Commentary

Hand-wringing Over Spike in Pedestrian Deaths Avoids Effective Solutions

If we are serious about eliminating pedestrian deaths and injuries, we need to re-engineer our urban streets to make it difficult or physically impossible to drive at high speeds.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published January 27, 2010

This article has been updated.

The recent spike in pedestrian deaths in the Greater Toronto Area (14 in January so far) has generated a flurry of editorials and articles in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and CBC online.

These discussions and reports all describe the problem in the same terms: many complicated factors are involved and pedestrians and motorists are "equally to blame."

In addition to giving the same analysis, these articles suggest the same solution: more effective enforcement of traffic regulations (especially speeding) and a crackdown on "jaywalking".

The suggestion that drivers and pedestrians are equally to blame is troubling.

According to the Highway Traffic Act, motorists are supposed to be in full control of their vehicles at all times. Questions of safety trump questions right of way, and in a collision between a car and a pedestrian the pedestrian will always come off worse.

Because they have a much higher potential to cause harm, drivers have a much higher duty to exercise caution and due attention.

A pedestrian never "deserves" to be killed, even if they cross in the middle of a block or don't watch out for turning vehicles. Everyone should drive as if an eight year old could dart out at any moment chasing a ball (I remember this example from my own driving lessons!).

Disconnect Between Fault and Safety

A recent Globe and Mail article illustrates this disconnect between who is "at fault" and how to actually improve safety on the roads.

The articles describes the situation as follows:

Some pedestrians need a healthier respect for the road and to be aware of the dangers of walking and talking on a cellphone. And drivers – those who speed, are impaired, talk on cellphones and fail to obey signs – need to face law enforcement. Records show motorists are at fault roughly half of the time when there is a pedestrian fatality.

In brief, if everyone just obeyed the rules, no one (i.e. the pedestrians) would get hurt.

It would have been helpful to give a reference for the "records" and a definition of what "at fault" means and how it relates to safety. However, several paragraphs later, the article does give an example of policies that actually work:

Sweden in particular has low injury rates, in part due to beefed-up driver education and stringent enforcement, which includes pulling over motorists. Drivers must also have their sight checked every decade with the renewal of their driver's license.

(The article doesn't mention the numerous ways Swedish roads are designed to be safe). Note that Sweden doesn't have policies to crackdown on jaywalking or pedestrian behaviour. In fact, the concept of jaywalking is actually unknown outside North America! It is interesting to note that, according to Wikipedia:

[Jaywalking's] dissemination was due in part to a deliberate effort by promoters of automobiles, such as local auto clubs and dealers, to redefine streets as places where pedestrians do not belong.

Enforcement Doesn't Work

There's only one problem with this law-and-order approach: it doesn't work. Enforcement might lower the death rate a bit in the short term, but a system that relies on everyone obeying the rules all the time just to avoid killing people is not robust.

I'm particularly disappointed that this rules-based approach is being pushed when it is explicitly avoided in workplace safety and safety engineering.

I received workplace safety training last year, and one point kept being hammered home: Inattention, daydreaming or distraction are not acceptable explanations for an accident. The workplace must be safe when used by real people, not robots who always obey rules and are never distracted.

To take another example, rail companies don't just tell their drivers to "stay alert," they fit their trains with a "dead man's switch" which the driver must keep continuously pressed down, otherwise the train stops.

Engineering Safety

As mentioned previously in RTH, the only effective solution is to engineer our streets to be safe for real people in real situations. Real people may be distracted, rushed, five years old, eighty years old or disabled. And the main risk factor is vehicle speed.

If we are serious about eliminating pedestrian deaths and injuries, the maximum speed must kept below 30km/h. Therefore, we need to re-engineer our urban streets to make it difficult or physically impossible to drive at higher speeds.

Simply asking people to drive more slowly, or pay more attention, will never work.

The disturbing subtext to this debate is that while we have engineered our cars to be much safer, with all sorts of passive safety devices from multiple air bags to crumple zones, we refuse to consider incorporating similar passive safety standards for pedestrians in road design.

The conclusion is unavoidable: that hundreds of pedestrian deaths and thousands of injuries are an acceptable price to pay for driving convenience.

