What Edmonton City Council Really Decided About Residential Speeds

It’s been years since I sat through an Edmonton City Council debate. But I am no stranger to the arcane and convoluted discussions that occur under the glass pyramids. I spent more than 20 years covering Edmonton city hall for CBC Radio.

Full disclosure. While I am very much a journalist, the death of our son, David, while crossing Whyte Avenue, has pushed my wife and I to advocate for greater road safety. But my experience in interpreting and explaining the nuances of city decision-making still holds. And I feel the record needs to be set straight after some misleading news stories resulting from Tuesday’s seven hours of questions and debate. Particularly, the suggestion that councillors simply “kicked the can” further down the road when it comes to lowering residential speeds.

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Vision Zero should be bold, not bureaucratic

Today, March 20, 2019, City Council’s Community and Public Services Committee is considering the future of Vision Zero, as well as what to do about neighbourhood speed limits. This issue will be debated next week by the whole City Council. What follows is our presentation to the committee this morning.

My name is Steve Finkelman. My wife, Jane Cardillo, and I spoke at this committee four-and-a half years ago in support of Vision Zero.

Our son, David Finkelman, was run down and killed while crossing White Avenue on a green light by a distracted driver in January 2014. David’s promising life was cut way too short. Our lives, as we knew them, were forever shattered.

We saw Vision Zero as a new and innovative approach to calming the chaos on Edmonton’s streets, making sure everyone else’s loved ones made it home safely.

We offered to work with the Office of Traffic Safety. To tell our story as a way to humanize the devastating loss suffered when someone dies or is injured on the roads. We thought the city would need voices like ours to help convince drivers their actions on the road have real consequences. With more than a million dollars a year for advocacy and education, we expected an innovative and creative campaign, one that would put Vision Zero into the forefront of public awareness.

But it quickly became clear that was not going to happen.

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Why Chloe Wiwchar’s death matters

Last Sunday evening  16-year-old Chloe Wiwchar was going home after spending some time with her friends. The Grade 11 Victoria High School student had to cross Kingsway, a busy and wide arterial road in front of the Alberta Aviation Museum.

The crosswalk had been recently upgraded, with bright, high-intensity flashing solar-powered lights. They are hard to miss.

But she never made it across. A pickup truck, reportedly driven by an Edmonton corporate lawyer, ran through the crossing, killing Chloe. To make matters worse, the driver sped away, but was followed by an alert off-duty police officer and later arrested. He has been charged with a number of offences including drunk driving.

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Let’s talk facts, not opinion, on photo radar

“Just the facts, ma’am.” The famous line attributed to the 60s TV show detective Sgt. Joe Friday was aimed at cutting through the investigative clutter. We could use Friday’s no-nonsense character today as we search for the truth about photo radar, speeding and how to make our roads safer.

Recently, such prominent people as Edmonton’s police chief, Rod Knecht, have waded into the debate. He told reporters, apparently without being asked, that he would favour an increase in the posted speed along Anthony Henday Road from 100 km/h to 110 km/h. He said it was his personal opinion that the safety of the route would not be compromised because people already drive that speed.

Within days, Alberta’s Transportation Minister, Brian Mason, waded into the fray announcing a government review of photo radar, to ensure it was not being used as a “cash cow” by municipalities.

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Playing politics with peoples’ lives

If you follow this blog you know that photo radar is a touchy subject with us.

Some people call it a “cash cow” for the municipalities which use it.  To us, photo radar is a valuable tool in slowing traffic and saving lives. That is what the research says in many studies in a dozen different jurisdictions.

Since our son, David, was killed three years ago while crossing Whyte Avenue by a distracted driver, we have taken the time to read those studies and separate fact from fiction.

So when the new leader of the Alberta PC Party sent out a tweet this week asking people whether photo radar should be banned, our blood started to boil.

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Speed kills. No joke.

I admit that it really bothers me when people start describing photo radar as a cash cow. But after police have come to your door to tell you that your son was killed crossing the street, you look at the world differently.

So when I turned on CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM Monday morning to hear that the topic of their “Morning Roast” was photo radar, I was prepared for the worst.

What I heard from my former colleagues left me yelling at my radio in outrage.

The “Daily Roast” is a panel of three people. This week it was political commentator, Brock Harrison and actor/comedians Sheldon Elter and Jana O’Connor. And certainly, there was a lot of laughing going on. O’Connor suggested jokingly that photo radar officers should dress up as sasquatches, so it would be funny when they gave you a ticket for speeding. Continue reading “Speed kills. No joke.”

Is Vision Zero finally on the right track?

Edmonton’s mayor, Don Iveson, last week called for a re-launch of the city’s Vision Zero road safety program.

“We need to start by recognizing that some users are more vulnerable than others,” he said, “and the more we draw people out into our streets and public spaces, the more we need to do to ensure they have a safe and inviting experience.”

It’s the toughest talk yet by a city official aimed at making Edmonton streets safer, while recognizing that pedestrians, cyclists and others need more protection from speeding, distracted and aggressive drivers.

If you are wondering ‘What’s Vision Zero?’ you have a very good excuse. City council approved more than $50 million for the first five years of the program (2016-2020), but only city hall aficionados and road safety advocates know much about it.

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Police at the door

Three years ago today our son, David, lay dying on Whyte Avenue.

Just after noon, on a bright, crisp January day, an 18-year-old woman drove her 2007 yellow Chevy Cobalt into our son while he was crossing on a green light at 101 St.

The driver was turning left onto the avenue. For some reason she did not see David in the intersection. But her passenger did. Police told us the young man yelled, “Watch the guy, watch the guy.” David saw the car. He tried to jump back out of the way. For some reason, instead of jamming on her brakes (she was not going that fast) or steering around our son, she drove into him, pinning him against a lamp post. She crushed David to death with her 1,300 kilogram car.

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