why they’re called accidents – and how to change


Car crashes are called accidents in part because that’s the official international classification.  The system is called International Classification of Diseases (ICD).  It assigns a category for every possible cause of death.

In ICD10 the categorization is:

External causes of morbidity and mortality
- subsection Accidents
– subsubsection Transport Accidents (V01-V99)

one can also include Y85 Sequelae of transport accidents, which basically means the car crash was the initial cause, but the death came later.

The issues are

1) The mid-category “Accidents” is reported, not the actual category “Transport Accidents”
2) It shouldn’t be called accidents in the case of transport
3) Transport deaths are in the same subcategory as falling down, when they are clearly qualitatively different

In ICD11 beta this is improved, but still problematic:

External causes of morbidity and mortality
- Unintentional causes
Transport injury events

This is better but still obscures the magnitude of transport injury. The fix is very simple.  You move Transport injury events up one level

External causes of morbidity and mortality
- Transport injury events

This may seem like nit-picking, but car crashes are a larger cause of death than malaria or tuberculosis.  Car crashes are the leading cause of death for ages 15-24 in Canada.  This shouldn’t be buried three levels down.

How to change

The ICD11 beta was opened to the public in May 2012 but you can still participate in the revision.  Information here http://www.who.int/classifications/icd/revision/en/

Be aware that it will be very very difficult to get the classification changed.

making commuting delightful

On November 26, Ottawa City Council unanimously passed the Official Plan, Infrastructure Master Plan, Transportation Master Plan, Ottawa Cycling Plan and Ottawa Pedestrian Plan.

Some of the highlights of the plans include:

• Investing $3 billion in public transit to build on the Confederation Line by extending rail further East, West and South of the City
• Bringing 270,000 more residents within five kilometres of LRT and ensuring that close to 700,000 residents (67 per cent of the population) will have ease of access to rapid transit

From ottawa.ca/liveableottawa

So that’s ~$2 billion for the Confederation Line from Tunney’s to Blair, plus $3 billion for LRT from Bayshore to Place d’Orleans, plus existing double-tracking of the O-train and new O-trains, plus extending the O-train.  Plus BRT to Kanata.  $5 billion.  To 2025.


This is not a tram.  It is grade-separated commuter rail.  “Grade-separated” is a fancy way of saying the train never intersects with road traffic – it always goes beside, above, or under an road.  It never has to wait for cars and cars never have to wait for it.  (I think all of the LRT is grade-separated, I’m not sure if all of the O-train is.)  During the commuting peak, this train will run very frequently and very reliably.

This, in other words, is five billion dollars of being delightful to commuters.  This is a choice.

Ottawa and the NCC have had world-leading urban and transportation planners come and speak, including Jan Gehl, Ken Greenberg and Jeffrey Tumlin.

They all, without exception, said that we should be delightful… to pedestrians.  To pedestrians first, and then if we can, to cyclists.  (This is Tumlin’s terminology.  Gehl would say something like “invite pedestrians to walk and linger in the city and disinvite the car; you get what you invite” but it amounts to the same thing.)

It is incredibly cheap to be nice to pedestrians.  Flat sidewalks.  Shoveled clear sidewalks and intersections in the winter (not just plowed; the plow leaves a layer of snow on the sidewalk and a giant pile of slush in the intersection).  Pedestrian priority for crosswalks.  Traffic enforcement (particularly left and right turns on red, which should be banned at busy intersections).  Speed  enforcement, through road design (to 30km/h anywhere in the city, and 10km/h anywhere residential).  Interesting things to see, shops at ground level.  This costs, seriously, nothing compared to roads and rail.  A few tens of millions of dollars for delight.

This is not crazy.  This is Copenhagen, Paris, London, New York, … this is every city that wants to attract a creative workforce, with high wages and high property values.

Instead, after listening to expert after expert, Ottawa is bowing to the suburban ring outside the city core, and making the commute delightful.

This does almost nothing for the city life itself, because the commute is a weird twice daily peak event.  From roughly 8 to 9, hundreds of thousands of people try to jam themselves as quickly as possible from their homes in the suburbs to their offices.

Note I didn’t say to the city.  This 1950s model of commuting is basically a teleporter fantasy we try to implement using cars and trains.  Ideally you step into your car inside your home garage, and minutes later, preferably without paying much attention, you “appear” inside your work garage.    In the evening, reverse.  This is not anything to do with city life.  This could be taking people from anywhere to anywhere.  This is basically a giant piston, shoving people in in the morning and out at night.

