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Pedestrian Crossing Ahead

Six years ago, I wrote about Halifax's non-existent sidewalk standards. This summer I was a passenger in a car which sideswiped a pedestrian.  It didn't seem to be anyone's fault particularly, but the crosswalk was in a funny place and only half-heartedly marked. I wondered at the time if the infrastructure could've been better - in light of the recent spate of pedestrian deaths, I'm wondering again.

My take on pedestrian accidents is that the infrastructure is often inadequate and partly to blame.   Good infrastructure design should anticipate texting drivers, earbudded pedestrians, and bad weather and do what it can to mitigate the danger.

I read the November 27 agenda of the HRM Crosswalk Safety Advisory Committee (no minutes since June) and it pointed to reports from the police and RCMP.   They document the basics - number, location, injuries, age, time and weather.  They say nothing about the physical attributes of the location.

HRM puts its design criteria in the Red Book, where you will find only one diagram of a curb cut (#49) and you will search in vain for a crosswalk.  Contrast that with the many ideas and rules of the ADA Access Board (can't find the PDF).  There is a dizzying array of alternatives at the Federal Highway Administration.  HRM's Traffic & Right-of-Way Services says it follows the Pedestrian Crossing Control Guide (2012), which you can buy for $155.  This guide may provide some insights.

It's pretty evident that a single page of the Red Book being devoted to pedestrian crossings is inadequate and irresponsible.  As evidence, consider the heavily used midblock crosswalk in front of Lawton's on Spring Garden, going over to Brenton Street.  A small sign for an out-of-context crosswalk seems poorly thought out.

The corners where a diagonal curb cut serves both crossings (left hand diagram on #49) is the most dangerous.  How is a motorist supposed to figure which way a pedestrian is headed?  In my wheelchair, I have to go down the ramp, into the path of traffic, before turning to make the correct crossing.  Check the corner of Summer and Spring Garden for many close calls every day.

There are plenty of standards, but HRM studiously avoids them, hence the poles in the middle of sidewalks, the out-of-reach buttons for walk signals - every crosswalk seems different.  

I thought it might be interesting to look at one intersection - the corner of Portland Hills Drive and Portland Estates Boulevard, where William Lee was killed this fall.  Here are some annotated Google Street View pictures - they date from 2011, but I doubt much has changed:

(click to enlarge)

This intersection is clearly a mess.  Nothing to be proud of, and possibly by its very nature a contributor to the death of Bill Lee.

I hope to hear of HRM's new standards for pedestrian rights-of-way, and to learn of the program to remediate existing infrastructure.  Standards have been envisioned as part of the forthcoming accessibility legislation, but there's no excuse for delay.

Gus Reed

Accessibility Legislation in under 200 words

Most people hear the words "accessibility legislation" and think of a wheelchair.   Unquestionably, people with disabilities need access, but so does the FedEx person, the mom with a stroller, the tourist from Boston, and your aging parent.  Those people use the access, but they don't think twice about it.

People with disabilities are willing to share the curb cuts with the FedEx person and don't mind when the home handyperson, laden with building supplies, pushes the power door button at Rona.

Change is coming, so instead of complaining about the cost, lets get ready!  All those baby boomers in Toronto who just turned 65 won't settle for the inconvenient bathtubs at the Wandlyn.  Those dads with kids in strollers won't be happy changing a diaper in the tiny washroom downstairs.  That nice young couple asking about a new house with a ground floor bedroom for the visiting parents are the future.  Accessibility is where it's at. and good businesspeople will recognize it.

Here is the rationale and a simple design for accessibility legislation in under 200 words:


These three simple and important messages bear repeating:
  1. It's good for citizens
    1. We're all getting older
    2. Many accessible amenities are just better ideas that everyone takes advantage of
      1. Level entrances
      2. Low-floor buses
      3. Curb cuts
      4. Family washrooms
    3. Nova Scotia is emptying out - we need to match our priorities with our people and rely on ourselves
  2. It's good for business
    1. There is a huge and growing demand for accessible tourism 
    2. With housing starts down considerably in Nova Scotia, builders need to turn their attention elsewhere
    3. More access means more retail customers
  3. It's good for government, whose highest purpose is the equal treatment of all citizens
    1. More jobs mean more taxes and less costly support of the presently hard-to-employ
    2. Ditto more economic activity 
    3. More aging at home means less expensive alternatives to nursing homes.
    4. Safer infrastructure means reduced healthcare costs

How & When

These are the components of good legislation:
  1. Standards
    1. Independently defined
    2. Exceptions allowed
    3. Exemptions not considered
  2. Enforcement is the responsibility of government
  3. Meaningful Penalties
  4. Incentives
  5. Swiftly accomplished


Covering public and private activities in these domains
  1. The built environment
    1. for private dwellings, incentives, not penalties
  2. Employment
  3. Transportation
  4. Information
  5. Services

Getting Old

As an official 65 year-old, I'm entitled to ramble on a bit.  In today's Chronicle Herald is one argument for accessibility legislation.  Here's another, coincidentally supported by a lead story on home-care and nursing homes (a term pretty much out of fashion):

As you know, the Province of Nova Scotia is poised to introduce Accessibility Legislation and it has embarked on a program of soliciting public input.  Even I admit this doesn't sound very exciting, and the vast majority of Nova Scotians would not be expected to have an opinion one way or another.

Except that, one way or another, we all stand to gain.  Especially us senior citizens, hoping to live out our lives in one piece.  There are components of this legislation that matter less to seniors, like employment, but accessibility for people using wheelchairs is indistinguishable from accessibility for people using walkers or people who are going a bit slow this morning, thank you very much.  Low-floor buses and decent transportation are just as important in keeping us retirees engaged in the community as to getting you worker bees to your job.

Being a weather chicken, in the winter I live in a place called Fearrington Village in North Carolina. Business Week thinks it's got its share of interesting folks.  It's not quite the anteroom of eternity, but it's a stop along the way.  The average age is 73.  I think it's about evenly divided between people who want to 'age in place' and those who expect to move to 'continuing care', as it's more fashionably called.

Doesn't look like Lynne.  Looks like me, but isn't.  
At least at the beginning, aging in place is possible because the infrastructure here is largely accessible, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act.  It's not magic, but there's a reasonable expectation that a business, sidewalk or service will be accessible and safe. Later on, if there are decent home care alternatives and you have a house that isn't your enemy, you can stay independent.

The government has a stake in this because it's far cheaper to provide in-home services than to pay for beds in continuing care facilities.   And far better to provide safe infrastructure than to clean up the mess.

They say that disability touches us all - we have a relative with a disability or an aging parent.  But it gets even more personal when you wake up one day and discover you're not 19 anymore.  As evidence that we're not as spry as we used to be, consider that in 2011 3,232 Nova Scotians had a knee or hip replaced, up 42% from 2,268 five years before.  A total of 13,773 in five years.

The New York Times just had a sobering two part series on the hazards and consequences of falls. Nova Scotians who have had intimations of their own mortality should pay attention and applaud the development of accessibility standards.

If things go well for you, accessibility will be important in your sunset years.  If you are so inclined, you can visit the website of Nova Scotia's public consultation process and make a comment.  The public meetings run from November 13 to December 3.  If you don't care about the gory details, you can just write a sentence or two in the Other Comments section,  saying you are a senior or aspiring senior who expects the government to be proactive, timely and decisive.

And it never hurts to let your MLA know.  Send me a copy!

Gus Reed