Building cities for citizens, not vehicles

Safe measures for vulnerable road users needs to be a priority of urban redevelopment

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People walking on gray concrete road
Photo: Jan Antonin Kolar / Unsplash

By: Hailey Miller, Staff Writer

Content warning: mentions of death.

Although there are rules in place for all road users, not everyone sharing the road is ensured the same level of safety. Vulnerable road users, those being cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians, are at increased risk of severe or fatal injuries compared to vehicle users. Street safety for them needs to be prioritized. This begins with enhancing measures related to signage, awareness of surroundings, and the implementation of stricter road rules.

Lack of safety for cyclists and pedestrians often leads to accidents that otherwise could have been avoided. The danger of taking to the streets as a pedestrian or cyclist in Metro Vancouver is alarming despite traffic-related fatalities decreasing in the past 20 years. From 2014 to 2020, two cyclists and 51 pedestrians were killed in accidents and about 50% of traffic related injuries or fatalities in 2021 were either cyclists or pedestrians. This year, a cyclist in East Vancouver lost their life from a traffic-related incident

Taking to the streets — whether walking or cycling — no matter what city you’re in, should be a safe and enjoyable experience. Building cities for their citizens rather than cars makes socially closer, safer, and environmentally sustainable neighbourhoods.

When thinking of cyclist cities, cities like Amsterdam come to mind. While different factors have made Amsterdam a cyclist paradise, such as flat terrain and mild weather — none of which can be attributed to Metro Vancouver — an active push of bicycle activism was required. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, groups organized public demonstrations, advocating for safety in the streets, especially for children. The city had to plan for each street to be safe for cycling, making the effort a long-term plan. And, as would be the case for most cities, many residents say they have concerns regarding street safety, as there are still people who disobey the rules, like signage and designated lanes. Still, Amsterdam has reduced traffic-related deaths significantly, 3,300 people died by traffic in 1971, to only 745 people in 2022 in the entire country.

Intuitively, cycling and walking short distances are environmentally friendly alternatives to car driving — biking reduces your CO2  per kilometer by about 75% when compared to single-use vehicles. And it’s not only the environmental benefits that should be considered, walkable cities are good for the economy. New York saw a rise in sales of 172% of local businesses in repurposed areas with pedestrians as a priority.

Taking to the streets — whether walking or cycling — no matter what city you’re in, should be a safe and enjoyable experience.

Building or rebuilding a city to prioritize pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit is an ongoing effort that requires different areas of urbanism to intersect. For example, measures that can be taken to improve street safety include having designated bike lanes that are separate from traffic (and that preferably have a barrier for added protection), better signage and lighting at crosswalks and throughout intersections, and proper flashing lights and signals. 

Public transit should also be included in redevelopment efforts. Taking New York as an example, dedicated bus lanes increased both bus speed and ridership, as well as a decrease in injury crashes. However, rezoning and redevelopment efforts can’t ignore the needs of people with disabilities, emergency vehicles, and the fact that cars are and will continue to be used. People with motor disabilities should be brought to the front in this conversation; designing with accessibility in mind helps both able-bodied and people with disabilities. While there haven’t been many studies about people with disabilities and walkable cities, frequent resting spots, weather-safe bus stops, accessible transit vehicles, and actively listening to requests are a must. Finally, while vehicles might be discouraged in this type of urban redevelopment, emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks still require an efficient way to move within a city. 

Proper awareness includes awareness of motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists alike. Educating yourself about the importance of safety, the risks of being on the road, and the measures that can be taken to prevent accidents and injuries are all ways that can help improve street safety. Safety gear and equipment such as wearing a helmet, reflective and vibrant clothing, and reflective stickers on bicycles and gear are all measures that cyclists and pedestrians can take to be safer — and more visible — on the streets. 

Vancouver is on the right path, being ranked as the most walkable city in Canada, but there’s still room to improve. Remember to share the road and be conscious of your actions to minimize the chance of accidents. Safer streets need to be prioritized for everyone.

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