If a dozen people were randomly shot and killed in Hamilton, the community would go nuts. So why are we so complacent about pedestrians dying on our streets?
By Adrian Duyzer
Published October 22, 2011
Around midnight on Friday, as I was walking home from an event at a bar near John and Main, I paused for a moment to watch street racers ripping down Main Street.
On Friday and Saturday nights Main Street goes from a dreary urban highway to something out of a Vin Diesel movie. Cars with tinted windows, halogen headlights and mufflers that more accurately should be called "amplifiers" tear down Main and cruise down Hess.
Given Hamilton's record of pedestrian fatalities, this behaviour is similar to showing up downtown with a rifle and firing it into the air to celebrate hockey goals. If anything, it is more dangerous, but there was no sign of traffic cops, let alone a tactical team ready for a takedown.
To continue with the firearms analogy, if a dozen people were randomly shot and killed in Hamilton, the community would go nuts. The Chief of Police would be giving news conferences promising to address the problem, people would be lamenting our appalling rate of gun violence, and letters to the editor would proliferate.
So why are we so complacent about pedestrians dying on our streets?
One obvious problem with the firearms analogy is that shooting deaths in urban settings are generally the result of a deliberate act or recklessness. Although some pedestrians are killed by drivers who are drunk or speeding, others are killed while jaywalking or simply because our road system is dangerous.
That said, there would also be a major uproar if fourteen Hamiltonians died in elevator mishaps.
The real reasons for our complacence, I think, are twofold. First of all, people are accustomed to pedestrians dying in vehicle collisions. It happens every year and it's been happening for decades.
Secondly, there's a perception that pedestrian fatalities, and traffic accident fatalities in general, are an inevitable byproduct of vehicle transportation, and that there's not much that can be done about it. We're not going to give up driving cars to eliminate the relatively small percentage of people who are killed by them.
But just because we're used to people dying doesn't mean it's okay.
On Friday, an 81-year-old woman was killed as she "attempted to cross Fennell".
I don't know anything about this woman, but I bet there were people who loved her that are devastated by her death and the manner of it: struck down for the fatal mistake of trying to cross the street. Perhaps there are grieving parents who, right now, have the difficult task of explaining to their children why they will never see their dear grandmother again.
Every one of these accidents is a tragedy, compounded by the tragedy that we're so accustomed to them, we've stopped caring enough to demand they cease.
Just as outrageous is the idea that we need to accept these deaths as an unfortunate but inevitable byproduct of our automobile dependence.
In fact, there's lots that could be done, and I'm not talking about issuing tickets for jaywalking, which is a classic example of the kind of train-and-blame approach that fails to produce lasting results.
We need to start creating safer streets by engineering for safetey, not issuing tickets. We could:
Or we could lower our traffic accident fatality rate and reduce traffic congestion, improve the health of our citizenry, and reduce pollution by building a comprehensive network of bike lanes, as Ryan McGreal also pointed out, quoting from Why Bike Friendly Cities are Safer:
The finding that most bike friendly cities are safer than average has been reinforced by the recent experience of cities such as Cambridge, MA, Portland, OR, and New York. These cities have garnered much press for their success in dramatically increasing bike use over the last several years. This increase in bike ridership has corresponded with an equally dramatic decrease in traffic fatality rates in all three cities.
Interestingly, the decrease in fatality occurred not just for people on bikes, but for all classes of road users – including people in cars and people on foot. In other words, the increase in bike use has benefited all road users by helping transform the streets into safer places.
We could do all of these things in the next five years for less money than a stadium. So why aren't we?
When we're talking about a dozen people dying on city streets each year, there are no valid excuses.