Pedestrians, Road Safety and Sidewalks

Street ProfileI grew up in a small town where there were no sidewalks unless you counted 4 sides from 3 blocks downtown. As children, we didn't pay much attention to the rule that required us to walk on the left facing oncoming traffic but we did make sure that we were on the edge or even off of the pavement when a vehicle drove by. Most neighbourhood streets were our playgrounds and we shared with other road users as the need arose. That system worked well for us and I can't recall anyone being hurt aside from one girl who had been clipped by the mirror of a passing pickup truck.

This system probably worked well for us because people parked in their driveways rather than on the streets. There was always room on the sides to be seen and walk safely. The village council did not see a need to build sidewalks so when roads were paved or rebuilt none were constructed. Some municipalities followed suit, at least in the quieter areas.

Fast forward 40 years.

Needs and expectations are quite different today. Drivers call the police to report children playing street hockey. Neighbourhood streets look like parking lots. Health conscious people walk and run on and beside the roads. Pedestrians are being hurt in collisions. The sidewalks that are needed may not be there or are expensive to add so await road reconstruction budgets.

What do we do in the meantime? Being accountable for our actions and sharing with others comes to mind.

If you are a pedestrian, you must not walk on the roadway if there is a sidewalk available. Walk on the left facing the traffic if not. Stop the game and move off of the street when a vehicle approaches.

Use crosswalks. Follow the traffic or pedestrian signals and never run out in front of approaching vehicles. Hopefully drivers are expecting to find you here and will yield, but don't bet your life on it. Make eye contact and never walk out in front of a driver unless you are sure they will stop.

If you don't want to follow the rules, at least be responsible for your own life and limb! Pay attention to your surroundings and stay out of the way when necessary.

If you are a driver, first and foremost you are responsible to exercise due care not to collide with pedestrians who are on the highway, legally there or not. Warn the pedestrian when necessary by sounding your horn. The reasonable use of your horn is actually a legal requirement. Remember, it's a warning, not a claim to right of way.

Where there is no sidewalk, the pedestrian is required to use the shoulder, or if there is no shoulder the extreme left side of the pavement. This means that you must surrender the use of the edge of the roadway to the pedestrian where circumstances demand it.

Think of a sidewalk or the sidewalk area as a stop sign. If you are exiting a driveway, parking lot, lane or alley you are required to stop before crossing it and yield the right of way to approaching pedestrians.

Never pass a vehicle stopped for a pedestrian! This may require you to think about why that vehicle ahead of you has stopped on the road for no apparent reason.

Safe road use is not a contest to make sure you get what you feel that you are entitled to. Occasionally you might be required to give up an entitlement to remain safe or provide safety for other road users. Doing so is the sign of a truly safe and smart road user.

Reference Links:

I was on my motorcycle in the West End a couple of years ago, stopped at an intersection prior to a crosswalk, waiting to turn right. I looked left, then right, then left. All clear, began to execute my turn and just about clipped a pedestrian who had (rapidly) stepped out in front of me to cross the crosswalk (red hand showing for him). Of course a bunch of swearwords came out of his mouth and I felt kind of stupid... and I apologized.

However after about thirty seconds of afterthought, I caught up with him on the sidewalk and told him that notwithstanding my culpability that he too had some responsibility. I told him that as a pedestrian or a cyclist, I always make sure I make eye contact with the driver of a vehicle before stepping in front of it. He agreed. All good.

Some pedestrians are complete fools. I think North American laws side on the part of pedestrians in an unhealthy way, which gives them a sort of invincible feel which is to their detriment. As I pointed out to another fool in Vancouver "It doesn't matter if you are right if you are dead".

In developing countries I travel to, there is no question who owns the roads and it ain't the pedestrians.

I can agree with the first post about some pedestrians being a little too arrogant and not taking responsibility, but then way too many drivers are un the same boat, not willing to share the road with other users.

I live in Saanich where the vast majority of streets have no sidewalks.  As of 2012 the cost of sidewalks was approximately $1,000,000/km (yes, that is $1,000/meter).  With nearly 100 km of streets with no sidewalks I don't expect to see sidewalks on every street in my lifetime.  Many of those streets don't even have a shoulder, but are flanked by ditches, some up to 0.5 meters deep.

So what is the answer?  The cheapest and most practical thing I can think of is for municipalities to lower the speed limit to 30 km/hr in residential areas.  Most densely developed urban areas already have sidewalks, so we are not talking about creating a traffic gridlock.  The distance to a main road with a 50 km/hr limit is minimal in 99% of the cases. so please let's not hear from the car-centric telling us how hard done by they will be if residential limits are lowered.  No one needs to be in that much of a hurry.  As a matter of fact, many major cities in North America, with the notable exception of BC, where we have a Transportation Minister that thinks higher speeds are the answer, have, or are in the process of adopting lower limits.  The EU and many other countries have a long history of reducing speed linits with great success in not only reducing pedestrain deaths, and accident rates in general, but also, counterintuitively, improving traffic flows.

I just ran some math, based on your numbers and some assumptions, so here it is:

Suppose that there are 100 vehicles taking 50 km trips every day. Each vehicle takes 1 hour at 50km/h to be done with its driving for the day. At 30km/h it would take 1.6667 hours or 100 minutes: 40 minutes extra per vehicle per day.

That's 66.6 hours per day extra combined road time. At $10.75 minimum wage that's a loss of $715.95 per day or $261,321.75 per year.

Scaling table:

1,000 vehicles = $7,159.50 day / $2,613,217.50 year

10,000 vehicles = $71,590,500 day / $26,132,175 year

If the municipality were to actually spend the $100,000,000 to pave the sidewalks - they would pay off in 4 years of driving time if 10,000 vehicles were taking 50km trips every day in that area. Or 8 years if 5,000 vehicles. Or 16 years if 2,500 vehicles.

Considering that speed limiting signs do not always do their intended effect without the additional enforcement or street improvements like speed bumps and narrowed crossings the municipality would be better off in the long run to begin with paved sidewalks if they intend to make their streets effectively safer.

Another aspect that is not as obvious is the sheer volume increase of the extra vehicle/time observed - with a 40% decrease in speed limit and no appreciable road-surface increase - the observed traffic effectively grows by almost double. The increase in traffic will actually make roads less safe - since there will be double the chance of a car being on the road when a pedestrian steps on to the road surface at any given time. (i.e. a car passes by your house every minute now, after change it will be 2 cars per minute).

And because of the problems that will follow from the effective increase in traffic - the  collisions statistic will grow - and the municipality will build those side-walks and the speed-bumps and the narrowed crossings.

So why not build them now?

I don't know when they were removed but for years all highways had signs indication that pedestrians must "Walk on Left Facing Traffic".

In my mind the highways department is remiss in not having these signs on the roadways. This requirement is also covered under the MVA Section 182, subsection 2.

One can go one step further regarding section 182 Subsection 4 Except for a person that solicits a ride in an emergency situation, a person who contravenes this section commits an offence. So when pedestrians are walking on a highway on the right not facing traffic a Peace Officer should stop them and ticket for contravention of the law. I would doubt there is a cop out there who has ever enforced this regulation.

With back-up cameras now becoming standard in vehicles it is not as important but one should never back into traffic. It is best to back into your driveway and exit driving forward where you have a better view of what is going on. Another thing which should have been emphasized more in drivers training. It is also why companies such as Telus require their drivers to back in and also put cones around their vehicles forcing them to walk around before operating.


Just read the 2014 stats on tickets and 15 tickets were issued under section 182(2).

I asked ICBC for them yesterday. Hopefully they will respond fairly quickly.