Blame roads, not the modes

All the criticism directed at e-scooters applies in stronger measure to automobiles. Let’s look at safety:

  • Annually in Canada over the past 20 years automobiles accounted for roughly 2,000 fatalities, 11,000 serious injuries, and 175,000 total injuries. Granted, more people drive than take other modes and these stats include rural incidents, but the urban numbers are still very high. (NCDB)
  • Castanet can confirm, but in 2021 so far, the Kelowna area has had over 10 vehicles hit buildings causing extensive damage.
  • A SUV recently drove at high speed into the crowded City Park in Kelowna.
  • The leading cause of death for people under 20 is automobile incidents, this was tragically witnessed last month in Kelowna. (Stats Canada)
  • The leading cause of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and concussions for adults under 60 is riding in automobiles. In 2017, in the US, for people between the ages of 15 to 55, motor vehicle crashes accounted for approximately 20% of all TBI. A distant second was unintentional falls at around 9%. (Public Health Agency Canada, US CDC)
  • Collisions with a vehicle make up 73% of fatal cycling events. (Stats Canada)
  • Each year, 67 people in BC die in crashes involving impaired driving, 22% of car crash fatalities are related to impaired driving. (ICBC)
  • Automobiles are increasingly being weaponized at an alarming rate.

If Dr. Steven Krywulak, chief orthopedic surgeon at KGH, confidently generalizes that e-scooters are “fracture machines” (Castanet May 28, 2021), what does he call much deadlier automobiles? Imagine all these automobile deaths become only bone fractures and minor injuries…Further to safety, prioritizing private automobiles in cities on all roads and streets brings a host of other detrimental effects when viewed through the lens of inequality, the environment, noise, equity, liveability, economy, and liberty.

Fundamentally, the incompatibility of automobiles with city streets is a problem of geometry. As residential and commercial land-uses shrink their demand for land, automobiles do the opposite. In evolving cities, all human uses of the land get more compact. The land necessary to serve a "use" effectively shrinks as land parcels shrink and it shrinks further as we stack "uses" on top of each other and densify. Evolving cities find ways to do more with less land, except, it seems, when it comes to automobile infrastructure which competes with productive and efficient land-uses for land. Blame the roads, not the modes.

Last century’s road design methods have not solved the geometry and physics problems associated with cars. And despite 100 years of strict government intervention, enforcement, licensing, hoping, and pleading, all drivers are still imperfect and many drivers are still careless. Automobiles are too heavy, too fast, and too big to be prioritized as land use evolves and becomes more efficient. They can certainly continue to be accommodated, just not prioritized in evolving cities. They’re the wrong tool for the job. They are and will continue to be the best way to get between cities less than 500km apart, but different modes are better suited to trips within a city, just like planes are best for traveling across the country.

Marginalization of un-carred people on city streets is both literal and figurative. Cars continue to be unquestioningly gifted the middle of the road on all roads, while all other modes are given the margins on the fringe. The margins are getting crowded and the spaces on the edge of the road are so small they are incompatible with a wide range of speeds. The city is running up against the limitations of perpetually marginalizing all people that aren’t in a car. There is only one piece of micromobility infrastructure in Kelowna, the Rail Trail. Everything else is automobile infrastructure with varying degrees of accommodation for micromobility, including Ethel and Sutherland.

If paint lines were first generation micromobility infrastructure followed by second generation infrastructure that was separate and protected, a third generation of micromobility infrastructure can bring equity to our transportation network. Going back to the well for another “more cars, wider roads” solution won’t work, even if the cars are electric. The solution is simple and inexpensive: Build a Complete Network. Forget “Complete Streets” and think more network-level. No street, “complete” or not, can give equal priority to all modes and these complicated streets are a mess not fit for All Ages and Abilities. However, the network taken as a whole can bring mode equity and social equity.

Think of a Complete Network as three component networks woven together like a basket to make one larger network: the pedestrian network, the fast micromobility and cycling network, and the automobile network. A new Complete Network can be achieved by repurposing infrastructure instead of costly rebuilding like Ethel Street. A complete network offers reach, permeability, and connectivity to all modes equitably, meeting the diverse needs of citizens.

Each component network must be designed in compliance with the 5 Rules of Prioritization. A piece of infrastructure prioritizes a mode if the following conditions are met:

  • The mode gets the most direct path through the Right-of-Way - which is the public land that the roads are built within.
  • The mode gets the most efficient left turns at intersections.
  • The mode gets the most dedicated space in the Right-of-Way. This is negotiable since bikes and people take up 10% of the space automobiles do, but it has to be proportional.
  • The mode sets the speed for all other modes using the space.
  • The mode has the fewest discontinuous grade changes and abrupt vertical deflections.

Start with intersections and work out from there because that’s where the real engineering is needed. Start on the smallest roads (lanes and locals) for the first few years to get people used to the idea and get ridership numbers up; however, make sure there is a network that is connected, is permeable, and takes people where they want to go, no orphan segments.

To minimize the consequences of inevitable mistakes, smaller, lighter, and slower modes must take precedence on more (not all) roads as the city densifies. Think of it as harm reduction on roadways. When diverse land-uses demand less land, so should transportation. All you need is a measuring tape and some rationality and you’ll realize that compact, efficient cities need compact, efficient transportation modes to take priority. This transition also works to solve problems of inequality, environmental degradation, noise pollution, light pollution, equity, liveability, and liberty associated with the current single-mode system. It’s important to note: Transformative change takes more than one month and system overhauls need systems thinking.

Rental scooters may not be the solution to our urban transportation problems, but electrified micromobility is. This doesn’t just mean bicycles and scooters. A range of ultralight electrified vehicles should be hitting city streets soon. Many of which will be adapted to winter, to carrying cargo, and to all the other constraints within our beloved city. We need to get our infrastructure ready for the transition. It’s time for Kelowna to make the move.

Justin VannPashak, Kelowna

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