Vision Zero will cost taxpayers, councillor cautions

Vision Zero will cost taxpayers, councillor cautions

If residents want to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on Ottawa's roads further than the 20 per cent proposed under the city's latest road safety plan, they're going to have to pay for it, a city councillor is warning.

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper said while he applauds the speed reductions and infrastructure investments announced Monday, they might not be enough.

"It is absolutely a step in the right direction. The question is whether it's a step far enough," Leiper told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

There are real, achievable reductions we can get by raising taxes. - Coun. Jeff Leiper

Leiper would prefer to see the city steer toward "Vision Zero," an international effort to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries by changing the way cities design roads and set traffic rules.

The report behind the city's plan says it "aligns with the principles" of the Vision Zero movement. 

In 2018, there were 27 fatalities resulting from collisions in Ottawa: one cyclist, eight pedestrians, three motorcyclists, 11 motorists and four passengers.

So far this year, three cyclists have been killed in collisions. 

For Leiper, a 20 per cent reduction won't put much of a dent in those grim statistics.

"I'm not sure that Ottawans are prepared to accept that that is an ambitious enough goal," he said. 

But paying for the city to step up its efforts is a burden that will likely fall on taxpayers if funds can't be pulled from elsewhere in the city's budget, Leiper noted.

A hefty price tag

The road safety action plan proposes $31.5 million in measures and initiatives, up from $25 million in 2019. 

According to collision data collected from 2013 to 2017 Ottawa currently has an average of 2.8 fatal injuries per 100,000 in population.

That "is significantly lower than Canada's national rate of 5.8, and aligns with that of Sweden and the Netherlands, which are some of the leading countries in the world that have adopted a safe systems approach to road safety resulting in low rates of serious injuries and fatalities."

But that's not aggressive enough for Leiper, who said it could take hundreds of millions of dollars to eventually hit Vision Zero.

"There are real, achievable reductions we can get by raising taxes," he said.

"There are real, achievable reductions we can get by reallocating money within our budget from building roads to making our roads safer."

Matthew Kupfer/CBC

Leiper said he'd be "more than happy" to see a tax increase of half a per cent if that meant even a further 10 per cent reduction, to a target of 30 per cent.

Leiper acknowledged revenue from tax hikes, currently set at three per cent in the city's 2020 draft budget, is already spoken for to help tackle such serious issues as the opioid crisis and affordable housing shortage. 

"I don't know if we're going to be able to achieve zero in the next four years though with what the residents of Ottawa are ... willing to see in terms of how much they spend," he said.

The plan's proposed measures will be discussed at a Dec. 4 transportation committee meeting and debated by council Dec. 11.