As part of a new action plan on road safety announced on Monday, the City of Ottawa is aiming to reduce the average rate of fatal collisions and accidents causing serious injuries each year by 20 per cent by 2024 – and has earmarked more cash for that purpose.
Officials are proposing to bump the city’s investment in road safety next year to $31.5 million – up from $25 million in 2019.
City staff also say they’ve applied a “made in Ottawa” approach to the new plan – which guides the city’s road safety projects and spending over a five-year period – and are specifically looking to improve safety at intersections, on rural roads, and for “high-risk” drivers and vulnerable road users like pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
If the 2020 funding is approved, it would represent “the single largest investment in road safety in the city’s history,” according to the mayor.
Road safety has been top of mind again in Ottawa this year after a number of fatal incidents, including a hit-and-run on Laurier Avenue that fatally injured a cyclist in May and a collision in July that fatally injured 3-year-old boy riding his bike in Orléans.
The city’s two previous road safety plans spanned 2003-2011 and 2012-2016. Over the course of the last five-year plan, the city achieved a 14 per cent decrease in fatal and major injury collision, exceeding its original goal of 10 per cent, according to Phil Landry, the municipality’s director of traffic services.
In 2018, 27 people died in collisions on Ottawa’s roads, according to the city’s last safety report. Of those, eleven were drivers, four were vehicle passengers, three were motorcyclists, eight were pedestrians and one was a cyclist.
With the extra funding proposed, Landry expressed optimism on Monday that the city can again reach and maybe surpass its 20 per cent target over the next five years.
“We’re on the right track,” Landry told reporters.
Some, however, believe the city should be setting a higher goal. Coun. Catherine McKenney, who has been a vocal advocate for Vision Zero on city council, called the 20 per cent objective “disappointing” on social media.
Vision Zero is a road safety program that aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, first implemented in Sweden in the 1990s.
Another downtown-area councillor, Shawn Menard, also questioned whether the city should have “a more ambitious target” in a tweet posted on Monday.
At the announcement downtown, a reporter asked Blais how closely the new road safety action plan aligns with the Vision Zero idea.
“Vision Zero is based on a safe systems approach that asks that all users of the road – the riders, the makers of cars, everyone involved in transportation – take some responsibility for the safety of our streets, and that’s exactly what our road safety action plan is calling for,” Blais said.
A news release on Monday’s announcement notes that the plan “aims to continue progress towards zero fatalities and major injuries on our roadways.”
Blais said the objectives of the road safety plan will be reviewed annually beginning in 2021.
New road safety plan data-driven, officials say
The proposed five-year plan has been based on local traffic and collision data, according to officials.
Specifically on improving safety for pedestrians, the new plan will increase funding to install pedestrian signals where warranted and the city will review 300 locations next year as it looks to implement more advanced walk signals that give pedestrians a head start before motorists get a green light, Blais said.
City officials held the announcement at the intersection of Bay Street and Gladstone Avenue downtown, saying the location is an example of a crossing where a traffic light and pedestrian signals are needed.
While he hadn’t yet seen the details of the new road safety plan, nearby resident Mark Davidson said he was pleased to hear the city is investing more money, both city-wide and at that particular intersection – which he thinks is unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists.
On improving safety for cyclists, Landry said the city will study 10 intersections “to look at some low-cost solutions to improve cycling” and will change how it designs and constructs cycling paths on arterial roads.
“It used to be we’d build bike lanes next to the road. Moving forward, we’re going to be building cycle tracks so that cyclists aren’t next to traffic – they’re separate,” he said.
Watson said a number of community groups worked with city staff on the new plan and the city also took into account feedback from more than 3,000 people who responded to an online survey about road safety.
“We think our plan is solid. It’s had a lot of community input from users of the roads and the sidewalks,” the mayor said on Monday.
The proposed $31.5 million investment for road safety next year is part of the city’s 2020 draft budget. The refreshed road safety plan and proposed funding will go to the transportation committee and Ottawa city council for consideration and approval in December.
Blais said that money collected from the city’s upcoming photo radar program will help fund the action plan “on an ongoing basis,” in addition to revenue from red-light cameras installed after 2020.