What does Ottawa’s Road Safety Action Plan look like for 2024?

Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. First implemented in Sweden in the 1990s, Vision Zero has proved successful across Europe — and now it’s gaining momentum in major American cities.

According to Parachute, across Canada, three provinces, 23 cities and two regions have a vision zero strategy. Ottawa is considered to be part of that group. However Ottawa doesn’t use the term “vision zero”. Instead it has the 2020-2024 Road Safety Action Plan. Its goal is “a 20 per cent reduction in the average annual rate of fatal and major injury collisions by 2024”, dropping to zero by 2035. The plan is guided by the theme of “Think Safety, Act Safely” and focuses efforts and resources where they are needed most to have the greatest impact on reducing collisions resulting in serious injury or death.

Now that we are in the last year of the plan, let’s take a look at the stats for the last few years. The numbers include both pedestrians and people on bikes, with the numbers broken out when known

YearFatal (pedestrian)Serious Injury (people on bikes only)
20186 (5)12
201913 (9)14
20206 (4)16
20210 (pedestrians unknown)13
202311 (up to November)12

This data is a bit sketchy, based on media reports rather than trying to dig into Open Data Ottawa’s information, but what jumps out is how little progress has been made. Instead of reducing by 20% per year from a baseline in 2018 (though no baseline is ever given in the plan), the number of fatalities has doubled while the number of collisions involving serious injury has remained the same. If the plan was working, one would expect the number of fatalities to be between 1 and 2. If the baseline is 2019 (a year when fatalities increased significantly) for the start of a 2020-2024 plan, we should have been at 5 by the end of 2023, and aiming for no more than 4 in 2024. That’s where we were in 2017. Surely we can do better?

Statistics from across the river in Gatineau suggest we could if there was political will to make infrastructure safer. Aside from one death in October 2022, there have been no fatal collisions involving people on bikes in Gatineau since January 2017. The number of people with injuries is higher (but declining steadily since 2018), though no information is available about whether all of those injuries were deemed serious. Gatineau has a little over half the population of Ottawa, for comparison purposes.

I really hope the last year of Ottawa’s Road Safety Action Plan delivers something to vulnerable road users that looks more like Vision Zero than the Zero Vision it has been to date.

An image from the Vision zero Network showing how Vision Zero works: planners and policy makers prioritize safety in their work, individual road users follow the rules, and if users make mistakes, designs and policies are analyzed for safety improvements. But hopefully, if mistakes are made, the design is sufficiently safe that there are no serious injuries.