New York City's rookie mayor has pledged to end traffic deaths in a decade, but most of Winnipeg's mayoral candidates aren't quite that audacious.
Among the top current contenders -- former councillor Gord Steeves, lawyer Brian Bowman and Charleswood Coun. Paula Havixbeck -- Bowman came the closest, saying his campaign will eventually come out with quantifiable targets related to road safety and transportation.
"I actually like the idea of setting zero as a target, knowing full well it's like setting a goal of ending homelessness, knowing you may not achieve it fully," said Bowman.
Setting a tough target for voters to approve allows a mayor to get buy-in from council and city staff, helps the best ideas emerge and preserves accountability, said Bowman.
For the last week, inspired by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's menu of new road-safety initiatives called Vision Zero, the Free Press has explored ways Winnipeg could shrink the number of serious crashes using better intersection design, tougher enforcement, lower speed limits and separated cycle tracks.
In New York, as in Winnipeg, traffic deaths nearly match the number of homicides. De Blasio has rallied police, traffic engineers, doctors, bike advocates and policy experts around what he calls a public-health issue.
"The first obligation of government is to protect the health and safety of our people, and this is an area where we simply have to do better," de Blasio said when he launched Vision Zero. "We think there is an epidemic here. And it can't go on."
If Winnipeg cut the number of crashes in half, nearly 100 lives could be saved in a decade, while also making the city more livable and less car-centric. Using cost estimates gleaned from Transport Canada research, Winnipeg could also save close to $5 billion in health care, lost work time, traffic delays, disability payments, property damage and other spinoff social costs related to crashes.
Havixbeck said her team is working on creating policy and will look at road safety as part of that process.
"Improved safety is always important," said Havixbeck.
She said working with partners such as Manitoba Public Insurance, CAA Manitoba and the provincial government, which sets urban speed limits, would be key. Also key is ensuring traffic measures work in a winter city.
Among New York's initiatives is the creation of more neighbourhood slow zones, where speed humps and a lower limit force drivers to pump the brakes. Havixbeck said she has found it difficult to get speed humps in her ward due to somewhat restrictive city rules.
Steeves said road safety could be improved by more aggressive sand application in the winter and by plowing streets right to the curb for cyclists, allowing them more space from cars.
He said bike infrastructure has improved but needs to get better. Instead of cycle tracks on major routes, it may make more sense to build greenways such as the one along Chief Peguis Trail or bike-friendly residential routes instead of separated cycle tracks along major roads.
That's the direction favoured by the city's current long-term bike plan, which includes few separated cycle tracks but many off-road paths and alternative residential routes.
Whatever the city does, it must be well-thought out, said Steeves.
"We don't want to solve one problem by creating another," he said.
Before he committed to a goal of halving or eliminating serious accidents, Steeves said he'd want to see more research.
"Before I said it, I'd want to be confident it was possible," said Steeves. "What a wonderful outcome if we could accomplish it."
Asked about cycling infrastructure, Bowman said he agrees bike tracks that separate cyclists from motorists is ideal.
"It's just outright scary," said Bowman of biking on major city roads. "Having the painted lanes is one step, but it's not ideal."
Bowman says creating dedicated cycle tracks doesn't necessarily have to involve giving up driving or parking lanes, which might increase congestion. Instead, he said he's looking at what cities in Ontario are doing, splitting wide sidewalks into two for pedestrians and cyclists.
Bowman would also favour a moratorium on new traffic lights along the Perimeter Highway and a recalibration of speed limits throughout the city -- slower speeds in residential neighbourhoods and higher speeds on some major commuter thoroughfares.
The Winnipeg Free Press asked readers to share their own crash stories. We received dozens. We've been printing some each day as part of the series.
I was fortunate I saw the truck -- which was definitely not going to stop at the two-way stop -- with lots of notice so I could slow down to minimize the damage. However, due to the icy conditions, we still collided. If I had not seen the truck, he would have T-boned the front passenger door, and I happened to have my 14-year-old daughter with me as we were off to visit her grandfather before her piano lesson. The driver did not notice the stop sign at all, and it could have been much more serious due to the speed involved. I'm so happy the damage was only to the car and fortunately, we were all able to drive away afterwards. The driver was a young man, 17 years old. It is unclear if he was distracted or just missed the stop completely. The damage came out to $4,300.
-- Michelle Childs
One December afternoon, just after Christmas, I was driving down Ellice in my Volkswagen Beetle. A white SUV ran the stop sign at Milt Stegall Drive and hit my car's passenger side, sending me spinning across the intersection. It's funny the collision happened at Milt Stegall Drive since I'm a huge Bomber fan and had Bombers plates on my blue car and a ton of Bombers paraphernalia in and on the car. The airbags went off in both vehicles, and there was significant front-end damage to my car. The car I loved so much, my first car ever, the Bomber, ended up being written off. I suffered a fractured arm that took several months to heal. I had to give up horseback riding for more than a year, something I had always wanted to do and had just started. It was several weeks before I felt comfortable driving again, and even now, more than a year after the accident, I still flinch when I see someone on a cross street who looks like they might not stop. I spent nearly six months in physiotherapy after the cast came off. My arm still hurts a bit sometimes and is still weaker than the other. But I did get a brand-new Beetle in the end!
-- Tanya Elrick
Last May, I was in a traffic accident on Arlington Street. Shortly after coming off the Arlington bridge, I stopped at a pedestrian crossing to allow two ladies to cross. Although I had seen them waiting to cross, the driver behind me never noticed and hit me at almost top speed. It caused more than $7,000 worth of damage to my 2010 Toyota Venza and damaged my shoulder. I am still dealing with shoulder pain. What was scary about the accident is the adjuster said it looked like the other driver hit me at full speed. If he hadn't hit me, he would have killed the two ladies using the pedestrian crossing.
-- Stephanie Wood