Hume: Toronto Police Not Interested in Safe Streets

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 11, 2012

The Toronto Star's Christopher Hume wastes no time taking the police to task for blaming the victims in the latest cluster of pedestrian collisions.

Nine pedestrians were hit by cars Monday morning, and the police responded by advising people to wear light-coloured clothing.

This is a sign not just that the force has failed miserably to keep the streets of Toronto safe for pedestrians, but also that it has no real interest in doing so.

Just like the police officer (also from Toronto) who inspired the global SlutWalk movement last year after saying "women should avoid dressing like sluts" if they don't want to be sexually assaulted, this new message from the police shifts the blame for injuries onto pedestrians themselves.

Never mind that many of the pedestrians injured recently were crossing the street safely and legally, and some were even on the sidewalk when they were struck!

But it scarcely makes more sense to blame drivers than to blame pedestrians, given the predictable regularity of pedestrian injuries. At some point, we need to stop pointing the finger at individual actions and look at how the street network makes injuries not only possible but inevitable.

Instead of the failed policy of train-and-blame that our police follow in the absence of real civic leadership, we need to commit to designing and engineering our streets to be inherently safer.

This is why the Ontario Coroner recommended a complete streets policy to prevent future pedestrian deaths: because enforcement doesn't work.

Hume's closing paragraph cuts to the bone of what's wrong:

And after decades of designing streets for cars, planners, traffic engineers and the whole motley crew of municipal officialdom could afford to take a look at what it's done to the city. Each department ensconced within its silo, oblivious of context, fails to see the forest for the trees, or in this case, Torontonians for the traffic.

As we recently, tragically saw in Hamilton, our own city is no better at committing to a policy that prioritizes safe, accessible, healthy neighbourhoods over fast automobile flow.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By PearlStreet (registered) | Posted December 11, 2012 at 14:42:51

Toronto may spin its wheels trying to be pedestrian friendly with so much traffic. It may be difficult and expensive to see impact in my opinion due to size. Hamilton is different and can be treated with the benefit of this. Its core is bound by the mountain escarpment, perminently making it a smaller core by nature. Being village-sized, everything is walkable and needs to be treated differently than a sprawl of Toronto.

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By stnahc (anonymous) | Posted December 11, 2012 at 20:47:45

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

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By g. (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2012 at 22:29:22 in reply to Comment 83761

if you as a driver make a mistake, bend, or break a rule of the road you might be inconvenienced, dent your car or suffer minor injuries. you have decades of highly advanced engineering both inside your vehicle, anti lock brakes, air bags, crumple zones, seat belts, safety glass,etc. as well as guard rails, curbs, jersey barriers, etc. outside to keep you as safe as possible. a pedestrian has luck. thats it. when a driver makes an error, deliberately or not, they have fail safes to protect them. pedestrians have NOTHING. NO ONE SHOULD DIE BECAUSE THEY MAKE A MISTAKE. modern societies most fundamental tenant is protecting those who are most vulnerable. its why we have social safety nets. it is not a level playing field between the driver of a tonne of metal and plastic and someone who might be wearing a hat.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2012 at 08:04:48 in reply to Comment 83761

According to the HTA, drivers have to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, and as defined by the HTA a crosswalk exists at every intersection of a road (or sidewalk) with a street. That means that even where there's no light and no painted crosswalk, pedestrians can cross wherever there is a sidewalk (or side street) that intersects the road they're crossing.

So the 6 incidents you observe are actually representative of how completely skewed the priorities are in Hamilton, where we consider it acceptable for drivers to deke around pedestrians instead of stopping for them.

There are only a handful of spots in the city where pedestrian crossings are outright prohibited, and they are listed in the bylaws. Everywhere else, pedestrians have the right to cross the road at whichever intersection is most convenient. They do not have to walk to the nearest light.

Unfortunately, many drivers are in too big a hurry to recommend (and follow) this part of the HTA, so they scream "well for your own good you should go to the nearest light".

They aren't willing to slow down for anyone else's good.

All of this being said, the point is that we should design the network to minimize collisions and to make whatever collisions DO happen be less lethal. And all the laws in the world won't accomplish this - it has to be through physical design.

Comment edited by seancb on 2012-12-12 08:06:29

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 11, 2012 at 21:47:55 in reply to Comment 83761

In the article, the chief specifically admitted that in some of these cases the pedestrians had done nothing wrong.

