By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
A strategy aimed at making Durham roads safer continues to evolve, taking further steps toward an end goal of eliminating fatal collisions altogether.
Steve Kemp, manager of traffic engineering and operations with the region, updated council on the status of the Strategic Road Safety Action Plan, also known as Durham Vision Zero, recently.
The plan launched in 2015, with the aim of setting targets, policies and action plans toward safer roads and reducing the number of collisions across the municipality.
According to Kemp, the number of fatal accidents has declined universally across Canada, a trend that has also been seen in Durham.
“These are the lowest numbers since the data has been collected. Canada’s are among the best in the world,” Kemp says.
Durham’s plan is highly influenced by Vision Zero, a program created in Sweden in 1997 that established a long-term vision of eliminating traffic fatalities and injuries that result from motor vehicle collisions.
Toronto and Peel Region have both implemented Vision Zero programs.
Using the practices and policies of Vision Zero, Kemp says the ultimate goal of the plan is to have zero fatal accidents in Durham.
Twenty-one people died and 1,500 others were injured in collisions on regional and local roads in Durham in 2017.
The number of cyclists injured on local roads has jumped from 23 in 2012 to 84 in 2016.
Through public feedback and collision data analysis, traffic safety staff have identified eight priority areas of focus for the action plan.
These include intersections, aggressive, distracted and impaired driving, young drivers, pedestrian and cyclist safety and heavy trucks.
Impaired driving was the top priority from public opinion, but only seventh on the list based on collision data analysis.
Kemp noted while it is an area of concern, there is only so much the region can do to impede impaired driving through regulations, and enforcement/prevention practices by police play a much larger role.
He admitted that recent impaired driving trends in Durham Region have been “somewhat concerning” and staff is keeping a close eye on the consequences of legalized marijuana on traffic safety laws.
School zones were the fourth highest issue of public concern, but Kemp explained that these areas are “some of the safest portions of roads that we have.”
Kemp says rear-end accidents are the most frequent, followed by collisions involving turns. Yet, injuries and vehicle damage are “usually worse” in collisions involving turn vehicles.
During the discussion, Ajax Councillor Shaun Collier brought up automated speed enforcement (photo radar), stating he believes it is a “no-brainer” decision.
Alberta-based company Global Traffic Inc. pitched its take on photo radar technology to the Durham Police Services Board last September, but the board left the decision up to local municipalities.
Kemp told the council that as a “safety practitioner”, he was 100 per cent behind photo radar.
“We’ve tried everything to get people to slow down. We’ve put up bigger signs, reduced the number on the signs, and speed bumps etc. I’d argue we’ve had minimal impact,” he says. “The only thing that really works is enforcement.”
Clarington Councillor Joe Neal said he’s heard red light cameras have been successful in York Region, and perhaps Durham should follow suit.
Kemp says while red light cameras have proven successful in other jurisdictions, it “won’t necessarily help…with pedestrian and cyclist issues.”
The next step in the plan is to develop counter measures to reduce collisions.
Possible steps that have received discussions include separate traffic signals for left-hand turning vehicles, expansion of pedestrian crosswalk timers, pavement marking improvement, enhanced inspections of heavy trucks and infrastructure improvements for cyclists.
Kemps says he expects to present a final report on the action plan to council this fall.