For commuters, the train must be frequent, fast and reliable.  Say every 5-10 minutes.  With minimal and very fast changes.  So we have to scale the system to handle the peak of the peak.  Hundreds of thousands.  You don’t need to spend time on the waiting area, because no one will be waiting long.

But outside the peak, this is a ridiculous system.  You have a commuter rail system designed to push hundreds of thousands in an hour, that then has almost nothing to do for the rest of the day.  A trickle of some thousands throughout the rest of the day.  Hardly worth running it very often.

So basically it’s $5 billion dollars for 10 hours a week (8-9, 5-6, M-F).  This is not counting billions more for highway widening and extension, for the commuters you don’t shift to rail.

So the people during the day who are actually moving around the city get to stand in the uncovered stations by the tracks in the middle of winter and wait, because they’re not commuters, so the train won’t be running very often.  And mostly the rail takes you to malls and schools and employment nodes, not interesting neighbourhoods with local shops.  And if you want to move around downtown – well it’s the bus for you, and an unheated shelter, if you’re lucky.

You can use Transit-Oriented Design to make the commuter train look less ridiculous, to give people a reason to use the train to get around from station to station during the day.  But unless you do it well, you’re just going to get a vertical suburb at the station, not what TOD is supposed to be, which is a walkable village around the station.

What you actually do in a real city is have commuter rail AND local rail (trams and if necessary subways) AND bus AND cycling AND most importantly of all, delightful walking.  What people remember of Paris is walking around.  Most people never touch the commuter rail, the RER.  If they do, they find it empty and often a bit dismal (a lot of graffiti and neglect).  What Ottawa is choosing is to build a city with RER and basically nothing else, for decades.  No trams (a tram is rail that runs on the street, with stops at the edge of the sidewalk).  No delightful walking.  No (also incredibly cheap) separated bike lanes, just painted lines that protect no one from tonnes of speeding steel.

This is council’s choice to make.  As a commuter rail system, it will be pretty good.  It will do nothing to transform the life of the city though.  It is a suburb-sustaining project, not a city-building project.  It is much, much better than spending the money on roads.  But a tiny fraction of it, 10% of it, would build some of the best pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in the entire world.  Council chooses again and again not to do this.  The winter pedestrian experience tells you, day after day, month after month: you are not important, you are not valued, only cars are important.  The cycling experience tells you: your safety is not important, you are not valued, only cars are important.

Here’s the thing: you can’t solve the commute.  Can’t.  No billions, no design, no transportation in the world can solve moving a giant peak load of people tens of kilometres in two one-hour windows.  If I were writing this in 1950 you could scoff.  But you can see the lanes widen year after year, and yet the commute doesn’t get solved.  Because you can’t solve it.  You can only eliminate the factors that cause it, of which the main one is people living a long way away from work.  The solution to the commute is to replace the commute with an actual liveable city where people walk and cycle short distances for work and shopping and friends, and ride the rails for very rare long distance excursions.

Instead commuter rail is a choice that will sustain a grey generic suburban city.  That’s our future.  That’s the will of council.

from the bike to the car, and getting back

We in North America are not far away in time from all being poor and rural.

In that world, people used to walk (or sometime run) everywhere.  Even having a bike was rare.

In such a world, a car is a revelation.  A car really is freedom.  Hours of walking turned into minutes of driving.  And even in the most extensively train-connected environment, for example even in France, a car is still hugely convenient for getting around rural areas.  We’re never going to run train tracks to everyone’s doorstep.  The car is a fantastic rural technology.  It wipes out distance constraints that are incredibly painful in time and effort.

Read any story or history of Europe or North America anywhere outside a city, from 1800 up to the end of WWII.  Circa 1850 people used to walk across the entire United States to get to California.  We’re only 160 years away from that.

People in Africa walking miles to school or days to a hospital is not some weird alien world.  It’s just us, before we could afford cars and mostly moved into cities.  Which is very very recent.  Say 60 years ago.

So you can see how hard it is to make the argument to go slower.  If you said to someone who has to walk two hours to their fields or to school, if you said “the car sucks, isn’t it great being a pedestrian?” they would think you were out of your mind.

What happened was that for the rural people, for whom the car was both an incredible status symbol but much more importantly a huge convenience, and for the people living downtown who could finally go and see the surrounding countryside upon a Sunday, for them the car was amazing.

