WR and Howe: One Accident is One Too Many in Region

In 2016, 1,851 people were injured on the streets of Waterloo Region. That includes drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists. Six died. Over each of the previous four years, nine or 10 people died.

Now let’s take a look at the most vulnerable people using our streets — walkers and bikers who are not inside a box of steel with loads of safety features. In 2016, 120 collisions involved someone getting around by foot and 87 collisions involved someone on a bicycle. In stats for the last five years, we’ve had as many as 154 pedestrians and 130 cyclists hit in one year.

You could look at these numbers from the Region of Waterloo’s 2016 collision report and believe that we’re seeing progress.

However, each and every one of these collisions was preventable through better design.

The numbers I’m citing represent people going about their everyday lives who suddenly found their stories changed. Some momentarily, but for many people their lives changed for days, weeks, months or a lifetime — if they were fortunate to survive. So did the lives of their family, friends and neighbours.

One death is too many. One pedestrian injured after being hit by someone driving a car is too many. One cyclist killed by a driver coming off the expressway is one too many.

That is the philosophy behind the Vision Zero movement that began in Sweden in 1997 and has been gaining momentum ever since. The movement’s proponents recognized that people are human and make mistakes, yet believe that all deaths and serious injuries on our streets are preventable.

Vision Zero says that our streets need to be designed so that everyone using them is kept safe. At the same time, our streets must encourage people to feel safe enough to make choices like walking and biking that keep both people and the environment healthy.

This philosophy is a departure from the past, which placed the full responsibility for road safety on people using them. Vision Zero sees that responsibility being shared by those that design our streets and enforce the rules. And it expects the latter group to continually strive for improvement, until no one is injured or killed.

The same collision report that shows how much work needs to be done before we have safe roads in Waterloo Region contains a silver lining: our regional government is considering embracing the Vision Zero movement.

While municipal staff across Waterloo Region are continually working to improve the safety of our streets, I hope they will formally recommend embracing Vision Zero just as Hamilton, Toronto and Edmonton have.

We need to make a bold declaration that we will only consider our streets safe when no one is seriously injured or killed. Doing so means we value the lives of everyone using our roads, that we are serious about having a walkable community and that we encourage cycling year round.


James Howe is a community advocate who blogs on urban issues and how they contribute to building healthy, happy communities at and on Twitter as @JamesHoweWR