The Canada Safety Council, a self proclaimed “independent, knowledge-based, charitable organization dedicated to the cause of safety” published an article chastising traffic calming measures, calling them “a sheer waste of taxpayers’ money”.
Somehow I doubt the person who wrote the article rides a bicycle on our streets. When I ride on a streets with traffic calming speed humps, I’m much safer as a result – and so are the people inside cars who have to slow down to below 40km/h in order to not feel the hump when they drive over it.
To call traffic calming measures a “sheer waste of taxpayers’ money” really makes me question the intent of the article and question the independence of the organization.
We shouldn’t be surprised however. For when you “follow the money” you’ll see that they are funded by representatives of the car industry, oil and gas industry, the transport/freight industry and the auto insurance industry.
The article, entitled “Traffic calming vs. safety” perpetuates common North American myths, but fails to use facts to back up its claims.
I will address each of the following myths that this article uses to argue against traffic calming measures:
Argument 1: Canada has different infrastructure, climate and transportation needs than Australia and Europe
Yes, Canada does have different infrastructure, climate and transportation needs than Australia and Europe. But how does that make it inappropriate to look at studies done in these continents?
There are plenty of examples of countries in Europe which have very similar climate to Canada – especially the Nordic countries. And these countries have some great examples of effective traffic calming measures.
Here is a great traffic calming safety measure in Denmark:
Photo by Mikael Colville-Andersen / Copenhagenize
The photo above was taken in Frederikssund, Denmark, whose climate is not all that different than Toronto’s climate. This particular traffic calming infrastructure only allows one direction of automobiles to pass at a time to calm traffic. It’s a very effective design and has minimal impact on a motorist.
Australia also has very similar public transit needs and travel distances to Canada. Canada ranked 26th out of 29 OECD countries in distance traveled by road vehicles per capita. The three countries ahead of Canada were: the United States, Luxembourg and Australia, so people in Australia actually drive further than Canadians.
Argument 2: Stop signs are useless because most drivers don’t stop anyway
The next argument used in the article is that stop signs have become meaningless because they were added to slow traffic in residential neighbourhoods and most drivers and cyclists treat them as yield signs.
I partially agree with this point. I personally think there are more effective ways to calm traffic than by using four-way stop signs. However, the reasoning behind their argument seems a bit strange. They are arguing that we should do away with these stop signs because “rolling stops have become a common practice for many drivers” which sets a bad example for our children. But they fail to offer any alternatives except to allow drivers to drive full steam ahead in residential neighbourhoods.
Replacing stop signs with more effective traffic calming measures would be a good alternative to address this. In the photo above from Denmark, cars are required to slow down but not make a complete stop when nobody is around, so this is a far more effective approach than forcing traffic to stop even if nobody is around.
Argument 3: Traffic calming increases emissions and fuel consumption due to congestion
The argument that traffic calming measures increase emissions is particularly disturbing. Removing traffic calming measures and speeding up cars not only makes our streets more dangerous for all road users, it also induces demand for those streets which will bring more traffic and more emissions, not less.
A pedestrian who is hit at 40mph (64km/h) is expected to die 85% of the time, while a pedestrian hit at 20mph (32km/h) dies 5% of the time. Study after study has shown the impact on vulnerable road users is drastically decreased as the speed of the car is lowered. Why would the Canada Safety Council argue to *speed up* traffic even more?
UK DOT statistics on vehicle/pedestrian collisions (via Streetsblog SF)
Furthermore, speeding up cars won’t reduce emissions or fuel consumptions in the long run. A study by Douglass B. Lee, Jr. found that increased capacity does indeed induce demand in the long run, assuming the rate of elasticity is not zero. In other words, if roads are at capacity, and there is additional demand for those roads, more people will use those roads if congestion is decreased.
Instead of arguing for faster car travel to “reduce emissions”, the Canada Safety Council should be arguing for traffic calming to keep pedestrians, drivers and cyclists safe, and they should be promoting alternate modes of transportation to reduce congestion and also to reduce emissions.
Argument 4: Traffic calming impedes snow clearing
The article claims that traffic calming measures impede snow clearing: “Snow clearing problems associated with blocked-off streets and other traffic calming obstructions will increase delays in winter, when many home fires and medical emergencies occur”
If snow clearing was such an issue, you would think it would be easy to find an article where the people who are doing the snow clearing would complain about traffic calming being such an impediment to getting their jobs done.
