Getting the Data

From the beginning of 2009 to the end of 2016 there were 626 collisions involving pedestrians in the City of Greater Sudbury. That’s an average of 3 every two weeks, but unless you work for the Greater Sudbury Police Service or as a 911 operator or at the emergency room at Health Sciences North you probably go several weeks, or even months without hearing about anyone hitting a pedestrian with their car.

As discussed yesterday, only a small percentage of pedestrian collisions in Sudbury are reported in the media, so getting a complete picture of the hazards of being a pedestrian is difficult, unless you spend a lot of time walking in this city.

To get the information to produce my pedestrian collision map I was required to file a freedom of information request and pay the police to provide the data. In this post I’m going to focus on what that process has been like.

Why Bother?

Central Sudbury

This map combines the locations of multiple collisions with pedestrians from 2009-2016 into larger, numbered dots. Created using CartoDB.com

Knowing how many people hit pedestrians and where it happens can help the City target public safety campaigns and road improvements to try to bring down the number and severity of collisions in the city.

Looking at the data I’ve collected reveals there are several locations where multiple collisions with pedestrians occur every year or almost every year.

  • Elm and Notre Dame – 16
  • Regent and Paris – 13
  • Notre Dame and King – 11
  • Lasalle and Barry Downe – 10
  • Notre Dame and Kathleen – 10
  • Barry Downe and Westmount – 9
  • Notre Dame and Wilma – 8
  • Notre Dame and Lasalle – 7
  • Lasalle and Auger – 7

Sharing this information is a matter of public safety. Simply reporting the fact someone has hit a pedestrian can help make for more conscientious drivers because as awful as it is to get hit, the psychological impact of injuring or killing someone can also be devastating.

On March 31, 2015 a group of residents presented a petition to City Council asking for “a left turn signal at 901 Lasalle Blvd. and to increase the length of time for the walk light crossing Lasalle Blvd.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 7.19.00 AM
Excerpt from the Minutes of the March 31, 2015 meeting of Sudbury City Council, Page 40 

Six months later the roads department presented a report to Sudbury Operations Committee in response to the petition. Regarding the request for a left-turn signal, staff reported:

“A review of the City’s collision information from 2009 to June 2015 revealed that there were no collisions that involved westbound left turning vehicles at this intersection during the 6 ½ year period. Based on the traffic volumes and collision history, it is not recommend that an advanced left turn phase be provided for westbound vehicles at this intersection.  Staff will continue to monitor traffic volumes at this intersection to determine if an advanced left turn phase for westbound traffic becomes warranted in the future.”

Regarding the request for a longer pedestrian crossing time staff reported that pedestrian walk signals are timed based on a walking speed of 1 metre per second. The report then attempts to dismiss the concerns of residents by stating “There is often a misunderstanding regarding the operation of pedestrian signal displays”.

The report explains “many pedestrians do not understand the meaning of the ”Walk” and “Flashing Don’t Walk” symbols” and goes on to emphasize that pedestrians are permitted to continue crossing during the “Flashing Don’t Walk” signal.

The report concludes:

“A review of the City’s collision information from 2009 to June 2015 revealed that there were no collisions involving pedestrians at this intersection.

Based on the walking speed used, collision history and the safety enhancements that have been made, it is recommended that no changes be made to the pedestrian crossing time at this intersection.”

Operations Committee passed a motion directing staff to continue to monitor traffic at 901 Lasalle and look into alternative signal timings.

The Roads Department reported back on December 7, 2015 and Operations Committee passed this resolution:

THAT no changes be made at this intersection and that traffic volumes continue to be monitored to determine if an advanced left turn phase for westbound traffic becomes warranted, all in accordance with the report from the General Manager of Infrastructure Services dated November 12, 2015.

The committee had not directed staff to look at the pedestrian experience at this intersection, only the traffic situation. There is no indication from the staff report that they looked at the pedestrian experience at this crossing.

17 days later, one block west of the intersection in discussion:

I had searched local news websites for any mention of “pedestrian” and this was the first time I’d heard of someone hitting a pedestrian at Lasalle and Montrose. Coupled with staff’s assertion that nobody had been hit at 901 Lasalle I assumed this was the first time it happened and it seemed like a bitter coincidence that it would happen so soon after the City had dismissed the concerns of pedestrians in the area.

What I didn’t know at the time, but would find out through the freedom of information request, was that two people had previously hit pedestrians at Lasalle and Montrose, on January 1, 2012 – 4:30am, and March 26, 2014 – 11:19am. Since the December 24, 2015 – 6:58pm incident there’s been one more collision on November 10, 2016 – 12:19pm.

One block to the east of 901 Lasalle, at Arthur street, there had been a collision with a pedestrian on April 26, 2011 – 2:46pm, and in fact another driver hit a pedestrian there on December 14, 2015 – 5:25pm, although that incident didn’t make it into the evening news.

If staff had taken residents’ concerns seriously and looked at the general area for patterns of unsafe driving and pedestrian risk they might have noticed that three drivers had hit pedestrians in the area.

A closer look at the circumstances of those collisions might have resulted in changes along the length of Lasalle Boulevard to reduce the risk to pedestrians.

