One evening just before Christmas 2003, a car lurched off Eglinton Ave. onto Brentcliffe Rd. and ran over a friend of mine. She was following all the traffic rules when she was mowed down in the middle of the intersection, the driver disappearing into the night, never to be apprehended.

Those few seconds defined the next years of my friend’s life. A crushed knee. Breaks in both legs and her collarbone. Nerve damage in each arm. Two years on crutches and canes. A mild brain injury. Lost income.

An avid competitive sailor, she hasn’t sailed since. She doesn’t run anymore. She’s only now trying to golf again.


And she was lucky. She survived.

The epidemic of pedestrian deaths during the last month has sparked calls for driver and pedestrian education programs and prompted Toronto police to get tough on downtown jaywalkers. This will help. American studies show that folks who walk and talk on their cellphones, for instance, are less aware of their surroundings and more likely to engage in dangerous behaviour at intersections.

Recent work by University of Guelph researchers found that while parents believe kids need to be taught about road safety, few actually provide any instruction when crossing streets with their children.

Education and tougher enforcement are attractive because they are relatively cheap. They are, however, insufficient. Real improvements in pedestrian safety require money for road improvements and the political will to reignite the war-on-cars debate.

It takes money, for instance, to build median islands — halfway refuges for pedestrians who don’t have time to make it across wide, multi-lane intersections.

It will take political will to delay drivers’ green light signals at intersections, giving pedestrians a head start on crossing so they are more visible once traffic finally starts to move. Delays of this sort won’t be popular with motorists. And they won’t like speed reduction measures either.

The fact is though, a pedestrian hit by a vehicle driven at 60 kilometres per hour has an 85 per cent chance of being killed. That drops to 20 per cent if the vehicle is going 30 km/h.

Drivers will find all of this difficult to stomach. But the pedestrian carnage is also difficult to stomach. A chat with the “lucky” ones like my friend puts it all in perspective.

April Lindgren teaches at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, where she specializes in local news and urban affairs reporting;