Perceived and actual safety of streets by vulnerable and handicapped users: a GIS case-study of Montreal’s built environment

Author(s): Jean-François Bruneau

Slidedeck Presentation - not available (no paper submitted)


Mobility is influenced by physical and socio-economic factors. It is individually impacted by audition, vision, traction and cognitive aspects, but it also could be limited or fostered by climate and weather, street design, rules of the road, courtesy from other users, etc. Knowing that increased soft mobility is possible through better street design, safer streets for everyone is gaining awareness of government and municipal officers, who now seek solutions in active transportation for better access to services, employment, and also lesser pollution and congestion. But what are the key ingredients to achieve a better quality of life for everyone in urban areas? The Ministry of Transportation of Quebec asked Polytechnique Montreal to identify solutions with the highest potential of enhancing safety for all vulnerable users, no matter their physical conditions or capacity to walk and cycle.

The goal is to vision urban streets as living places, not solely intended for circulation, but where access, comfort and safety should be granted to all, regardless how they move around.

Four methods were used to collect data: literature review, field observations, focus-groups and two questionnaires, one for mobility experts and one for the public. This article presents the results of the questionnaire targeting the public, which was answered by 2,215 respondents. It deals with perceptions, preferred solutions and it describes mobility of respondents in general and between home and their main weekly destination. Different categories of users are distinguished. One group is the main focus: “users with mobility impairments” (n=168), who declared having a physical limitation, concerning uniquely or combining audition (n=34), vision (n=86), traction (n=41), cognitive (n=22) or other difficulties (n=25). This group was compared with those not declaring mobility problems (n=1679). Montreal data was transferred into a Geographical Information System to calculate neighborhood and built environment parameters. Using postal codes from the residence, a buffer zone was drawn and served as a perimeter inside which accident and other rates, proximity variables and density (Ex. public transport, available sidewalks) indexes were calculated. Same was done for the main destination (work, school, shopping center) with a preferred route application. Soft mobility, use of public transport or solo-use of car was considered and a walkability index was created, complied and compared with the walkability perception declared by the respondent.

Results show that the group with mobility challenges perceived lower walkability than those not reporting mobility problems. Persons with reduced mobility also had “perceived” walkability scores closer to “measured” walkability scores. Those who go out actively on their own, whether by foot, wheelchair or scooter are more aware of accessibility and safety problems.

Potential solutions from the mobility impaired regard for example longer and protected crossing phases, wider and convenient sidewalks and stronger controls from the police.