Scrambling pedestrians

How does a pedestrian scramble across the road?

I had the pleasure of visiting Banff as a tourist this spring. The downtown area of the city has been remade with pedestrians in mind.

The sidewalks are wide, speed limits are reduced and the three pedestrian scrambles move a lot of people more safely than the conventional intersection.

Clearly, pedestrians are a welcome part of traffic in the core area.

By now you are probably wondering what a pedestrian scramble is. Rather than operate the intersection signals as we have come to expect, alternating traffic (including pedestrians) through and across the intersection, Banff’s scramble stops all vehicles for one phase of the traffic lights and allows pedestrians to cross both perpendicularly and diagonally in all directions.

In effect, control of the intersection is turned over to pedestrians instead of focusing on moving motor vehicles.

This system is optimum in urban areas where pedestrian traffic is heavy and sufficient space exists on the sidewalk to accommodate large groups. This is the case in Banff, which can have 2,000 pedestrians and 200 vehicles per hour at one downtown intersection in the summer.

Probably the biggest advantage of the pedestrian scramble is the reduction of conflict. During the scramble phase, only pedestrians are moving and all vehicles must stop.

Otherwise, only vehicles move and drivers no longer have to worry about pedestrians while making turns. To me, this is a fair exchange. Having to wait a little longer for pedestrians is traded for faster and safer flow on turns.

Implementation of a diagonal crossing can reduce pedestrian casualties by 38 per cent, according to Transport for London. I liked it simply because I only had to wait to cross the street once to get to the other side of the intersection when I wasn’t staying on the same side of the street.

There appears to be an alternative system as examples of scrambles that I have found elsewhere allow pedestrians to parallel vehicle traffic for two cycles of the traffic lights.

A third cycle of four-way red lights to stop all vehicular traffic occurs and allows the scramble to take place.

Some scrambles are also controlled by traffic signals that prohibit right turns during the scramble phase.

Of course, this works well when everyone follows the rules. Pedestrian wait times tend to be longer at a scramble and impatient people could occasionally be seen disobeying the pedestrian controls and dodging vehicles.

As it is with drivers, personal convenience can trump traffic laws and consideration for others.

With Vancouver in the news last week for having a higher than normal pedestrian death rate so far in 2016, and the Vancouver Police Department announcing a cyclist and pedestrian safety campaign, one would wonder why cities in B.C. don’t adopt pedestrian scrambles.

It appears that Vancouver did consider scrambles in 2011, hoping to implement some on Robson Street, similar to one at Moncton and Number 1 Road in Richmond. The city dropped that plan in 2013.

However you choose to cross the street, use a crosswalk, follow the signals, stop, look both ways, hold hands and yield to motor vehicles.

Remember that right of way is given, not demanded.

To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca.


Go! Go! Go!

Is slow driving unacceptable?

Argh! The driver in front of me is not doing the speed limit.

I’ll admit I often feel this way, even when the speed differential is as low as five to 10 km/h. I have to tell myself to relax and follow until there is a safe opportunity to pass by or even be satisfied with reducing my  speed to match and not worrying about it.

The trouble is, that only works if you don’t have a schedule and, in some circumstances, slow driving can be dangerous.

We seem to behave as if the speed signs are labelled minimum or exactly instead of maximum. If you aren’t doing at least the maximum speed, either get out of the way or get off of the highway. Perhaps the only place a lower speed might be tolerable is when the slow driver is using the right lane of a multiple-lane highway.

Speaking from the point of view of the traffic laws, exceeding the posted speed limit is illegal. Driving at a speed less than the speed limit is not, as long as there is a good reason for doing so and the reduced speed is a reasonable one.

If the speed is unreasonable, police action may be taken by either requiring the driver to increase speed or by removing the vehicle from the road until the officer directs otherwise.

A responsible slow driver will monitor traffic in the rear-view mirror and move out of the way to let others by. This is polite and keeps safety in mind. If you obstruct an irresponsible driver, you could easily provoke irrational or unsafe behaviour that results in a collision.

I’ve been told that “everyone knows that the police won’t write a speeding ticket for 10 over.” Observing the traffic around me when I drive, many seem to have adopted this as their personal speed limit. So, if at least 10 over is acceptable, why is at least 10 under not?

When I did speed enforcement, if I allowed the same tolerance under the speed limit as I did for those exceeding it and kept the advisory speed signs in mind, I constantly found drivers outside the upper limit, but rarely found drivers under the lower limit.

Complaints about slow drivers usually come from people who are experienced drivers and comfortable with their vehicle’s operation.

While they do make up the majority of road users, there are beginners of all ages and drivers who are ageing or suffer from health impairments who self limit their speed in order to be safe.

We cannot expect the latter group to speed up to keep the former happy. They are licensed, therefore entitled to use the highways within the law too.

Some single and combination vehicles are not powerful enough or designed to keep up to the posted speed limits. In fact, if the vehicle is capable of at least 60 km/h on level ground, it is able to use freeways posted at 120 km/h.

If you are a slow driver and have a collection of followers, remain at the slower speed and allow them to pass when you reach a passing lane.