Update: This article by Chris Hume in today's Star is a nice sequel to what I wrote yesterday, and makes the case (as Ben Bull did) that jaywalking is actually safer.

Hume also points out that most of the pedestrians were killed doing exactly what the police wanted them to do (obey lights, cross at intersections).

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

43 Comments

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By JonC (registered) | Posted January 27, 2010 at 13:58:21

I noticed the general consensus amongst the Post, G&M and Star was to blame equally. It's bizarre. Zero drivers died in vehicle-pedestrian collisions in the GTA this year. Same as last year.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 27, 2010 at 14:25:15

The 'equal blame' gambit is also a rhetorical device employed by lazy journalists so that they can pat themselves on the back for being 'unbiased' or 'above the fray'. Heaven forbid they actually take an informed position and be accused of being 'anti-car'.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted January 27, 2010 at 14:27:47

Cars kill a really impressive number of people. The last statistics I saw said four times as much as war worldwide. They make cocaine, handguns and unprotected sex with strangers look safe by comparison. Car accidents alone are a leading cause of death for most demographics, and that's not counting air pollution, physical inactivity, industrial accidents (mining, smelting, automaking, refining, roadbuilding etc) or oil wars.

The really important point here is that even if cars emitted nothing but steam, the vast majority of these deaths would still take place. Smog kills relatively few people compared to car accidents and inactivity, and most pollution/emissions would still take place in producing the vehicle (which for most cars causes more pollution than its entire lifetime of tailpipe emissions). Roads and parking lots would still need to be built through sensitive natural areas (or does the Red Hill Expressway not allow plug-in hybrids?), cities would still sprawl out of control and working families would still be spending tens of thousands of their hard-earned dollars on cars, fuel and infrastructure.

It's also worth noting that few or none of these side effects occur on anything like the same scale with any other form of urban transportation.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 27, 2010 at 15:02:05

I was listening to reports on the radio of police issuing tickets to jaywalkers today. Issuing tickets and educating pedestrians is the police version of a "crackdown on pedestrian safety". They are "confident" that these measures will save pedestrian lives.

It is a complete joke.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted January 27, 2010 at 15:37:10

This is the best one:

Human error is the real cause of the collisions we’ve had

Human error as opposed to faulty traffic lights, stuck gas pedals and wind blowing people into the street?

Anyway, as soon as we get this human error figured out, the rest should be easy.

Comment edited by Jonathan Dalton on 2010-01-27 14:38:21

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By Really? (registered) | Posted January 27, 2010 at 15:45:34

I walk everywhere (unless I'm on the bus or subway), and I am admittedly an 'Aggressive Pedestrian' (must be from the years I've spent as a pedestrian in Toronto). I can see how a pedestrian can be to blame, especially in regards to the TTC Streetcar incident.

When I cross a busy cross-section, I usually remove my earbuds or simply pause my iPod to ensure I can see & hear everything around (pedestrians know one cannot simply rely on sight when crossing, say, Main & Bay). If a Pedestrian chooses to ignore regular safety protocol (ie: look both ways before you cross, EVEN on Main Street --I've seen plenty of wrong-way drivers in my life), then they should be considered partly at fault. Maybe not 50-50, but 25% at least.

As a pedestrian, I know it's not just my responsibility to ensure my safety, but the drivers around me as well; which really irks me when I see idiots on the road who never seem to get ticketed (ie: those pulled out fully in the middle of a cross-walk when stuck at a Red).

But rather than complaining about being targeted, what can Pedestrians do to get Politicians and the POLICE on our side? How can we convince them that poor drivers are mostly to blame, and that a crackdown on J-Walking is only a bandaid solution?

... but in the meantime, all those pedestrians like me ('agressive') need to do a better job paying attention, and yes, we need to realize that we do share the roads with Vehicles no matter how much we dislike this (although I think this is a much more serious problem in TO than here in the Hammer... prolly b/c no one in the Hammer walks)

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted January 27, 2010 at 22:43:13

As a pedestrian you have an extra responsibility (to yourself) to not get run over and killed by a automobile. You can't rely on a driver to look out for your safety. They could be drunk, visually impaired going the wrong way, distracted on the cell phone etc... You can be in the right and have the right away all day long but you only die once. You have to pay extra attention as a pedestrian, that's all there is to it. Blame won't save your life, paying attention might.

