City streets designed for slow-moving automobile traffic are streets designed to be inherently safe.
By Ryan McGreal
Published November 02, 2012
Christopher Hume, the Toronto Star's urbanist-in-residence, has responded to the tragic spate of pedestrian collisions - two dead and nine injured in separate incidents over a 24-hour period - with a customary blast of bullshit-dispelling, cant-free incision. He writes:
[A]s the intersection of Yonge and Harbour makes clear, such a body count is entirely predictable; pedestrians in Toronto often find themselves sacrificial lambs, collateral damage or unintended victims of transportation policies that view them as expendable.
After describing the area in greater detail, Hume concludes:
Though police would disagree, the safest way to cross this stretch of Yonge is to jaywalk, necessary even on a green light. Only then can one ensure one's own safety.
The cops would advise otherwise, naturally. But because they don't pay attention, they have little understanding of how the streets of Toronto really work for pedestrians. What interests police are highways, not city streets. Out there on the 401 there are no pedestrians to get in the way, which is just how they'd like it to be downtown.
Strictly speaking, there is no such charge as "jaywalking". The term comes from early 1900s slang for a person from the rurals coming to a big city and not understanding how the streets work. The standard charge against pedestrians crossing mid-block is section 144(22) of the Highway Traffic Act, which states:
Where portions of a roadway are marked for pedestrian use, no pedestrian shall cross the roadway except within a portion so marked.
The application of this rule is fuzzy and depends on the police officer's judgment of whether a charge would be upheld in court, but the general premise is that you are not allowed to cross a street outside of a crosswalk if a crosswalk is present nearby.
While the police are responsible to enforce the law as they see it, the broader responsibility of a city leadership is to make sure the legal and physical environment supports the public good.
That entails ensuring that crosswalks are frequent, safe and effective for pedestrians - a serious and ongoing problem in cities like Toronto and especially Hamilton - but also in designing the streets themselves so that they do not punish common, predictable infractions with serious injury and death.
The UN World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention asserts:
The vulnerability of the human body should be a limiting design parameter for the traffic system, and speed management is central.
Likewise, the Ontario Coroner's Report on Pedestrian Deaths recently asserted:
Ontarians not only need to walk, they also need to walk safely. To do so, they need safe walking spaces.
Fast-moving motor vehicles are flatly incompatible with safe walking spaces. The human body is vulnerable, as the UN report reminds us, and the laws of motion are unforgiving.
Repeat after me: the energy of a moving vehicle is proportionate to the square of its speed. A vehicle going twice as fast has four times as much energy, and takes four times the distance to stop.
I have pointed this out so many times that I'm nearly sick of doing it, but it needs to be repeated again and again until it truly shapes our approach to street design. A pedestrian hit by a motor vehicle going 32 km/h has a 5% chance of dying; that chance increases to 50% at 48 km/h and to 85% at 64 km/h.
A city street designed for slow-moving automobile traffic is a street designed to be inherently safe. Jaywalking is not some kind of moral failing that warrants punitive enforcement, it is an essential part of the normal functioning of a healthy city.
This is why the Coroner's report recommends a "complete streets" approach with better pedestrian and bicycle facilities and much lower vehicle speed limits.
It's why David McKeown, Toronto's Medical Officer of Health, recently recommended reducing Toronto's speed limits to 30 and 40 km/h. While Toronto Mayor Rob Ford openly mocked him on the radio and called his salary "an embarrassment", he's absolutely correct.
It's why Hamilton's North End Neighbourhood Association is fighting with the city to establish a 30 km/h speed limit in their neighbourhood.
It's why several European cities have already reduced their speed limits to 30 km/h - and are already enjoying significant reductions in pedestrian deaths and injuries as a result.
Enough is enough. It's time to stop making excuses and start putting into practice the understanding that a safe, healthy, welcoming pedestrian environment is more important to the public good than the tiny increments of driver convenience for which we have been sacrificing it.
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