And if residents had been aware that Lasalle and Montrose (one block to the west) and Lasalle and Arthur (one block to the east) had been the location of previous collisions they too might have requested changes to all signals in the area, not just the one that happened to have had no collisions.

This is why I bothered.

The Process

Most of the time I lived in Sudbury (about five years), I got around primarily without a car. Crossing Sudbury’s major intersections on foot always felt like I was taking a risk. Drivers’ primary concern seemed to be avoiding a collision with another vehicle, so they tend to look past pedestrians instead of for them.

Some intersections felt more hazardous than others, but I couldn’t find any data to back up my assumptions.

I wanted to know where people were hitting pedestrians in the city, so I asked my contacts on the Sustainable Mobility Advisory Panel if they could get this information. They asked about it. The police said they’d get it to them. I asked again. They asked again. The police said they’d have it “soon”. Months passed, maybe a year.

 

I was informed that there was a Road Safety Committee that met regularly to come up with road safety campaigns and programs and apparently they had talked about releasing collision data (The Road Safety Committee doesn’t seem to have any online presence). I asked someone on the committee if they could push the issue with the police. They said they would. Nothing happened.

So I filed a freedom of information request.

The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act allows members of the public to request information from public agencies. It costs $5 to file an FOI, and the police charge $30 per hour to put it together for you.

Knowing what to ask for, and what they can provide to you, is a challenge.

My first request asked for a lot of information. I wanted to know the dates, times and locations of every motor vehicle collision involving a pedestrian. I also asked for a description of each collision, the cause or fault, ages of those involved, the condition of anyone injured and what, if any charges were laid.

The FOI coordinator at the police advised me that not all of that information was readily available through their electronic records, so gathering everything would be very time consuming, and therefore expensive.

He recommended I amend my request to focus on the information that’s available electronically. So I asked for “any data related to collisions with pedestrians that is available from the collision database”.

This was determined to be too vague and the FOI coordinator asked me to specify which data points from the database I would want.

The trouble being, I didn’t know what’s in the database.

It took two days of emails and phone conversations to find a sweet spot of information that is specific, but couldn’t be used to identify anybody and articulated what I hoped to learn from the info.

I asked for the dates, times and locations of each motor vehicle collision involving a pedestrian from 2009 to 2014. I also asked for the driver actions, driver condition, pedestrian actions and pedestrian conditions presented in aggregate, rather than alongside the dates times and locations. This was recommended because the police felt there was a possibility of identifying individuals if the actions and conditions were presented alongside date, time and location.

Within the context of an FOI request the legislation prohibits them from releasing identifying information without consent. This could be time consuming, and could be denied by those involved. I might have been able to appeal to the privacy commissioner, but that’s something a journalist might do as part of their job. I’m just an amateur.

I also asked for the actual collision reports for all motor vehicle collisions that resulted in pedestrian fatalities in the year 2014. This portion of the request was denied. Again, an appeal to the privacy commissioner may have resulted in the release of the documents but my primary interest was in creating a map, not conducting an inquest, so I dropped it.

My discussions with the FOI coordinator had begun on December 14, 2015 and I finally had my first set of data on February 17, 2016.

They provided the information via hard copy print-outs which curiously included a print-out of what appeared to be a google map showing the locations of collisions.

 

took hours to manually reproduce in an electronic format I could use to produce graphs and maps and analyze properly.

By the time I was done it was March, 2016 and I had no data for 2015. Another FOI request seemed to be in order but I decided to wait and ask for two years worth of data at once.

This time I knew exactly what I was looking for and the process took just a few weeks. I neglected to ask for the driver action and pedestrian action data and therefore the cost of preparing the information was significantly lower for this round.

I’ve reproduced a version of the information in a google doc that can be viewed here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1qqaBKVHfo3Qqp5hTlxCmGkZE7EWl2EShDv5Gw7oykis/edit?usp=sharing

Please use this data however you like, as long as you give credit to the Greater Sudbury Police Service as the source.

What’s Next?

I continue to monitor twitter for any mention of pedestrian collisions in Sudbury. In 2015 and 2016 the police have been more diligent about notifying the public when a collision occurs, however they typically don’t follow up with any details of what happened or whether anyone is facing charges as a result.

My hope is that the new active transportation coordinator for the city will work with the police to enforce the rules of the road in locations that see a high number of collisions, and I hope that she will focus infrastructure improvements on this locations as well to reduce the likelihood of collisions.

This data also provides a great opportunity for public art and advocacy.

When a driver kills a cyclist in a city like Toronto or New York the cycling community often paints an old bicycle white and chains it to a post near the location of the collisions. With the locations of every pedestrian collision in Sudbury now known it would be possible to erect monuments to those who have been injured and killed by drivers.

The City has just completed its Transportation Mater Plan and has announced there will be stand-alone approval processes for a number of individual road improvement projects. Many of these projects are on roads that have seen multiple collisions with pedestrians every year, any improvement made to them should be made to improve safety for pedestrians, not make it worse.

The city is also coming close to completing its Official Plan update. So many people have hit pedestrians in parking lots over the years and the official plan is an opportunity to ensure new developments take the safety of pedestrians into consideration with their design.

Later this week I’ll be looking into some common characteristics of the most-hazardous roads and intersections for pedestrians in Sudbury. Stay tuned.

One thought on “Getting the Data

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s