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November 26, 2014

Pedestrian Crossing Ahead

Six years ago, I wrote about Halifax's non-existent sidewalk standards. This summer I was a passenger in a car which sideswiped a pedestrian.  It didn't seem to be anyone's fault particularly, but the crosswalk was in a funny place and only half-heartedly marked. I wondered at the time if the infrastructure could've been better - in light of the recent spate of pedestrian deaths, I'm wondering again.

My take on pedestrian accidents is that the infrastructure is often inadequate and partly to blame.   Good infrastructure design should anticipate texting drivers, earbudded pedestrians, and bad weather and do what it can to mitigate the danger.

I read the November 27 agenda of the HRM Crosswalk Safety Advisory Committee (no minutes since June) and it pointed to reports from the police and RCMP.   They document the basics - number, location, injuries, age, time and weather.  They say nothing about the physical attributes of the location.

HRM puts its design criteria in the Red Book, where you will find only one diagram of a curb cut (#49) and you will search in vain for a crosswalk.  Contrast that with the many ideas and rules of the ADA Access Board (can't find the PDF).  There is a dizzying array of alternatives at the Federal Highway Administration.  HRM's Traffic & Right-of-Way Services says it follows the Pedestrian Crossing Control Guide (2012), which you can buy for $155.  This guide may provide some insights.

It's pretty evident that a single page of the Red Book being devoted to pedestrian crossings is inadequate and irresponsible.  As evidence, consider the heavily used midblock crosswalk in front of Lawton's on Spring Garden, going over to Brenton Street.  A small sign for an out-of-context crosswalk seems poorly thought out.

The corners where a diagonal curb cut serves both crossings (left hand diagram on #49) is the most dangerous.  How is a motorist supposed to figure which way a pedestrian is headed?  In my wheelchair, I have to go down the ramp, into the path of traffic, before turning to make the correct crossing.  Check the corner of Summer and Spring Garden for many close calls every day.

There are plenty of standards, but HRM studiously avoids them, hence the poles in the middle of sidewalks, the out-of-reach buttons for walk signals - every crosswalk seems different.  

I thought it might be interesting to look at one intersection - the corner of Portland Hills Drive and Portland Estates Boulevard, where William Lee was killed this fall.  Here are some annotated Google Street View pictures - they date from 2011, but I doubt much has changed:

(click to enlarge)

This intersection is clearly a mess.  Nothing to be proud of, and possibly by its very nature a contributor to the death of Bill Lee.

I hope to hear of HRM's new standards for pedestrian rights-of-way, and to learn of the program to remediate existing infrastructure.  Standards have been envisioned as part of the forthcoming accessibility legislation, but there's no excuse for delay.

Gus Reed

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