Comment edited by crtsvg on 2010-01-27 21:51:00

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By z jones (registered) | Posted January 27, 2010 at 22:45:47

^Atta way to miss the point. Here, let me repeat it for you.

Enforcement might lower the death rate a bit in the short term, but a system that relies on everyone obeying the rules all the time just to avoid killing people is not robust.

Also,

If we are serious about eliminating pedestrian deaths and injuries, the maximum speed must kept below 30km/h. Therefore, we need to re-engineer our urban streets to make it difficult or physically impossible to drive at higher speeds.

Simply asking people to drive more slowly, or pay more attention, will never work.

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted January 27, 2010 at 22:53:12

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted January 27, 2010 at 22:56:35

Reading comprehension fail. Let's try again.

I'm particularly disappointed that this rules-based approach is being pushed when it is explicitly avoided in workplace safety and safety engineering.

I received workplace safety training last year, and one point kept being hammered home: Inattention, daydreaming or distraction are not acceptable explanations for an accident. The workplace must be safe when used by real people, not robots who always obey rules and are never distracted.

See what's happening here? You can talk about what people ought to do, but if we're interested in safety we have to talk about what people actually do.

Nicholas again...

The disturbing subtext to this debate is that while we have engineered our cars to be much safer, with all sorts of passive safety devices from multiple air bags to crumple zones, we refuse to consider incorporating similar passive safety standards for pedestrians in road design.

Starting to sink in yet? We can't just tell people to act safer. We need to engineer our roads (the way we already engineer our cars) to make them inherently safer.

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted January 27, 2010 at 23:35:19

Our entire society is rules based. Some people bend the rules. That's why they end up in jail or rich or dead or whatever. If you cant pay attention as a pedestrian or as a driver there are consequences. Inattention or bending of the rules, it doesn't matter. If you push your luck too many times the end could be disastrous. If you walk around with your head in your ass and just walk onto the road you won't always get hit by a car or even killed but eventually you might. Engineer people to be safer, not roads. When crossing the road always open your eyes before you go outside the house.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted January 27, 2010 at 23:53:00

I would this as a good read

http://spacing.ca/wire/2007/11/20/pedest...

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 09:39:09

Yeah. Lets get rid of seatbelts and infant car seats and just tell all the drivers to follow the 'rules'. Problem solved!

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 10:35:14

Engineer people to be safer, not roads.

In the 1950's to 70's the US auto lobby, dead set against such engineering controls as seatbelts and gas tanks that didn't explode, used essentially the same mantra in campaigns against mandatory automobile safety legislation. In essence:

Engineer people to be safer, not cars

They even advocated road safety engineering as being superior to vehicle safety in preventing accidents:

Engineer roads to be safer, not cars

Well that was a fail. Policymakers, evidently unconvinced of the superior logic of 'engineering people', crossed cars off the list first. The design process for cars today basically revolves around safety - the whole structure of the car is designed to crumple on impact in such a way that maximizes energy absorption. Cars can crash faster and harder before killing or injuring their occupants.

So we got the cars figured out, made them as safe as we could, but those god damn stupid people keep figuring out ways to kill themselves with them. Like driving faster.

In the last 50 years road engineering has given us more lanes, wider and faster roads, enabling higher speeds while simultaneously bringing more vehicles onto the roads. The typical suburban arterial road is designed for a maximum speed of 80km/h, but signed at 50-60km/h speed limit. We engineer roads for speed, and people for safety. Does it work?

Current road design practices have been doing exactly as crtsvg suggests - "Engineering people to be safer, not roads." The "road warriors" - those with interests in maintaining high vehicle speeds in urban areas, are still using the same argument that so badly failed the automakers 50 years ago. Blame people (which are by nature unpredictable and fallible - they cannot be changed) not design (which can be changed). What was that definition of insanity again?

As soon as we figure out how to engineer people, the rest will be a snap! Hey, we can also engineer them not to murder, steal, or start wars! Dude, I think you're really onto something.

