Raised Centre Medians – Get Over It!

I’m tired of hearing recurring carping at Town Council about the raised planter medians installed as part of the streetscape urbanization of Innisfil Beach Road.  Over the term of the 3 year project it’s suffering the “death of a thousand cuts”. Our politicians’ vacillation, timidity and lack of vision is an embarrassment. I think we are fortunate to at least have the streetscape installed at the eastern end of Innisfil Beach Road as it was intended. Several people have commented to me about how beautiful the street looks but you probably wouldn’t hear them at a Council meeting.

Median1 Median2

The usual accusation is that the raised medians are a “traffic hazard”. It’s odd then that they have been around for decades and can be commonly found in towns and cities all over Ontario and North America. I attempted a search of the literature to try and find any evidence to support the complaint. (A few photos at Council doesn’t quite meet the criteria.)  Medians are usually classified as a traffic-calming device. The research that I found suggested that either there was no difference in the incidence of traffic collisions or that medians helped reduce traffic incidents. Here’s a description of the benefits of medians from the US Dept. of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration:

  • Reducing motor vehicle crashes by 15 percent
  • Decreasing delays (>30 percent) for motorists
  • Increasing capacity (>30 percent) of roadways
  • Reducing vehicle speeds on the roadway

It seems to me medians crop up as an issue because most Innisfil Councillors and many residents don’t understand the purpose of medians. We pay a lot of money for studies, reports and designs, which are soon forgotten. Here’s a brief description from a textbook:

“Medians serve three primary purposes: to separate opposing traffic, to provide space for planting, and to provide a refuge for pedestrians crossing the road. They can be effective at humanizing the scale of a wide street, softening an urban environment and creating a sense of importance.”

Town of Innisfil Traffic Policies, Appendix D, Dec 2012 provided a table of “traffic calming” measures, their purpose and suited locations. The Raised Centre Median is meant to:

  • reduce vehicle speeds
  • reduce pedestrian‐vehicle conflicts
  • provide pedestrian refuge on a wide street

The emphasis on reducing traffic speed is to increase the safety and use for other forms of transportation including pedestrians and cyclists – i.e. roads don’t belong exclusively to cars! (I’ve seen all forms of transportation on the street – ATVs, scooters, bicycles, motorbikes, motorized bicycles, and skateboards)

“Research and studies have indicated that traffic calming can reduce the number of collisions and decrease the severity of these accidents through the promotion of lower speeds. Relatively small changes in speed can have a large impact on the severity of a pedestrian crash. Research has shown that a pedestrian hit at 64 km/h has about an 85% chance of being killed. At 48km/h, the probability of a fatality is about 45%. By comparison, at 32 km/h the probability of a fatal or severe collision is only about 5%.”

A raised centre median is suited for “local streets; collector streets; downtown”. Medians aren’t dangerous, drivers are. The solution is for drivers to slow down and drive with more caution. It reminds me of the European innovation of removing traffic lights and signs in some intersections. Accidents were reduced because drivers realized they had to be more alert and cautious.

Innisfil’s streetscape, including the landscaped medians, is consistent with the Town’s strategic plan, Inspiring Innisfil 2020. It supports the creation of attractive and distinctive neighbourhoods, promotes the economic objective of creating a primary commercial centre and enhances the tourism objectives of attracting more visitors.

So it’s time for Council to get over its automobile-centric fixation. Some people who say they want to retain Innisfil’s ‘small town’ character are some of the same people who tell me they prefer to speed along other Sideroads at 80 km/h (make that 100 km/h) rather than drive along Innisfil Beach Road. And what have we got instead?


No Median – 100% uglier but any safer?


From my observation, I’d say the alternative is 100% uglier but no safer. It appears there are some unintended consequences, like the teenager who merrily rode his skateboard down the middle of the paved centre lane, the driver that tried to make a U-turn into oncoming traffic or the car that drove onto the road and stopped rather than turn 90º into the centre turn lane.


Centre medians are nothing new, Innisfil is not unique, so let’s pay attention to the actual research and experience out there. Let’s keep a focus on the big picture, conscious of the fact that the Town’s population will double, and urban density will increase. Residents will thank you for making streets for people as well as for cars.


One thought on “Raised Centre Medians – Get Over It!

  1. I agree, not sure what the problem is with well designed and aesthetically pleasing medians! Wait until your area experiences a residential street traffic circle for traffic calming with a community garden planted inside. That’s what you find in Vancouver BC.

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