In this case, speed could save lives

It goes without saying that pretty much any credible analysis of traffic collisions and casualties will conclude that speed kills.

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Opinion

It goes without saying that pretty much any credible analysis of traffic collisions and casualties will conclude that speed kills.

It’s ironic, then, that critics of the City of Winnipeg’s still-in-development road safety strategic action plan are of the mind that a lack of speed in implementing this long-overdue strategy will unnecessarily sustain the current concerning rate of traffic-related deaths and injuries.

The proposed plan calls for the city to spend $22 million over five years on measures to reduce fatalities and serious injuries related to collisions and other traffic calamities. Funding for the plan is scheduled to begin in 2023.

While that seems a reasonable timeline for many of the measures proposed in the plan — including the creation of a road safety committee, a road safety branch and three new full-time safety-focused staff positions, as well as a review of the city’s policies for intersection warning lights, roundabout and left-turn signals, an upgrade of cycling infrastructure and the installation of barriers and traffic-control measures to better protect pedestrians — the chair of the public works committee says there are steps that could be taken more immediately to reduce traffic-related harms.

“I think we can do more,” Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) said last week. “We should fast-track the parts of roads (funding) that involve safety.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) argues that in addition to the mid- and longer-term goals of the strategy, the city should immediately address the $7.5 million in warranted engineering enhancements that were recently identified by the city but remain unbudgeted.

Mr. Allard argues that in addition to the mid- and longer-term goals of the strategy, the city should immediately address the $7.5 million in warranted engineering enhancements that were recently identified by the city but remain unbudgeted. Such improvements could produce instant improvements in traffic safety, he argued.

“The public service says it’s important to set targets,” Mr. Allard said, “but the idea that people are still going to die and get injured is (concerning).”

The councillor has a point, but he also faces a problem: the city is in the midst of a massive budget crunch, owing to pandemic-related losses and last winter’s inordinately high snow-clearing costs. Officials recently revealed the financial stabilization reserve (a.k.a. “rainy day fund”) is expected to fall to $30.4 million by year’s end, far below its council-mandated minimum balance of $71.7 million.

Discretionary dollars, of the sort Mr. Allard suggests could be directed to immediate traffic-safety improvements, will be very hard to find.

“The public service says it’s important to set targets… but the idea that people are still going to die and get injured is (concerning).” – Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface)

While it might not be possible to affect the immediate transfer of civic funds to the engineering enhancements he describes, his suggestion should be used to underscore the urgency of the city’s implementation of a credible and swiftly achievable set of strategic traffic-safety goals. Given the appropriate application of political and administrative will, the plan can and should be set into motion with all due haste.

According to the city’s manager of transportation planning, 98 people died and 1,113 were seriously injured as a result of collisions on Winnipeg’s streets between 2012 and 2018. The road safety strategic action plan, which council is expected to vote on later this month, would set a target of a 20 per cent reduction in traffic-related fatalities and injuries — a number Mr. Allard says isn’t sufficiently aggressive.

His insistence that traffic safety be considered a front-of-mind concern should be appreciated by all who drive, cycle and walk on Winnipeg’s infrastructure. Safer streets make for a more livable city. Speed kills, it’s true, but in the context of implementing a road-safety plan, acceleration could be a key factor in saving lives.

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