University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

Researcher asks: How can we make Calgary streets safer for kids?

University partners with City of Calgary to find ways to safeguard children from traffic danger
January 26, 2017
University injury prevention researcher Brent Hagel, left, and Tony Churchill, the lead of traffic safety for the City of Calgary, in the community of Connaught where traffic calming devices are in place. The team is using police collision reports and municipal data to systematically examine where kids are injured and most importantly, why. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

University injury prevention researcher Brent Hagel, left, and Tony Churchill, the lead of traffic safety for the City of Calgary, in the community of Connaught where traffic calming devices are in place. The team is using police collision reports and municipal data to systematically examine where kids are injured and most importantly, why. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary 

You drive by them often in Calgary’s neighborhoods: roundabouts, curb extensions, and median islands installed by the City to control traffic. But do they work?

On average, at least one person is struck by a vehicle on Calgary’s streets every day while walking. Although the trends show a steady decline in the number of child injuries, there are still about 50 kids who die every year on Canadian city streets.

In a new and sweeping project, a University of Calgary researcher is getting onto the streets of Calgary to find answers. Brent Hagel, PhD, is leading a national project to understand the impact of traffic and engineered interventions on the safety of kids. Using police collision reports and municipal data, the team will systematically examine where kids are injured and most importantly — why.

Allow for play and exercise, without injury

“Children often make poor decisions just because they’re kids. We need to understand how the urban built environment can be more adequately designed to allow for play and exercise, without risk of injury or fatality,” says Hagel, an associate professor in the departments of Pediatrics and Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine, adjunct professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, and a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

With a $1.9-million grant awarded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Built Environment and Transportation Safety team will work with provincial governments, municipalities and national safety professionals to compile and analyze data to determine the best street environment for kids. The cities participating, in addition to Calgary, include Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. The study is designed to enable researchers to make inter-municipal comparisons.

The City of Calgary’s traffic safety lead is Tony Churchill, a University of Calgary alumni (Engineering). An important partner in the study, Churchill is excited to participate in the project and involve the City in the mix of roads to be evaluated.

“The City is doing a lot to improve our infrastructure to be safer, but how we use that infrastructure will always impact safety outcomes," says Churchill. "Having a better understanding of the factors that influence safety outcomes for children will help us to design better roads for all users.”

Team will concentrate on hot spots where kids are injured

Hagel and his team will concentrate on those hot spots where kids are injured. Using detective-like research tools, the team will trace what led up to the injury by examining the route prior to the collision. They will then collect new data such as neighbourhood design, traffic volume and speed, time of day, and infrastructure such as street lighting and traffic calming interventions. 

“We shouldn’t place the onus on children to make themselves safe from vehicles while walking or biking. I hope our research will help provide evidence-based solutions for communities to build environments that families can enjoy, while at the same time ensuring their children are safe,” he says. “It is this dual emphasis which makes this project unique.”

Hagel says the research goal is to work with municipal, provincial and national partners to produce compelling evidence with which to make road safety decisions with a focus on child health and well being. The senior researcher frames the assignment in terms of Vision Zero, a Swedish road safety strategy with the goal of eliminating serious injuries and fatalities for all road users including children while walking or riding a bike.

Partners in this national study include Alberta Health Services, Alberta Children’s Hospital, Sick Kids Hospital of Toronto, York University, University of Toronto, Canadian Association of Road Safety Professions, University of British Columbia, City of Edmonton, City of Calgary, Velo-Quebec, Canadian Cancer Society, Hub for Active School Travel, Transport Canada, City of Toronto, Pediatrics Emergency Research Canada, Region of Peel, Green Communities Canada, Simon Fraser University, Institut national de la recherce scientifique, Parachute, Alberta Injury Prevention Centre, Alberta Transportation Office, Ontario Ministry of Transportation, University of Manitoba and Universite de Montreal