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:
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 www.edmonton.ca//mtsfund