Are the roads safe to let my kids trick-or-treat? Can we improve them?
Published Friday, October 30, 2020 12:53PM EDT Last Updated Friday, October 30, 2020 12:54PM EDT
People go trick or treating in the rain on Halloween in Ottawa, on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
MONTREAL -- As Montreal continues to record high daily novel coronavirus cases, parents are asking if it is safe to let kids trick or treat.
But one of the biggest risks to children on Halloween isn’t COVID-19.
While the pandemic has had enormous death tolls across the world, Quebec has had only one fatality under 20 years old.
The risk of a pedestrian being hit by a car, however, is 42 per cent higher on Halloween night.
For children between four and 10, the risk of being killed by a car on Halloween night is 10 times higher. Most of those deaths occur in the span of a few evening hours.
While these findings are based on US data, pedestrian deaths are consistently rising across Canada.
You can manage your family’s risk from coronavirus on Halloween by wearing a mask and staying distant from others, and not going into other people’s homes.
Keeping kids safe from cars, much like managing the risk posed by the novel coronavirus, requires a concerted social effort, and that effort must include municipal government. To make Halloween truly safe this year and every year, we need to think about the way we drive in and design our neighborhoods.
The experience of these past seven months tells us a lot about the power and limits of individual action.
We have seen unprecedented actions of care for others taken by most people. Your personal commitment to reducing the risk of pedestrian fatalities on Halloween is important.
Families can take their own safety measures on Halloween, including reflective gear or lighting. Most importantly, you can make the decision not to drive on Halloween, especially during trick-or-treating hours.
Individual action, however, is not enough to keep your family safe.
What does work?
One of the lessons we have learned from COVID-19 is that government action can help. Collective action is in fact the only thing that works to limit spread so far.
We can use this virus, and the economic, personal and community devastation it has wreaked on us, to reimagine the use of government, policy and infrastructure in how we live and use cities.
Government at all levels made a choice to build those roads, have cars on them, and to allow them to drive at the designated speeds. Infrastructure is a choice. Roads and traffic regulations are a choice.
Our cities could look different, and work differently for us. Barcelona uses super-blocks to maintain car-free zones in dense urban areas. People park their cars in garages at the edge of those blocks, and walk or bike inside the car-free area.
When Montreal has adopted seasonal or permanent walkable streets, business owners have often balked, worried about a decrease in traffic, but walkable streets generate more business, not less.
More walking and bike infrastructure generate safety, economic prosperity and incremental climate benefits, but putting them in place also requires political will. If the Terrebonne bike extension is any indication, Montreal’s results so far don’t look promising.
So what should we do on Halloween?
There are a lot of good options. More governments should consider special speed limit reductions during trick-or-treating hours. Local governments can increase community control of streets. Some neighbourhoods are adopting Halloween car restrictions for temporary “open streets” events during trick or treating.
The pandemic has shown us that infrastructure change to increase safety is possible; we’ve seen cities across the world adopt pedestrian streets and additional bike paths to allow for social distancing. Montreal demonstrated this flexibility by adopting temporary health corridors and bike paths.
Measures like these could improve street safety on Halloween for young people, but we can also improve safety for all residents year-round. Additional street lighting and speed bumps can slow traffic and significantly reduce the risk of fatality from cars.
COVID-19 is a serious and ongoing threat, but we shouldn’t discount the everyday risks we’ve grown accustomed to. Let’s use collective action to manage both of these risks and take this moment to do better, govern better, and protect the public from major, preventable risks.
Ketra Schmitt and Angie Schmitt
Angie Schmitt is Principal at 3MPH Planning and Consulting and the author of "Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America". Ketra Schmitt (no relation) is associate professor in the Centre for Engineering and Society in the Gina Cody School of Engineering at Concordia University in Montreal. She uses systems models to develop evidence-based policy to govern risk, including vaccine preventable disease transmission.