Also, you're new to this site - the policy of RTH is not to blame drivers for everything. Humans are humans, and humans screw up constantly. The consensus here is that roads where people live should be fault tolerant of the fact that drivers and pedestrians screw up, and a screw-up should not be lethal. This means putting distance between fast traffic and fragile humans, or slowing traffic down, or barriers, or traffic calming, or better visibility on the road, or something.

Personal responsibility is an excellent personal attitude. Every person should take responsibility for their own decisions and their own actions.

It's also terrible public policy, because you can't make people responsible. Harangueing them does nothing because eventually they'll forget or scoff at all the rules or just plain screw up. For large scales and thousands of thousands of people? That's when you assume all the humans are stupid overdeveloped shaved apes and try to build systems that prevent them from accidentally killing each other.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted December 11, 2012 at 21:59:12

I have been following this story and the police never blamed the pedestrians. One of the contributing factors was the fact the pedestrians were all wearing dark cloths. Does not matter if you are legally or illegally crossing the street if the auto driver cannot see you then he cannot avoid you.

There is a lot of blame to go around in these 7 incidents. But blaming the police seems like a bit of a stretch. Are the drivers at fault? Absolutely. Are the victims at fault? In at least some of the incidents yes they are. Even when doing everything legally there is still risk involved with crossing a street. Too many people refuse to acknowledge that, to their dismay. I am sure that none of those 7 drivers woke up in the morning and thought "today is a good day to hit some schmuck crossing the street. Even in the cases where the driver was clearing at fault and charged with careless driving the pedestrian might have been able to avoid the incident with his own actions. If he had would everyone not be further ahead? I bet he will take crossing a street more seriously then he has in the past.

I know of what I speak. Some years ago I was hit by a car while crossing the street. The driver came around a corner too fast and could not stop in time since I was crossing the street away from the crosswalk. Although the police blamed him and charged him, in hindsight I see where I contributed to the accident. I will never cross the street with out paying a lot more attention then before I got hit. Telling pedestrians to wear light coloured clothing at night or to pay more attention to cars all the time does not seem out of line to me.

I think we try too hard to make our world safe with rules and laws and barriers and God knows what else and pay too little attention to common sense and "doing your part." In the end it really does not matter whose fault it is, if you are dead you are dead. It was not his fault makes a very poor epitaph. I would much rather let an inattentive driver drive past me then step in front of him just because I have the right of way. If every body both driver and pedestrians had a little more of this attitude then we would have much safer streets. Safer then all the rules and laws can make them. Safer then all the designing and engineering can make them. We train all our kids how to cross streets safely. Yet as adults we tend to forger or ignore a lot of these tidbits.

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By Thanks Allan (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2012 at 18:36:00 in reply to Comment 83765

What is your fascination with trolling this site, Alan Taylor. Give it up.

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By Video Hit (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2012 at 08:36:50

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By Peloton (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2012 at 16:50:42

Wrong-way cyclist hit by pickup, then by fine

A cyclist suffered minor injuries in a wrong-way crash Tuesday night.

Emergency crews were called to Main Street West near Locke Street at 9 p.m. for reports of a collision.

Police say a 32-year-old Hamilton man riding westbound on Main without a helmet, horn or reflective gear was hit by an eastbound pickup truck in the north curb lane.

The cyclist was taken to hospital and treated for injuries that were not considered life-threatening.

The 35-year-old driver of the truck was not hurt.

The cyclist was fined for riding the wrong way.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 09:48:48 in reply to Comment 83792

Reflective Gear? Does this mean the mandatory reflective tape and reflectors? Or does this mean he failed to wear a shiny jacket.

The horn thing is a red herring. A bicycle horn is meant to alert pedestrians when riding on paths, not motorists - a horn loud-enough to alert a driver is a specialized piece of equipment, and most who own such things actually find them unhelpful because drivers react with total confusion when a bike makes a car-horn noise.

Yes, going wrong way... but the rest of that stuff sounds like just trying to push the "irresponsible cyclist" stereotype.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted December 12, 2012 at 19:35:26 in reply to Comment 83792

If Main was two-way, a cyclist going west could actually get somewhere on it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 12, 2012 at 21:40:39 in reply to Comment 83795

unfortunately it's 5-lanes too narrow to be two-way.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2012 at 17:15:55 in reply to Comment 83792

"reflective gear"???

