Dear Winnipeg

A Fun Blog About Infrastructure and Municipal Finance

This One Weird Trick Will Save Lives and Property Taxes

Dear Winnipeg,

I’ve been thinking a lot about my little home stretch of Henderson lately, that is to say the strip from Elmwood (Roxy) Park to Hespeler (or even Talbot) Ave, nestled between the neighbourhoods of Chalmers and Glenelm, or as the area is sometimes called, Elmwood Village.

[Apparently, my wife says no one calls it that except me. But now it’s out there.]

These two neighbourhoods together make up most of the original Elmwood, the area having been built up over 100 years ago, which joined Winnipeg in 1912. This is Old Elmwood.

[Hey, that one’s pretty good too! I could totally get a job making up area names… assuming that job exists? Executive Place Namer? Area Designation Specialist? Director of Appellations? I’ll check Workopolis…]

Being over a century old, the entire place was made for walking: houses and businesses are located close enough together to easily walk to, and the many small businesses are built up right to the sidewalk.

[I didn’t find anything… Maybe Google Maps is still hiring…]

And as we know, walkable places are productive, resilient places.

[Come to think of it, sounds like a government job. I’ll probably have better luck on the Canada Job Bank…]

Also, like I’ve said before, there is quite an impressive lineup of businesses in this little area to meet a variety of needs.

And with over 12,000 people living within a 10-minute walk from here, we should in theory be able to easily support 4 or 5 blocks of “Main Street”-type retail stores.

South Henderson should be a bustling, thriving, walkable business district.

And yet it isn’t.

The sidewalks rarely have more than a handful of people walking on them, which explains, at least in part, the number of storefront vacancies.

The mix of uses, the distances, the amenities, are all made for walking. So why don’t more people walk here?

Well, a quick walk down the street points at a partial answer: something about walking down the sidewalk on Henderson here feels, well… icky. [That’s a scientific term.]

And it’s not just humans. Friends of mine with dogs tell me that their dogs refuse to go down Henderson when they’re out walking. [One could say Henderson has gone to the dogs, but it seems even they don’t want it. Yup, I said it.]

But what’s the cause of this ick factor? As it turns out, the answer lies in your very own Transportation Standards Manual! [I know, sounds riveting, but bear with me!]

On page 77 are the guidelines for “clear zones”!

What is a Clear Zone? [I’m glad you asked! We’re about to have some next-level fun here!]

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices gives us a nice, easy definition:

The total roadside border area, starting at the edge of the traveled way, that is available for an errant driver to stop or regain control of a vehicle.

Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), Section 1A. 13

Cool, cool. So basically a buffer zone on the side of the road for stray cars, which of course, the Transportation Standards Manual says you want to keep clear of any fixed objects, presumably things like signs, trees, light standards, etc. [No mention of people, but I’m assuming they’re included in “objects with break-away bases”.]

So how big does this buffer need to be? The answer is it depends on the speed of traffic. City guidelines say that at 60 km/h, the clear zone should be a minimum of 3.5m from the face of the curb, but that 5.0m is desirable.

Here’s what that looks like on a typical block of Henderson:

Yikes! The red zones, which are the “minimum” clear zones, cover the entire sidewalk.

And the yellow zones, which extend to the “desirable” clear zones, go well into the storefronts.

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere!

The traffic engineers’ calculations only confirm what our guts, and our dogs, are telling us: don’t walk here, it’s dangerous!

So the obvious conclusion is that nobody walks here because it would put them in MORTAL DANGER!

Am I exaggerating with the MORTAL DANGER bit?

Well, earlier this month, a 13-year-old boy was hit by a car on Henderson. He survived, but in January, an elderly lady was killed by a car a little further up the road. And still in recent memory, yet another woman died after being hit by a car on Henderson.

And don’t think for a second that businesses located in the clear zone are safe from this carnage! One of my absolute favorite neighbourhood restaurants was hit by a car. And then again six months later. And now it’s closed.

That’s just on Henderson. There are loads of examples throughout the city, most recently like the mother and daughter on Isabel or the man on Osborne last week. Or the little boy on St.Anne’s last year.

Tragic? Yes. Appalling? Absolutely. Deplorable? Without a doubt.

And also completely preventable.

Look, I know you don’t care about people’s lives. If you did, you would have done something by now. After all, cars kill twice as many people EVERY YEAR here as murders and meth COMBINED.

That’s enough to make meth a public health crisis. But cars? Meh.

Never mind that the number 1 cause of accidental death in Canada is… you guessed it, car crashes.

Commute times are a bigger priority than some peoples’ lives. I get it. OTHER people are dying, but I’M going to be late for work!

But what about my tax bill? Is that more important than my commute time? What if letting me drive faster down Henderson is actually causing an increase in my property tax bill? And what if it’s ultimately contributing to bankrupting my city?

[Oh yeah, you knew it was coming… math!]

What’s the cost of letting fast-moving cars take precedence over people in our neighbourhoods?

My small strip of Henderson has a total assessment of $36.78 million. It also has at least 15,000 sq ft of vacant commercial space. Even at a lease rate of $12/sq ft, capitalized at 5%, you’re looking at a lost value of $3.6 million, or 10%. That’s a lot of lost tax revenue that I have to make up personally as a homeowner.

So what’s the solution? Easy.

Slow. The. Cars.

OECD statistics from a 2006 study, as displayed in World Resources Institute, Cities Safe By Design (2015), p. 16.

Look at the graph above. Look at it!

A pedestrian getting hit at 60 km/h will almost always die. A pedestrian getting hit at 30 km/h will almost always live.

And the reduction in traffic speed reduces the size of the clear zone, which will help businesses thrive, thus lowering my own property tax burden.

And all for the cost of… some signs? Maybe some road paint to narrow traffic lanes? If you want to get fancy, you can throw up a bunch of these bad boys. Boom, bonus instant protected bike lane network!

A safe, productive, traffic-calmed Henderson, as imagined through MS Paint.
[Forget Place Namer, I’ll have to add Graphic Designer to my resume!]

And the best part? It’s all temporary! You can try it out for, say, 6 months, and if you don’t like it, you can put it all back!

No need to waste time and money on studies and permanent infrastructure (you’re broke, remember!). Plus, it’s spring so the street lines need re-painting anyways!

But you knew all this already, didn’t you? After all, the Province issued a report recommending “area-wide urban traffic calming”, as well as “traffic calming and engineering measures” in order to reduce both the number and the severity of car crashes.

Plus, YOUR OWN Public Works Department website says:

Slower vehicle speeds improve safety by increasing reaction time and reducing the number of (and seriousness of) collisions.

City of Winnipeg Public Works website

And the kicker:

Traffic calming measures have also been shown to improve property values.

The very next sentence

You can save lives AND money! It’s absolutely the best of all worlds.

So why haven’t you done anything about it yet?

Here, I’ll make it easy for you. Just put your name and email address in these boxes, and click Send. It will email your Mayor and City Council to tell them to implement a city-wide Vision Zero pilot project right now.

Dear Mayor and City Councillors,
I am asking you to implement a city-wide Vision Zero pilot project immediately, in order to save lives, and make more efficient, productive use of our infrastructure. And did I mention, to save lives? I was inspired to write you by reading the following blog post: http://www.dearwinnipeg.com/2019/03/25/this-one-weird-trick-will-save-lives-and-property-taxes/ You should read it. I look forward to your response and prompt action. Thank you.

If the caring, compassionate human being in you won’t do it to save lives, maybe the concerned taxpayer in you will do it to save money!

Hugs and kisses,

Elmwood Guy