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Council calls on provincial government to help improve traffic safety

Councillors Santiago and Gu proposed the mayor write a letter to the province for improvements at intersections

The issue of pedestrian safety appeared again in council during the year’s last meeting on Dec.11, when shortly before the end of the meeting, Coun. Maita Santiago and Coun. Alison Gu proposed a motion to request that the mayor write a letter to the provincial government requesting the installation of speed and red light cameras at intersections in Burnaby. 

The motion recommended prioritizing intersections with 50 or more crashes that resulted in injuries or fatalities from 2018-2022. The motion also suggested that city staff, especially the Transportation Committee, look into the feasibility of implementing pedestrian safety measures such as no right-turn-on-red at all intersections where there were five or more casualty crashes involving pedestrians from 2018-2022.   

“Road safety is a civic issue; we all have a shared responsibility to create a safe road environment for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists, and for all road users,” Santiago said. She added that speeding is the most significant factor in crashes and contributes to 30% of fatal crashes. In addition, three of the top crash intersections in the Lower Mainland are in Burnaby. 

“According to various studies, they report that having a clear right-turn policy could reduce conflict between pedestrians and drivers and benefit children and those with mobility issues in particular,” said Santiago. “I’d like to emphasize that as a city, we can, and we should be doing more to ensure that the roads, especially traffic intersections, are safer, especially for pedestrians, cyclists, and for all others that are using it because statistics show that they’re one of the most dangerous places.”  

Sticker placed at a Burnaby intersection by Vision Zero Vancouver volunteers. Photo: Michelle Scarr

Gu emphasized that the intention behind installing cameras “is not to do what has historically been done, which is set up speed traps, and be ticketing those who are driving above the limit. The goal is to provide proper signage; newer cars have notifications when these types of cameras exist to ensure that people are observing speed limits and prevent crashes altogether.” 

Gu added that reducing speed improves a pedestrian’s survival chances. A pedestrian hit by a car traveling at 50km per hour has a 10% chance of survival. If a driver is going at 30km per hour, the pedestrian’s chances of survival are 90%. 

“Those statistics matter to individuals, they matter to family members, and when we talk about Vision Zero, and we talk about numbers of fatalities, we’re talking about human life. We’re trying to quantify something that is inherently unquantifiable.” 

According to Gu, the main challenge to implementing some of these measures is the Motor Vehicle Act, which does not allow municipalities to regulate moving vehicles. 

“Unfortunately, municipalities are the front lines of dealing with the impacts of casualties of accidents. We’re the ones who pay for police, we’re the ones who pay for fire to respond on the scene, and we’re the ones responsible for upgrading infrastructure,” she said. However, preventing right turns on red is within the municipality’s control, and Burnaby should start with that to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths. 

Coun. Richard Lee, for his part, said that the discussion should be referred to the Transportation Committee, expressing concern that preventing right turns on red at some intersections “will probably slow down the traffic substantially in some intersections. So I don’t know if I can support some aspects of this motion.” Coun. Sav Dhaliwal also said he is happy to defer the issue to the Transportation Committee. 

Whether this will be enough for activists and those campaigning for pedestrian safety and Vision Zero remains to be seen. Less than a month before this meeting, a 70-year-old woman was struck by a driver on Hastings Street and died. According to ICBC, Burnaby has some of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians in the Lower Mainland. 

A week after the pedestrian was killed, Michelle Scarr, a Vision Zero Vancouver volunteer, put up stickers at intersections with the number of crashes that happened at each intersection in 2022. 

“Elevators have really strict standards, the airline industry has really strict standards, but for some reason, our road transportation network is nowhere near those standards. Our elevator pitch is that we want our streets to be as safe as elevators,” she told the Beacon. She also said there is a lack of will among those in charge to make roads safer for all users. “In things like this, they sometimes like to pit drivers against pedestrians, but it’s really not like that. Safer streets are safer for everyone, drivers included,” Scarr said. 

Whether the City of Burnaby will take these recommendations to heart and prioritize human life and well-being over traffic flow remains to be seen. Burnaby currently has a “Vision Zero” target, but activists are unsure if the city will reach it. “It’s not clear if Burnaby will even hit the 2030 goal of a 20% reduction,” Scarr said. 

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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