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Canada

Transportation committee backs new new road safety plan despite calls for more ambitious goal

The city’s latest road safety plan received the transportation committee’s unanimous approval Wednesday, even after advocates called on councillors to be more bold in trying to stop traffic deaths.

The plan’s goal is to reduce the average annual rate of fatal and major injury collisions by 20 per cent. The last iteration of the road safety plan achieved a reduction of 14 per cent between 2012 and 2017.

In drafting the 20-per-cent goal, city staff listened to feedback during public consultations and created what they believe is an achievable target for 2020-2024.

However, critics don’t understand why the city didn’t make it a goal to have zero deaths, falling more in line with a “vision zero” approach to road safety.

Robb Barnes, executive director of Ecology Ottawa, said the city should have car-free zones, reduce car lanes on roads, impose bans on right turns on red lights and embrace a vision zero philosophy.

“(The city’s plan) is a vision 20-per-cent reduction and that’s not far enough for us,” Barnes said.

The Federation of Citizens’ Associations of Ottawa, the umbrella group for all community associations, also called on the city to set a target of zero traffic deaths and create budget proposals in line with that goal.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury said the city should be setting an “aspirational goal” of having zero traffic deaths to reduce criticisms of the 20-per-cent target.

”The tone would have changed to something that, (the goal is) lofty and that’s hard to get, yet it’s important to have metrics and achievable action plans to get there,” Fleury said.

The committee endorsed an add-on proposal from Coun. Shawn Menard for the city to adopt the goal of zero fatalities on Ottawa streets by 2035.

Still, the city is confident that initiatives in the 2020-2024 plan will improve safety for all road users.

The draft 2020 budget has $27.5 million earmarked for “road-safety-related programs” and an extra $4 million in one-time funding for immediate projects.

Between 2020 and 2024, the city wants to launch studies on busy areas with interactions between cyclists and motorists and on collisions involving motorcyclist deaths and serious injuries. Rural road safety will also get more attention because of the number of serious collisions in those areas.

The plan also calls for a crackdown on “high-risk” motorists who flout road laws.

The province just finalized regulations for municipalities to use photo radar, but the cameras probably won’t hit Ottawa streets until next spring at the earliest. There are 12 council-approved community safety zones near schools that can have photo radar.

Revenue from photo radar fines, in addition to fines from red-light cameras installed after 2020 and other automated enforcement programs, will pour into the road safety program.

Included in the plan are measures to improve safety at intersections — including the continued installation of roundabouts at new intersections — and improved safety for pedestrians, such as more advanced pedestrian walk signals and pedestrian countdown timers.

There are also plans to improve cycling infrastructure, but cycling advocates on Wednesday want the city to undertake more bike-safety projects and finish them at a faster pace.

In a video recorded deputation, Travis Crocken told his story about being injured in a collision downtown and how he now has permanent brain damage. He can no longer use his bike, but he’s compelled to advocate for cyclists.

“They are people trying to get home at the end of the day,” Crocken said. “Look at it as a human issue, a family issue.”

Ward Verschaeve said he was injured last month when a motorist turned into a bike lane. Now crossing streets on his bike is a “horrifying” experience, he said. He’s skeptical of the green “super sharrows” painted on roads telling motorists and cyclists to share the space, like the new ones on Queen Street.

Barbara Greenberg of Bike Ottawa said the city needs to be more ambitious if it wants to be considered a bike-friendly city.

“We urge you to put your budget where your vision is,” Greenberg said.

Another public delegate wanted speed limits decreased on local roads.

Michelle Perry of the Healthy Transportation Coalition called on councillors to give all local streets 30 km/h speed limits, noting that more serious injuries are bound to happen when cars are going faster. Toronto and Montreal, she said, have made blanket reductions on speed limits and Ottawa should, too.

Coun. Jeff Leiper won the committee’s approval for the city to come up with a plan to knock speed limits down to 30 km/h in the core’s residential areas and the ByWard Market.

Council will be asked to approve the road safety plan next Wednesday.

jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling

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