Comment edited by Jonathan Dalton on 2010-01-28 09:39:06

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted January 28, 2010 at 10:57:06

Without disagreeing with the main points of the article, I note that I am happy to have the press telling pedestrians to pay more attention to road traffic. Not a week goes by when a pedestrian - usually but not always on Sterling Street as it goes onto the McMaster campus - steps off of the curb or from behind a bus directly into my path without looking. So I ring my little bell or screech to a stop or execute a sudden turn and now and then even bump into someone. When all that's required is a moment's thought and a turn of the head.

My point being that more attentive pedestrians would save me grief and them tread marks on theirs jeans. So let's discuss the larger issues, but let's not let pedestrians off of the hook completely.

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:24:22

"If a Pedestrian chooses to ignore regular safety protocol (ie: look both ways before you cross, EVEN on Main Street --I've seen plenty of wrong-way drivers in my life), then they should be considered partly at fault. Maybe not 50-50, but 25% at least."

This is not quite how the law sees it. If you dash across the street in the midst of fast moving traffic and are hit, you will be deemed to have been contributorily negligent. But the driver will still be deemed to have been "at fault" and will almost surely still be subject to claims for personal injury or wrongful death; any award will simply be reduced by the degree of the injured party's contributory negligence.

I would, thus, draw a distinction between negligence and fault. Fault is a broader moral concept. In the eyes of the law, the driver is, in a way, always at fault, even if the negligence of the pedestrian in some manner "contributed" to the injury suffered. I think this reflects the fact that driving is, by nature, a dangerous endeavour fraught with risk to oneself and (most importantly) others. Every time a person gets into a car and pilots it onto a public highway that person makes a decision, whether conscious or not, to subject others to very considerable risk of injury or death. There is no comparable risk involved in a decision to walk (any risk to others associated with this activity is negligible). The person who creates a risk must alone bear the burden of its consequences. A pedestrian crossing a busy roadway merely accepts the risk of being hit. The idea of negligence reflects this. But the pedestrian does not create the risk and thus can have no legal or moral responsibility for the consequences. Fault, such as it is, always lies with the driver.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:34:01

^Best explanation yet. You should do an article, or an opinion piece in the paper, or both.

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:34:25

I think we have to take stock of the fact that the decision to drive a car or even ride a bicycle is fundamentally selfish and geared solely towards the user's convenience. A person who gets into a car and drives to work makes a selfish decision to increase his/her convenience at the expense of pedestrians' safety.

Why not walk to work? Too far? Move, get another job, or accept the moral responsibility for injuries suffered as a result of putting your own convenience before others' safety and wellbeing. There is no other option.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:44:35

Sadly, the Globe and Mail still doesn't get it.

Today at noon they are hosting an online discussion entitled "Will police blitz curb jaywalking?"

The title betrays their editorial prejudices, and frames the discussion in a way that shifts the responsability for accidents to jaywalking pedestrians and suggests the goal of the blitz is to stop jaywalkers interfering with traffic.

A fair and unbiased title would be

"Will police blitz on jaywalking reduce pedestrian deaths and injuries?"

I enourage anyone who has the time to join the discussion.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:45:06

I think we have to take stock of the fact that the decision to drive a car or even ride a bicycle is fundamentally selfish and geared solely towards the user's convenience.

I wouldn't be quite that harsh on cyclists, although you can certainly say that about the many cyclists who ride on the sidewalk. Grrr.

Comment edited by highwater on 2010-01-28 10:45:53

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:52:55

Tammany's explanation of fault, and his observation that it is the driver who decides to create a risk of death or injury (not the pedestrian) is clear and succinct.

Unfortunately, Hamilton's own traffic engineers do not accept this legal interpretation.

I have been told several times that the only time a driver is at fault is when he hits a pedestrian crossing with the right of way at a signalized intersection. In all other circumstances they believe the pedestrian is entirely fault. Note that this includes crossing at an unsignalized intersection.

Because they have this interpretation, the City will not install crosswalks or encourage pedestrian activity in any way, since they feel it would create a liability for the City. The default solution to pedestrian accidents is to simply prohibit pedestrians, which has lead to the infamous yellow signs in Kirkendall warning pedestrians to walk hundreds of metres to the nearest signalized crossing, and the suggestion that pedestrian crossings be prohibited at Main and Dundurn due to accidents.

