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Could better neighbourhood design improve traffic safety in Edmonton?

Does neighbourhood design play role in street safety?
WATCH ABOVE: After a serious collision involving a young cyclist and garbage truck, Vinesh Pratap looks into whether neighbourhood design plays a role in how safe our streets feel.

A collision between a garbage truck and a girl riding her bike to school on Wednesday has sparked a discussion about street safety among some Edmontonians.

The girl remained in critical condition Thursday after being dragged underneath the truck when it made a left turn.

One father, living in another Edmonton suburb, said his oldest daughter had her own close call.

“A car came whipping around the corner and almost hit her,” Ryan Lemaire said. “And later that day actually, there was a boy that was hit by a car. Our neighbour was hit by a car in a crosswalk.”

Closer to the city’s core, in Westmount, some believe the hazards some streets pose ironically result in drivers being more careful.

“You’ll see most of the streets are very narrow with cars parked on both sides,” Bob Summers, an urban planning researcher with the University of Alberta, explained. “That slows everyone down. You get concerned about people being around because it’s a very narrow roadway and you don’t feel as confident and you go slower.”

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Comparing the safety of roads in different communities in Alberta’s capital can be problematic.

Unlike newer suburbs, older neighbourhoods usually have multiple exits and entrances going in and out of them and don’t require traffic to be funnelled onto collector roads.

“One of the things that we’ve seen in the newer designs – which are more predominant in some of the newer communities – is the much wider collector roads,” Gerry Shimko, with Edmonton’s Traffic Safety Department, said. “So, typically about 14 metres our studies have basically said… ‘we don’t design those anymore.'”

But there is little unanimity on what can be done to prevent horrific accidents like the one involving the garbage truck and the cyclist on Wednesday.

The 11-year-old girl was hit near Velma E. Baker School – near 23 Street and 43A Avenue – in a southeast suburb that also doesn’t have many entrances and exits leading in and out of it.

“I think they need more road signs because there’s a lot of speeders,” Lemaire said.

“In a lot of cases you can put bump outs at the curb,” Summers said, “so that the curb comes out onto the roadway a little bit to slow people down.”

The urban planner also has other ideas, from lowering the speed limit to 30 km/h in Edmonton’s residential areas to what some may consider a radical new approach to jaywalking.

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“We should take away jaywalking rules and we should tell drivers that the roads in residential areas are for pedestrians and cyclists first and for cars second,” Summers suggested. “In our neighbourhoods and our residential areas, I think we have to look towards a shared street where we just respect one another.”

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Police said Thursday no charges had been laid in the garbage truck crash. The driver has said he did not notice the girl beside him when he made the left-hand turn.

READ MORE: Young Edmonton girl fighting for her life after being struck by truck

Earlier this year, Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht said road safety was a key issue for him and that he would make tackling dangerous driving on roads a priority.

But several months after those efforts first got underway, Knecht said police continue to run into issues.

“We’re still getting some fairly aggressive driving in the neighbourhoods,” he said. “We put a lot of folks – traffic enforcement – into the neighbourhoods. We’re catching lots of people so the message is: no, people aren’t getting the message.”

-With files from Vinesh Pratap