collisions, notes Doug Brown from the City’s Road Safety Committee. This transfer of arterial roads has created the illusion that Burlington collisions are on the decline.

It makes one wonder whether this particular annual report has outlived its usefulness.