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:58:28

Why not? A pedestrian struck by a fast moving bicycle is still likely to sustain injuries, even if those injuries are likely to be far less serious than those which would have resulted from an automobile.

Cycling is still a risky and dangerous activity, just less so than driving.

In my view, I think it's good policy to regulate dangerous behaviour and very bad policy to regulate non-dangerous behaviour. As a corollary point, the more dangerous the activity, the more regulation it should be subject to. Thus, driving should be regulated by a panoply of laws and restrictions; cycling should still be regulated but to a much lesser extent; and walking should not be regulated at all.

There should be no laws regulating how and where I choose to walk in a public space. The regulation of pedestrians is an unfair and unethical transfer of responsibility from drivers.

A pedestrian wants to cross a street mid-block half asleep and with headphones blaring? Such a decision may be "foolish" but it should never be illegal.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:10:02

For those interested, the live Globe chat is here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/nati...

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By z jones (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:15:38

Because they have this interpretation, the City will not install crosswalks or encourage pedestrian activity in any way, since they feel it would create a liability for the City.

I wonder if that's coming from city lawyers rather than (or in addition to) city traffic engineers. So far everything I've heard on this city's legal advice has been right out of Bizarro-World.

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:24:08

I couldn't agree more.

Remember the advice council received from the city solicitor regarding the Connaught?

If such bad counsel had been given by an outside lawyer, he would be sued for professional negligence.

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 13:11:00

"For those interested, the live Globe chat is here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/nati..."

Unsurprisingly, the really interesting and challenging comments were not responded to.

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 15:11:22

Tammany:

Your comments are, without fail, thoughtful, useful, and reasonable. But "There should be no laws regulating how and where I choose to walk in a public space. The regulation of pedestrians is an unfair". Really? Really?

Is a road a public space? What am I missing? I don't think people should be able to blithely step out into traffic, headphones & ipods or not. And sure, natural justice is swift for the Darwin Award winners who exit the gene pool through their own stupidity, but that's cold comfort for the traumatized drivers.

Please clarify.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 28, 2010 at 15:54:59

"Is a road a public space?"

Was that a serious question? Yes of course it is. It is only through our own habits and gradual changes to laws that we've come to dedicate this public space to cars...

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 16:09:26

I think a road is a public space, which is why I was surprised by the suggestion that there should be no rules regarding a pedestrian's behaviour in that space...

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 16:17:40

I think Tammany was drawing a distinction between laws and conventions in addition to pointing out who is actually posing a risk to whom.

For example, when I walk along a sidewalk it is conventional (and polite) not to jostle people, or walk directly across their path. However, as far as I know, there is no law against these antisocial behaviours.

Similarly, I shouldn't walk directly into the path of cars, and drivers need to take due care to avoid hitting or scaring pedestrians.

This is the idea behind woonerf streets: we should rely on common sense and common courtesy founded on the principle that anyone (car or pedestrian or cyclist) has the right to occupy any part of the street for as long as they like. Although it might seem that laws of right of way enhance safety, woonerf streets actually have a lower accident rate.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted January 28, 2010 at 16:41:09

Laws should only be enacted when they can serve to modify people's behaviour, or when their existence provides punitive measures which satisfy the needs of the parties adversely affected by the law breakers actions. Many acceptable social behaviours evolve and exist because of societal pressures. I don't bump into the neighbour on the sidewalk because I don't want to upset him or have a confrontation. I don't walk into the road because I don't want to get killed. Laws serve no purpose when it comes to 'regulating' pedestrian behaviour because they won't modify the pedestrian's behaviour and they won't make the injured party feel any better about the pedestrians actions.

One reason car drivers tend to be less civil and aware than pedestrians is because they are artificially contained within a shell. Can you imagine walking up behind someone and shouting at them to get out of the way because you are in a rush? Drivers are disconnected from the street. If all cars were open-topped, apart from being freezing 4 months of the year the driver would at least be more connected with the street. And I'm betting they would not be so rude and agressive as often.

