Vancouver trails major North American cities in giving pedestrians head start at crosswalks

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      Intersections are dangerous for pedestrians.

      As the City of Vancouver’s Transportation 2040 plan notes, 75 percent of collisions involving pedestrians occur at intersections.

      Other major North American cities have adopted a timing option for traffic signals in a bid to reduce risks for people on foot.

      It’s known as "leading pedestrian interval" or LPI.

      What an LPI does is that it gives walkers a head start of three to seven seconds at crosswalks before the traffic light turns green for vehicles that either moving in the same direction or waiting to make a left turn.

      It reinforces a pedestrian’s right of way, and makes a walker more visible.

      The New York-based National Association of City Transportation Officers is a fan of LPIs.

      According to the organization of major North American cities and transit agencies, LPIs have been shown to reduce collisions between cars and people by as much as 60 percent.

      San Francisco installed its first LPI in 1999, and more followed.

      Seattle and Los Angeles have a number of these traffic light systems.

      In Toronto, the number of LPIs were planned to double to 80 as of the end of 2018.

      New York City tops everyone. According to the city’s department of transportation, there are 2,238 LPIs in New York.

      Vancouver lags behind.

      It has only four LPIs. Moreover, these are all at testing or pilot phases.

      A 2012 pedestrian safety study by the City of Vancouver flagged the danger posed by left turning vehicles at intersections.

      According to the study, the “most common pedestrian collision type includes a left turning vehicle at an intersection (33.9% of pedestrian collision)”.

      “Most of these left turning collisions occur at signalized intersections and involve a pedestrian crossing with the right of way (i.e., with a walk signal),” the report noted. “This is to be expected, as traffic signal phasing typically allows the pedestrian crossing phase to run simultaneously with the through and permitted turning movements on the parallel street segment.”

      The study identified potential pedestrian safety measures to reduce conflicts between pedestrians and left turning vehicles. One of these is the use of LPIs.

      In 2012, the City of Vancouver approved its Transportation 2040 plan. Among the actions included is the implementation of signal measures to prioritize pedestrian movement. These measure are LPIs.

      When this piece was posted online Sunday (March 24), the city’s website has yet to be updated regarding its content about LPIs.

      According to the site, the city has a pilot project at Davie and Burrard streets.

      Winston Chou, manager of traffic and data management, reckoned that the test probably started sometime in 2016.

      Chou also said that three others followed last year at these intersections: Thurlow and Pacific streets, Granville and Smithe streets, and Great Northern Way and Carolina Street.

      The results have been encouraging.

      “It gets the pedestrians out to the crosswalk, and what we found is that the pedestrian is then more in the field of view, not at the corner of the eye of the motorist, but more in front of the motorist who’s making that turn, and so it makes them, the pedestrian, much more visible,” Chou told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview on March 21.

      According to Chou, the LPIs at the four intersections have reduced “conflicts” between cars and pedestrians by 12 to19 percent.

      The City of Vancouver is testing the leading pedestrian interval system at four intersections, and one is at Burrard and Davie streets.

      Vancouver has yet to fully embrace the concept.

      “We call it a trial, and we’ve been doing some assessments,” Chou said.

      Installing more could help.

      “At this point, there isn’t a defined date on when the trial will end,” Chou said. “At this point, it’s looking like we will continue to operate these intersections the way they are, and in fact, we’ll likely try and find, you know, additional locations where we could put these in.”