I wonder what the reporter meant by "reflective gear?" We're not going to be shamed by the media into wearing shiny vests and jackets, now, too are we?

Oh, wait ... I forgot. We are.

(that said, I generally wear a grey overcoat on these dark winter afternoons rather than a black one - there is much to be said for being more visible)

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-12-12 17:18:13

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By Video Hit (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2012 at 18:12:08 in reply to Comment 83793

Perhaps "reflective" in the sense of "meditative" -- yoga pants and such.

I just can't believe the "no horn".

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2012 at 21:55:24

I am glad the biker was not injured seriously. He should of been wearng a helmet and going the wrong way, that was a judgement call, as a rider.

I will say this though, many drivers are really aggressive. Since I live near this area, I have gone to Main St, all the cars are stop at Dundurn, you start to cross, then the lights turns green at Dundurn, you can see them gunning on the gas, like it is a raceway.

Run for your life, it is Death Race 2000!

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By g (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2012 at 22:55:14

the city is constantly trying to make the roads safer for cars and drivers who make mistakes:witness the new overpass and interchange at the bottom of the clappison cut. how much did that cost? safety standards are always improving to protect car drivers and passengers from their mistakes: witness anti lock brakes, air bags, electronic traction control. all of it is to protect drivers.

where is the protection for cyclists and pedestrians? are cars evaluated and allowed to be sold based on how they protect pedestrians and cyclists in the event of a collision? why not? a head on collision between two cars is very rare, but it is required as a safety feature in all cars.
the driver who was involved in the collision with the cyclist was protected by many safety factors and was unhurt. the cyclist was protected by nothing more than the resilience of his body and some clothing and was take to hospital.
we protect drivers because we know they make mistakes. we leave cyclists and pedestrians to fend for themselves and tell them to be perfect, even in anticipating the mistakes of said drivers. is this fair? all users of our roadways are human and make mistakes;none should be left to suffer because of those mistakes

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By Chris Angel (registered) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 03:05:58 in reply to Comment 83802

"are cars evaluated and allowed to be sold based on how they protect pedestrians and cyclists in the event of a collision?"

Yes they are and have been since the 1980's. The first design change was the disappearance of things like hood ornaments. More recently car manufacturers have redesigned front bumpers, hoods, windshields and even wiper blades to reduce the damage to pedestrians in the event of a collision.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 08:24:47 in reply to Comment 83802

I guess because anyone who thinks about it for a nanosecond would realize that any car hitting any cyclist or pedestrian is a total mismatch.

Life is not fair. Get over it. You have an easy fix. Don't be stupid when you are cycling. Cycling without protective and safety gear is stupid. We constantly hear how safe cycling already is in the debate about wearing helmets while cycling. If it is so safe why are you whining.

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By g. (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:42:47 in reply to Comment 83810

why then have seat belt laws? air bags? guard rails? stop lights? railway signals? why not tell motorists to just not be stupid when they drive?
anyone who thinks about it for a nanosecond would realize that any train hitting a car or truck is a total mismatch. life is not fair you have an easy fix. don't be stupid when you are driving.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 06:36:23

The government needs to remind people to drink more water than soda/grain alcohol, eat fruits and vegetables daily, get adequate sleep, and exercise regularly and not eat pre-packaged, hyper-processed deep-fried everything to their heart's content (and eventual collapse).

Maybe it's because I was raised with the salutory influence of grandparents who had graduated the practical schooling of the Depression and the Blitz, but when I witness how decimated our collective wits have become, it is hard to believe that there is any scrambling back up that slippery slope.

When anyone is injured in a collision of any sort, there are often many factors at play. Confirmation bias in reporting and consumption of news smooths out most of those complexities and makes objective reality hard to discern. I am all for humanized complete streets and lived for many years on Main, so I know that many of our streets are not optimized for all modes of transport. All the same, accidents happen. If you can easily adopt measures to avoid an accident, do so. We don't need more martyrs to convenience.

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By Video Hit (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 10:45:59

Another admonition from the Star:

Alternate URL: ".../this-is-why-seemingly-all-Russian-drivers-have-dashboard-video-cameras/"

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By Allan Taylor (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2012 at 20:07:53

Sorry to disappoint but I haven\'t been posting

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