I love these people who suggest you should make eye contact with a driver before crossing the road. How many times are you able to peer through the windshield and find an alert driver to connect with? More often than not drivers are tapping their steering wheel, texting, or hidden behind rain soaked/tinted glass.

This discussion is not about demonizing drivers (I am one and I exhibit all the poor behaviours I've mentioned) or placating pedestrians. It's about recognizing how and why we behave like we do and working out what we need to do to modify our behaviour for the better. Sometimes all people seem to be able to think about is laws laws laws. Come on kids, we have more in our toolkit than that!

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 16:47:09

"I think Tammany was drawing a distinction between laws and conventions in addition to pointing out who is actually posing a risk to whom."

Absolutely. The law is an extremely heavy handed tool for regulating behaviour. I don't think it's at all appropriate to use it in an attempt to prevent pedestrians from putting themselves "in harm's way". Even worse is to invoke the law simply to reduce inconvenience to drivers.

d.knox, I don't quite understand your point about traumatized drivers. Would the existence of a law prohibiting the pedestrian from crossing mid-block somehow comfort the driver who killed or maimed said pedestrian? Should such consolation be available?

Repealing the by-laws which currently regulate pedestrian behaviour is not likely to drastically or even appreciably alter existing pedestrian behaviour. What it will do is deprive drivers of a too convenient means of resisting responsibility for their actions and decisions.


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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 16:57:14

Just to clarify, when I spoke of "regulation" above I was refering to the existence of a formal legal regime.

I am not suggesting that pedestrian behaviour ought to fall entirely outside the scope of normative regulation. But because a pedestrian's behaviour does not, under normal circumstances, pose a real appreciable risk to others, I believe convention and, perhaps more importantly, the standard of reasonableness are the only "regulations" which should obtain.

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 17:03:02

Yes, I see that I read that too quickly; I saw laws and I read rules. Back to Huxley's Game of Chess for a refresher...

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By michaelcumming (registered) - website | Posted January 29, 2010 at 10:24:28

Just like Hamilton is trying to be a good place to raise a child, Hamilton should attempt to be a good place to be a pedestrian. These goals work together since most children are pedestrians.

If road design marginalizes pedestrians -- as it certainly does in Hamilton, then overall quality of life suffers. It's a no-brainer.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:03:07

These goals work together since most children are pedestrians.

Yes, absolutely! Given the empirical evidence that one-way streets are more dangerous for children, it amazes me every time I hear someone simultaneously claim that they support making Hamilton the best place to raise a child and that they oppose the conversion of streets to two-way traffic.

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By swanway (anonymous) | Posted January 29, 2010 at 23:04:14

It seems to me that, like my dear old Dad was wont to say, between curses and lunges at the wheel while teaching me how, that driving is a privilege not a right. Unfortunately, the majority of drivers have become convinced that motor vehicle ownership and the fullest use of the public road is theirs by God given right, period. I'm not talking about the small minority of careless people who are found among walkers, cyclists and drivers alike. I'm talking about the apparent majority of drivers who simply won't accept that the many, many problems caused by the automobile should be mitigated by constraining the use of the automobile. The streets are public spaces. They used to be for people, dogs and horses, then they were given over largely to horse drawn transport and the massive pollution that entailed, and now they have been surrendered to the car. Pedestrians and cyclists should take them back. It is very difficult to make any headway on this issue. We have been trying for five years to have the City of Hamilton make one neighbourhood, one single neighbourhood, a 30K zone for a 2 year trial period, that's all, just a trial...No amount of information, overseas precedents, no example, no argument prevails against those raised in the religion of C

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 31, 2010 at 08:56:13

Oh, swanway...you brought so much to mind with your comment. Thank you.

I've been reading comments here...and elsewhere...and I develped a divot on my skull from where I've been scratching it so hard. Some of the approaches to the issues just...well, they bewilder me.

I've spoken my piece here on RTH in the past when discussions about mass transit, public transit, the LRT, car use, etc are raised. Nothing I've heard or read anywhere has changed my stance on this umbrella discussion...in fact, it's been confirmed, buttressed, fortified.