I can’t find a single article where snow clearing crews have complained about traffic calming measures having a significant negative effect on their jobs, so I don’t know where this statement stems from.
Argument 5: Traffic calming impedes emergency vehicles
The article then uses hyperbolic arguments to claim that traffic calming measures can prevent emergency vehicles from saving a life. They use statements such as “a criminal can escape the scene o a crime in less than a minute” or “in one minute, a fast-burning fire can destroy a building” to support their argument against traffic calming.
And once again, I’m not able to find any evidence that there is a significant public safety issue of emergency vehicles not being able to fulfill their duties due to traffic calming measures.
Last I checked, emergency vehicles primarily used arterial roads to reach their destination quickly. The police aren’t travelling across the entire city on residential streets to reach an emergency. And it’s not too often you see a police car driving under the speed limit anyway, so reduced speed limits to calm traffic wouldn’t impede an emergency vehicle.
Argument 6: Traffic calming breeds dangerous drivers
The article argues that “in our fast-paced society, slow traffic aggravates drivers”. It claims that parents who are transporting their children around have deadlines to meet, and will thus “take chances”.
They argue that traffic calming measures actually force drivers to break the law because they are frustrated, claiming “drivers swerve around speed bumps into bicycle lanes to avoid damage to their vehicle” and “frustrated motorists make dangerous turns or run red lights”.
Trying to blame traffic calming measures for the dangerous risks that parents take while driving with children in their car is merely an attempt to shift the blame and absolve drivers of any accountability and responsibility.
A more extreme example of this argument would be to say that we should remove all traffic signals in the city because red lights “aggravate motorists” and causes frustrated drivers to run them.
The argument doesn’t hold up and once again there are no facts to support their claim that removing all traffic calming measures would do anything to improve drivers’ frustrations or cause drivers to suddenly not take chances or drive dangerously.
Argument 7: Children shouldn’t be playing on the street in the first place
Another argument against traffic calming in residential areas is that “children shouldn’t be playing in the streets in the first place”.
Who has the right to say that children shouldn’t be playing in the streets? Children have played on the streets for over a hundred years, and it wasn’t until recent decades that it became an issue of public safety due to our dangerous driving behaviour.
Another extreme example of this argument would be to say that cyclists shouldn’t be on the street in the first place, or pedestrians shouldn’t be walking on our sidewalks or streets in the first place.
Sure, a kid might be safe from getting hit by a car if they stay inside their home and play video games, but they might end up with a disease that results from a sedentary lifestyle. Kids playing on their quiet residential neighbourhood street should be a normal thing to do. It allows parents to keep an eye on their kids from their home (instead of sending them to a park where they can’t easily watch over their kids).
Argument 8: Studies show traffic calming reduces traffic volume & speeds and reduces crashes
This is one argument we can agree on. Except the article then goes on to imply that traffic was probably diverted to other streets, so collisions probably increased on those other streets.
This is an example of taking a fact, then downplaying it without backing it up with any other facts.
Argument 9: Increased enforcement is the solution
The article then concludes that increased enforcement is the solution. Except this is a fallacy because there isn’t enough police staff to enforce traffic calming across the entire city. Furthermore, police generally stick to the “easy” speed traps on highways and arterial roads. Traffic calming is primarily on residential streets.
The article also implies that speed limits should be increased and police should “strictly enforce” those “realistic” speed limits.
Increasing speed limits is not a solution that Canada “Safety” Council should be promoting if safety truly is its primary interest.
In conclusion, this Canada Safety Council article is clearly designed to promote a hidden agenda and has nothing to do with improving safety.
By perpetuating these myths, the Safety Council is ignoring the root cause of the true danger of our streets, and is actively lobbying to increase the danger of motor vehicles so that a parent can make their “deadlines” without having to break the law.
My twitter friend Ben Mueller-Heaslip puts it aptly:
“People like to think their convenience has a moral foundation. People who buy SUVs keep more factory workers employed than cyclists”.
The Canada Safety Council has convinced itself that many of the issues we face in the world can be solved by simply improving convenience of motorists and removing any restrictions on their movements.
Thanks to Herb from i bike TO for originally posting a link to the Canada Safety Council article.