We didn’t understand that it was a completely inappropriate technology for cities.

All of this to say, watch Gapminder’s Don’t Panic about population and wealth, and remember we’re looking down from the top of a very recent, very high income and very high urbanisation peak, down on people who live on a dollar a day in rural villages.  It’s for us with the information and wealth we have now to use appropriate technologies (like walking, cycling and transit in cities).  It’s not for us to tell everyone they should deny themselves a step up in life.  Watch the guy buy his first bike.  Think how much better his life would be with a car.  It’s not that the car was a mistake.  It’s the car in the city that’s the mistake.  See his excitement and understand how we got from North American rural poverty to a North American obsession with the car.  The car really was wealth and freedom.  For a time.


The good news: we’re already rich.  Now we just have to be rich and smart.

Ontario Land Use Planning

[Ontario wants] to hear your suggestions on:

  • how we can improve the province’s land use planning systems, including what can be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB)
  • the Development Charges Act
  • parkland dedication
  • section 37 of the Planning Act, which enables a municipality to negotiate with a developer for items such as affordable housing in exchange for permission for the developer to build in excess of zoning limits

You are invited to share your comments and ideas by January 10, 2014. You can:

Submit your comments through an online version of this guide at www.ontario.ca/landuseplanning (specifically http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page10355.aspx )

Environmental Bill of Rights Registry Number: 012-0241 http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/

Email a submission to PlanningConsultation@ontario.ca

You can read the guide PDF at http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/AssetFactory.aspx?did=10254

November 8, 2013  Ontario Land Use Planning – Nov 21, 2013

redeveloping the Domtar lands – Dec 11, 2013

Windmill Developments is planning an information session on its Chaudiere Island development ideas on Dec. 11 at the Museum of Civilization, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. … presentations are at 6 and then repeated at 7:30

from Windmill Developments wants to talk Domtar land plans

UPDATE 2013-12-01 – slide deck Domtar Lands Redevelopment Ottawa/Gatineau: A Vision For A World Class EcoDistrict Community from New Approaches to Developing Sustainable Neighbourhoods session on August 19 at the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) 2013 conference in Ottawa.

Link to conference deck via @kerfluffer on Twitter.

What has prevented Walkable Urbanism, and how to fix our cities

Our streets don’t just happen.

They are designed.

For decades, the manuals for street design have been based on American highway engineering, in part based on really poor data and bad models.  And that’s even when well-intentioned, things get even worse when you add in ideological agendas.  Thanks to John Forester, the manual for road design excluded separated cycling facilities.  So no one could build them.

Jeff Tumlin (@jeffreytumlin) does a fantastic job of explaining how all these pieces fit together to give us the system we have today.  Highly recommend watching this video, it’s one of the single most influential things that has shaped my understanding of urban planning.  How we’ve failed at design.  How humans actually behave.  It’s the whole package of how motordom created the current reality, and how we can work to make better cities.

from blog post “Sex, Neuroscience and Walkable Urbanism” – The Video, with Jeff Tumlin

The video is from a January 10, 2013 public lecture at SFU.   You can see other videos at http://www.sfu.ca/continuing-studies/about/program-units/city-program/resources/videos.html

Jeff Tumlin has presented in Ottawa, in April 2012.  David Reevely enjoyed it.

You actually can’t really fight congestion, Tumlin argued. Or you can, but you’ll lose…. It’s well-established to the point of orthodoxy that once a road fills up, yes, you can widen it, but whatever improvements you see won’t last: you’ll just get more people driving on that fancy new widened road, and before long they’ll be moving at the same slow speed they were before.

The presentation deck is available – Greener Ottawa: Seven Free and Low-Cost Steps Ottawa Can Take to Leverage Rail Investments and Grow Healthier and Wiser (PDF) – from Nelson Nygaard presentations.
He recommended:

  1. Measure what matters
  2. Make traffic analysis work
  3. Fix the models
  4. Adopt good street design manuals
  5. Plant trees
  6. Bikes = economic development
  7. Manage & price parking

You can find an incredibly high-level summary of the planning summit at http://ottawa.ca/planningsummit but no video or presentations.  It continues to baffle me that Ottawa brings very good people like Jeff Tumlin and Jan Gehl to speak, but even when video is taken (as it was in both cases) the video is never permanently posted online.