The fast and furious on Edmonton streets

That Edmonton drivers suck is a common belief held by people who visit our fair city.

Oh, the complaints I’ve heard. We’re rude. We speed. We signal whimsically. We hog lanes, run reds and park like Roombas.

Question: Can it be true?

Better question: Can we handle the truth?

Please consider a five-day survey of traffic on 23 Avenue done in late 2012, in which the speed of 62,890 passing vehicles was captured by a sophisticated sensor. Here are the findings:

  • Only 40 per cent of the vehicles were NOT speeding.
  • About 11 per cent were clocked at 75 – 90 km/h!!
  • And a total of 69 drivers nitwitted past the sensor at speeds in excess of 110 km/h!!!

Note: Nitwitted is a verb if you go 110 km/h or more in the city, you nitwit.

The monitoring was done by the City of Edmonton’s Office of Traffic Safety, an unheralded, yet crucial component of the civil service.

The office, created in 2006, is believed to be unique in the world, as traffic safety is usually handled at the federal or provincial/state level.

The office’s strategic efforts are already paying off. Since its inception there has been a steady decrease in collisions, injuries, fatalities and property damage.

Soon after it was formed, the office worked with other units of the Transportation Services Department to review intersections with high collision rates.

Such as those curving right-turn lanes which require an Exorcist-like head roll to the back left, whilst rotating your right eye forward to be on the lookout for pedestrians or braking cars ahead.

Absent chameleon eyeballs, it’s a challenge.

One of these sweeping curves, a Yellowhead Trail off ramp, recorded 150 collisions in five years. At the behest of the Office of Traffic Safety, it was rebuilt in 2009 into a workmanlike, 90-degree right turn. Since then, there have been no collisions.

Gerry Shimko, executive director of the Office of Traffic Safety, says the money spent on the off ramp has paid for itself many times over.

One study on societal costs from traffic collisions pegged the annual burden to the Edmonton region at $1 billion.

I’m skeptical of such claims. But only because dollar amounts can’t capture the emotional scars of traffic injuries and fatalities.

But Shimko, who was a cop for 28 years, knows what it’s like when a mother or father, son or daughter, doesn’t make it home safely to their loved ones.

He and his staff of 27 — 13 of them analysts — are motivated by the knowledge that even a seemingly minor collision can be tragic to an Edmonton family.

“We want to create a traffic safety culture,” says Shimko. “The culture in Edmonton? It leans towards a speeding culture.”

Research shows that lowering speed by an average one km/h will reduce the rate of collisions by three per cent.

Yet in Edmonton, during two recent and heavy snow storms, police handed out 225 speeding tickets. On another day, a woman was clocked at 83 km/h in a school zone — while talking on her cell phone.

Unfortunately, such cases are not as unusual as we’d think, says Shimko.

So is this negative view of Edmonton drivers true?

If so, how did we get this way? Is it somehow part of our self image? The relative youth of our population? The strength of our economy?

Likely, we’ll never know. But here’s one thing we can say for certain.

To drive well, we must drive consciously. Conscious of the role we play in the safety of self and others.

Given the results of the traffic survey mentioned above, I’d suggest being particularly conscious along 23 Avenue.

The Office of Traffic Safety happily shares its survey data with the Edmonton Police Service.

There will be enforcement. If you get caught, well, that sucks for you.


The Office of Traffic Safety is hosting Edmonton’s 5th Annual International Conference on URBAN Traffic Safety, April 29.

The public is invited to the Run Walk Ride 4 Traffic Safety on Saturday, April 27. You can find the details at


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About the Author
Scott McKeen
The City of Edmonton's first-ever blogger in residence is long-time city writer and journalist Scott McKeen. McKeen is best known for his stint as The Edmonton Journal's civic affairs columnist, a position he held from 2002 - 2010. He won a number of awards during his 24 years at The Journal, including an international writing prize for his investigative work on a growing Edmonton cult. McKeen left the paper in 2010 for a shot at politics. He came out of that experience, he says, with much greater humility and respect for those who run for public office. McKeen is now a freelance writer and communications consultant. His hobbies include guitar, photography and napping.
  1. Jerry Dmytrash
    7 years ago

    Just because you did the survey on 23 ave does not mean it it worse there than Jasper ave, High level bridge or anywhere else in the city(especially on weekend evenings). It is about time attention was drawn to this.

  2. jude simon
    7 years ago

    I am a trucker, and I see all sorts of driving out there. Alot of people seem to be under the impression that, if they don’t get to where they need to go in a hurry, their destination might burn down.

  3. 7 years ago

    I’m not surprised at all by these findings. I used to be a nitwit when I was younger, careless and self fulfilling, however I don’t think it’s just the late teens or 20’s that are the only ones to blame here. I’d really be interested to see the stats if you could add age to it. I won’t bother going into all the other classifications as that would probably be asking for punishment.

    I’ve seen a lot of other “nitwits” with jacked up trucks, SRT version’s of vehicles, etc… driving like they are king of the road and could careless about others.

    Driving is a privilege not a right and until that is made more clear or the privilege is taken away much more easily then and only then will people start to understand. Or we could just wait until Google perfects the driver-less car and we will have no choice to drive the speed limit and obey all traffic signals to the full extent.

  4. JonnyB
    7 years ago

    Very informative (and fun).

    Most surprising fact:

    “The office, created in 2006, is believed to be unique in the world,”

    I wonder why that is? Good on us though.

  5. 7 years ago

    Glad you are the blogger-in-residence, Scott. You will help us “outsiders” see more clearly how the City serves citizens. I’m looking forward to reading about the obscure things you will find that will shed light on City Hall – and its relationship with citizens.

    Have fun!

  6. Julie
    5 years ago

    The most impressive thing that steriks me about Jasper Ave. is how easy it is to walk along it. Most of the walk signals at downtown intersections are nice and long, and seem almost to be timed to allow a person to walk at a reasonable pace without having to wait to cross.It would be nice if the city I live in could do this. Here in Grande Prairie, the walk signal goes out well before you get halfway across the street, and you have to hustle to get across before the light actually changes and the traffic starts to chase you out of the crosswalk.

  7. Ross
    4 years ago

    I find it interesting that the drivers are blamed when the city’s focus has long been moving the maximum number of car per hour on city roads and streets.

    I don’t think there is a single road or street in Edmonton where the design was safety a head of traffic flow.

    Stop designing the city for cars. Design the city for people.

    Trying to get the traffic engineering department to change or add a stop sign to slow traffic on a residential street has been an up hill battle as they are so oriented to car movement.


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