Judging by overheated media coverage, it’s open season on pedestrians in Toronto, where 14 have been killed by vehicles in the first few weeks of the year, compared to 31 in all of 2009.
But is it? According to a 2004 Transport Canada report, the country averaged 416 pedestrian fatalities and 1,252 pedestrian injuries annually over a 10-year period. Urban areas accounted for 95 per cent of the fatalities, and seniors were the most common victims. Overall, though, deaths had decreased by 24.1 per cent.
This run of deaths in T.O. is an awful, awful blip, but the plural of anecdote is not data. Nor are statistics any comfort to the unlucky. The details of individual cases, a man on crutches killed by a dump truck, a mother taken out from behind the baby carriage and out of her child’s life, are heartbreaking.
Even less helpful than the reporting of a handful of accidents as some new trend, though, is the immediate instinct to lay blame. The fault, when a vehicle hits a pedestrian, according to most analyses, is about as likely to be that of the driver as the walker. Certainly, though, it’s the person on the outside of the car who absorbs by far the greater share of the consequences.
With this in mind, I was annoyed by multiple TV news items in which walkers were accosted and berated for their various jaywalking, BlackBerrying idiocies. Police this week followed up the news frenzy with a ticketing blitz concentrating on, yep, pedestrians, perhaps because they’re easier to stop than motorists.
It’s probably axiomatic that if you’re a driver, you notice more stupid pedestrian tricks from the earbud-addled and oblivious, while walkers see more moronic driving. It’s natural to blame the other guy.
I walk daily across Wellington Street’s five lanes of rush-hour traffic, which form a moat of asphalt and metal between downtown and Parliament Hill. The curb at the crossing isn’t raised, and cars cut the corner uncomfortably close to pedestrian toes.
Car commercials tout the vehicles’ ability to insulate driver and passengers as much as possible from all that unpleasant noise from outside the car, or as we call it out here, reality. I try to make eye contact with drivers as I cross intersections, both to ascertain that they’ve seen me, and to remind them that I’m a person, not an obstacle.
Walkers and drivers bear equal responsibility to keep a lookout for each other. The blame game seems a little beside the point once we’re scraping someone off the intersection.