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On The Road

Road Safety 101: Driving on Urban Roads

City dwellers aren't the only ones who need to face the traffic of large urban centres. See how you can safely navigate your way around all of the road's users.

by Alex Kelly
Welcome back to our series, “Road Safety 101” a comprehensive look at Canada’s different neighbourhood roads: rural, suburban, and urban. We’ve covered the differences and challenges of rural and suburban roads. Now, we’ll examine urban roads, the risks on them, and how to be safe behind the wheel.

Urban roads: what’s the issue?

Urban roads can be some of the most congested, heavily travelled roads in Canada, supporting the daily life of cities. Urban centres draw in commuters from regions outside the core, increasing traffic exponentially. Compounding the chaos is the concentrated number of vehicles, typically operating along narrower lanes.

The good news for city dwellers? Urban routes can be safer, as lower speeds of travel are not as likely to result in fatal crashes. However, preventing any type of collision is paramount — city streets force interactions between vehicles and vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists. While city characteristics, such as increased opportunities for active transit, can create favourable environments for public health, there are also increased opportunities for collisions.

The road design of cities translates into many chances for conflicts or collisions between road users. One example is intersections, which are some of the most dangerous elements of roadways, as vehicle paths merge, diverge, or cross. These also introduce vulnerable road users to the mix through elements such as crosswalks and bike lanes — there can be at least 32 potential conflicts in one four-way intersection!

Staying Safe

Know the Rules of Road

When visiting a new city, be sure to look up the traffic regulations. Cities may have ongoing pilot projects or different signage than you’re used to. For example, Toronto’s King Street Transit Priority Corridor limits personal vehicle traffic, while the city’s community safety zones have reduced speed limits.

Be prepared

Other road users — such as cyclists and pedestrians — may interact with your vehicle at any point during your journey, and intersections can be a prime spot for potential collisions. Using all mirrors and regularly checking blindspots will keep you well informed, and remember that slower speeds allow for better reaction time, should you need to hit the brakes at the last minute.

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Share the road

Cities will have all types of road users, most often travelling along the same roadway. Remember to share the road with cyclists, allowing them to travel alongside you just like any other vehicle. If you need to pass, Ontario’s laws state that vehicles must give a minimum of one-metre passing distance. If you need to make a turn that causes you to cross into a bike lane, only do so with a dashed line.

Check out other options

If you don’t feel comfortable driving in the city, check out some of the public transportation options. This can be one of the safest ways to travel, with the added benefits of stress reduction and efficiency. If you do choose to take a bus, streetcar, or rideshare option, stay aware as you enter and exit the vehicle. The urban environment guarantees interactions with other road users, so you’ll still need to make an effort to keep yourself safe even when you’re a passenger.

City streets may seem intimidating, but they’re easy to navigate when you take your time and stay aware. The increased complexity is manageable when you know what you are looking for, so be sure to give the roads your undivided attention.

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