The safety of our streets is a public health issue

Dear Mayor Watson and City Councillors,

A public conversation is happening in Ottawa about how our streets can be made safe for all. Last month, hundreds took part in a silent bike ride following the tragic death of a cyclist on Laurier Avenue, in front of City Hall. People are speaking up in the mainstream media, on social media and in messages to you, their representatives. It’s clear that many in our community want change.   

Two important motions to protect everyone who uses our streets are coming to Council on June 12. The first calls for Council to adopt a strong Vision Zero policy and make immediate changes to protect vulnerable road users. The second asks Council to dedicate the $57-million federal gas tax transfer to making our cycling network safe.

We ask that you pass both motions in full and begin the urgent work needed to make our streets safe for all. It’s a matter of public health.

A strong Vision Zero policy, properly funded, would improve the health of our community in several ways.

Many municipalities in Canada and around the world have already adopted Vision Zero— an ethical approach to transportation that makes safety the top priority. Under Vision Zero, no deaths or serious injuries are acceptable, and the transportation system is designed to prevent them.

Bringing Ottawa’s streets up to the Vision Zero standard would save lives and prevent life-changing injuries that result from collisions. No one should be at risk of death or serious injury on our streets.

But the health benefits wouldn’t stop there. A Vision Zero approach would also encourage the active modes of transportation that make us, our communities and our environments healthier.

An investment in Vision Zero streets is an investment in the health of our children and youth. The expert statement in the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth—the most comprehensive assessment of child and youth physical activity in Canada—notes that active children and youth are healthier, with improved heart, bone and muscle health, as well as a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes. These experts also point to evidence that active children and youth think better, learn better, and have better emotional, psychological and social well-being.

Sadly, the Report Card revealed a grade of D− for active transportation among children and youth in Canada—much worse than the global average of C. Only 21% of 5- to 19-year-olds in Canada typically use active modes of transportation to get to and from school. The numbers for Ottawa aren’t any more encouraging: the Ottawa Community Wellbeing Report 2018 noted that only 25% of 12- to 17-year-olds in our city get the recommended amount of physical activity each day—the equivalent of a D− grade.

What would happen to these numbers if Vision Zero routes for children and youth to walk and bike to schools, community and recreation centres, parks, and other places, were a priority?  

The shift to Vision Zero will require significant financial resources. It is a necessary investment in public health and safety with a substantial return. The Ottawa Cycling Plan, for example, cites an estimate from Ottawa Public Health that a 5% increase in the city’s cycling mode share can result in an annual benefit of $16 million. We need much more of this kind of broad analysis to inform spending at all levels of government.

The shift to Vision Zero will also require long-term, forward thinking and leadership (“vision”!). We ask you to lead now by passing the two safe streets motions in full on June 12. The result will be a safer and healthier city.   

 

Sincerely,

 

Richard Annett, Executive Director, Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre

Naini Cloutier, Executive Director, Somerset West Community Health Centre

David Gibson, Executive Director, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre

Simone Thibault, Executive Director, Centretown Community Health Centre

Mark Tremblay, Director, Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute; Professor and Scientist, Department of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa; President, Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance

Michelle Perry, Member-at-Large, Board of Directors, Healthy Transportation Coalition