If there is no passing lane and an area to pull over is available, use it. Remember to keep right on multiple-laned highways. If you are a faster driver, don’t be a bulldozer and intimidate the slower driver hoping to pass. Being responsible keeps us all safe.

To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca.

A grumpy idea

Complaints Anonymous - A Traffic Violator Database Proposal

I never know what I will find when I check the DriveSmartBC e-mail in-box.

Today’s gem came from someone who identifies themself as Grumpy and suggested that he was thinking that maybe I could use the website to contain a database such that when a bad driver is witnessed, the public could enter the details of the driving offence. No personal information need be provided. 

The writer went on to say that the main benefit of the database is that we could keep a count of the number of offences for a particular driver. If say, a license plate gets reported three or more times then the police could/should automatically investigate this person.

In a perfect world, the only entries in this database would be honest ones. No one would ever think of causing problems for another by flooding it with malicious information, misinterpretation of an event or insufficient detail.

A vehicle’s licence plate only serves to identify who owns the vehicle, not who was driving at a specific time. Yes, the owner must take reasonable steps to identify the driver when police notify them that the vehicle has been involved in a contravention, but would you be able to report who was driving your vehicle at a particular time six months ago?

It’s the “no personal information need be provided” part that causes me the most concern. That says to me “I’m not willing to be accountable for the information that I am providing.”

I think that with a little more thought, Grumpy would also not be willing to accept being the focus of an investigation under this system.

There is a database almost like this in British Columbia right now. It’s called PRIME, the Police Records Information Management Environment.

I’m guessing that Grumpy’s difficulty is that every time you try to add a record, you are asked for your name, address, birth date and telephone number by the complaint taker. Many people are reluctant to provide this information.

At this point, I got the impression many of them just wanted the police to wave their magic baton and have the problem go away.

It doesn’t work that way. If you want to solve the problem, you have to be a part of the solution.

Unfortunately, even when you are ready, willing and able to participate, the outcome could be less than what you're hoping for. Sometimes, it can be much less. Perhaps this is why Grumpy is proposing an alternative system.

Having said that, I always found that the driving complaints that I chose to prosecute in traffic court resulted in a conviction.

It had little to do with my skill as a prosecutor and everything to do with the citizen who reported the incident and was willing to see it through to a conclusion. That will was reinforced by what was usually significantly bad driving behaviour on the part of the accused.

Some drivers deserve to be held accountable for what they do when traffic law enforcement personnel are not around to discover and deal with them. If you are involved and feel strongly that action needs to be taken, make the report and follow up.

If you don’t try, you won’t be successful.

To comment or learn more on this subject, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca

Pedestrian thoughts

I was asked two interesting questions in an email last week: “Is it law or simply a rule in B.C. that pedestrians should walk facing traffic when there are no sidewalks? What happens when the highway maintenance company doesn't leave a shoulder to walk on?”

As I contemplate my answers, many things run through my mind. How do we learn to be a safe pedestrian? How many people don’t know the rules for driver/pedestrian interaction? What are the risks in deciding to walk on or beside the highway?

As a good grandpa should, I take my granddaughters by the hand when we cross the street. We stop at the edge of the pavement and carefully look both ways. If nothing is coming, we walk directly across the road without hesitation to the opposite shoulder. If something is coming, we wait until the vehicle has passed before we cross.

Their mother is equally careful. She coaches them to use the left side of the road to walk on and calls them to the side to stand and wait if a vehicle should appear. This is likely the most common form of pedestrian education.

ICBC provides a wealth of material to schools, free of charge, for road-safety education. A quick check with my local school district reveals that road safety is not part of the curriculum, but students may earn credit toward graduation through completion of a certified, driver-training program. Use of these materials at school would be discretionary.

A search for resources on the Internet will find many pages with tips for being a safe pedestrian, but I was unable to find a comprehensive pedestrian guide for British Columbia. Sadly, there is the Auto Accident Survivors Guide for British Columbia that was written by a pedestrian with first-hand knowledge of being struck and seriously injured.

The Motor Vehicle Act is the law in B.C.and Sections 179-182 regulate how drivers and pedestrians must behave. The heaviest onus is on the driver to be aware of and exercise due care to avoid a collision. The other side of the coin requires pedestrians to use a sidewalk when one is available, to walk on the left facing traffic when there isn't and to yield to vehicles when not using a crosswalk.

If there is no sidewalk and the shoulder is either impassable or not present, pedestrians are entitled to use the left edge of the roadway. Facing oncoming traffic will allow you to see approaching vehicles and take evasive action if necessary.

We have come from a society that was pedestrian based to one that is motor-vehicle based with little provision for the safety of non-vehicle road users. That is starting to change. The Canadian Council for Motor Transport Administrators has published Countermeasures to Improve pedestrian safety in Canada to guide authorities in fostering highways that are meant for more than the exclusive use of drivers.

Being a pedestrian comes with significant risk that it is possible many do not stop to consider. After all, most of us can walk by the age of two and move on to worry about other things. Still, 58 people are killed and 2,400 injured each year in B.C. The major contributing factors are distracted driving and drivers failing to yield the right of way but being a savvy pedestrian can go a long way toward self-preservation.

To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca.

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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