In a nutshell, while issues such as pedestrian deaths, jaywalking, bike-lanes, pollution can be addressed in their micro forms, to me, the macro truth is that we have created a society where the automobile is at the heart of our value system. Until that changes, carrying on the 'discussion' as it's been unfolding is like trying correct a pronounced engineering design flaw by constantly adding things to compensate...when in fact, you need to start over. (Not that I believe this will ever happen regarding the automobile and all its associated dilemmas.)

(For the record...again...I'm not a vehicle owner, I never have been, I walk and take the bus almost everywhere I go...even though I've had a driver's license since I was sixteen.)

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 31, 2010 at 11:59:11

You are right, Schmadrian, but I think one of the ways to change our values, is to gradually chip away at our car-centric infrastructure. One of the best way to change people's hearts and minds is to show them that sharing our public spaces more equally can enhance quality of life. After all, most cities are not planned and built all at once. Our car-centric infrastructure was built over time, and there's no reason it can't be unbuilt over time. Drip, drip, drip.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 31, 2010 at 14:15:23

Actually, it might seem in retrospect that the car-centric culture was built over time, but it wasn't. Examined closely, it can be seen that some defining elements combined, some crux-points that occurred essentially over about a thirty-year period.

As I've said elsewhere, most pronounced value system changes occur either as a result of a crisis, or something 'sexier' being offered. I have yet to see the latter being accomplished in North America.

Don't mistake getting incrementally more people onto public transit for a wholesale shift away from cars. It's not. And the oil supply issue is red-herring; the car-at-the-heart-of-the-value-system paradigm will long outlive the gas-fueled, internal-combustion engine. My main question for those who are impassioned about replacing this core value is: 'What are you proposing the average North American replace it with?' And no, great public transit is not a possibility. Anyone that believes that it is...I suspect doesn't really appreciate how deeply entrenched the car is in our collective psyche...and is more attached to the demonizing of the car and its effects than wanting to accept how strong its grip is and the role it plays in car owners' lives. (Think of the analogy of illicit drugs; there are particular reasons people want their drugs. You have to deal with these more than you should be dealing with interdiction...which time has taught us simply does not work. The car paradigm is no different. I'm not suggesting not fighting the good fight. But from my vantage point, the way it's being fought is often naïve.)

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted January 31, 2010 at 23:46:39

Pedestrians should be allowed to walk anywhere anytime without any restriction? Wow that's right out there even for this site. To hear the discussion on this site one would think that drivers are trying to run over pedestrians. We have a system of laws that make walking a very safe activity. If you refuse to follow the laws of the land then there are consequences to pay. Everyone around is expecting you to play by the rules. If we throw the rules away then what happens to civilization?

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2010 at 01:31:21

Mr. Meister,

Some rules don't achieve the outcomes they were set out to - that's the problem we're trying to solve. Merely enforcing them more strictly will not change the fact that they don't work. Some rules need to evolve - isn't that one reason we have politicians? To review our laws and fix them where necessary?

A proven way to improve pedestrian safety is to remove a lot of these broken rules. This is something which goes against our instincts of course, we live in a very rules based society, but it's something that works none-the-less. We would be foolish to ignore the evidence of successful safe street planning:

(http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/756884--hume-maybe-we-d-all-be-safer-jaywalking

http://www.livablestreets.com/streetswik...

Scmadrian - I agree with your historical viewpoint about change, but I think we can see evidence every day that the car culture shift is happening gradually. Transit is now a popular topic, environmental awareness is growing, land space is decreasing, people are beginning to understand the consequences of our out dated planning models. I am an example of this gradual awareness. There was no crisis that made me move to a transit rich area and leave my daily car commute behind, the awareness came gradually. What we need is politicians and planners with the courage to embrace this gradual shift in attitudes and start moving us in a direction towards planning that works. While you have developers and car lots funding the print costs of newspapers and the campign coffers of politicians, this will always be an uphill struggle. But the change will come in time (a long time perhaps but it will come!)

Cheers

.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2010 at 10:55:31

"We have a system of laws that make walking a very safe activity."

Today, a pedestrian was hit by a turning vehicle at dundurn, while crossing with their signal: http://www.thespec.com/News/Local/articl...

Our system is NOT working.

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