TORONTO - Fourteen pedestrian deaths in 15 days had Canada's most populous city abuzz Wednesday, questioning why a region in which man and machine regularly interact is seeing such a dramatic spike in fatal collisions.
With January's death toll in the Greater Toronto Area reaching almost half of the 31 similar deaths recorded in all of 2009, Toronto police embarked on a blitz to educate, and ticket, pedestrians and drivers breaking the rules.
Politicians and safety officials, meanwhile, urged people to return civility to the roadways and the public weighed in by the hundreds on websites with opinions on just what's happening on the streets of the GTA.
"We have laws. I think at a minimum we need to respect those laws," said Premier Dalton McGuinty, who added the existing laws are adequate to address the problem.
"We should each be mindful of those laws and careful, either as pedestrians or as motorists, to understand what is going on around us to anticipate, to be prudent, do everything we can to protect ourselves and others around us."
Hundreds of people commented on newspaper websites running stories about the deaths, with some blaming Toronto's fast-paced lifestyle.
"A lot of people are in a constant rush to get from A to B and others just don't care," said one reader who posted under the name Kristof.
"People are willing to risk their lives just to get that morning coffee or to catch a bus."
One reader adding to the online discussion cited "selfishness and complaceny."
Another wrote: "Between iPods, cell phones, radio volume/tuning controls, GPS commands, texting while walking etc. etc. it's a wonder more people have not been seriously injured or killed."
Police have said each fatal collision involved different circumstances.
The Ontario Safety League applauded the police blitz, which saw police ticket 56 jaywalkers and pedestrians who disobeyed traffic signals by late morning. League president Brian Patterson called it a step in the right direction.
Reduced enforcement has seen the public develop a "scofflaw attitude" where people don't worry about being caught anymore, said Patterson.
"I think a lot of people believe that when they're in a vehicle some sort of mythical cone of invisibility encompasses them and they can act in a way that they would never act," he said.
Pedestrians listening to MP3 players don't help the situation, he added.
"One of the great risks we see with teenagers is, hood up, buds in, head down, walking obliviously through the day," Patterson said.
"They look up, they see the light changing, and they start walking into traffic. We're not using the sensory skills that we have all the time."
Patterson also blamed insufficient court resources to prosecute cases and poor driver training, noting only 20 per cent of the population learned to drive from professional instructors.
Toronto police traffic services said it was anticipated that hundreds of pedestrians and motorists would be ticketed by day's end. Motorists were issued $40 tickets for blocking intersections and $180 tickets for failing to stop for a streetcar with its doors open and failing to yield to pedestrians.
"The only common thread between all of these deaths are they involved two things - vehicles and pedestrians," said Supt. Earl Witty, who noted there have been similar spikes in pedestrian deaths in the past and it's all due to human error.
"Road safety is everyone's responsibility," said Witty, who added "drivers cannot operate with a sense of entitlement to our roads with a 'me first' attitude, nor can pedestrians."
The people of Toronto owe it to the memory of pedestrians who recently died to learn from the loss of their lives, said Witty.
Juliette Robinson, 38, died after being struck by an SUV while she crossed slightly west of a marked crosswalk in midtown Toronto on Monday evening.
A 35-year-old man died from his injuries Monday after being struck by a streetcar the day before in Toronto. Chen Chung Shao, 57, who was walking on crutches, was struck and killed by a dump truck Friday. Marites Mendoza, 28, was struck by a car while pushing a stroller with her infant son on Jan. 12. Other victims were struck by transit buses, SUVs, cars, trucks and a tow truck.
Montreal pedestrians are also notorious jay walkers and the city's police department has staged several pedestrian awareness campaigns in the past.
Pedestrian Pierre Brunet said he didn't notice he was crossing on the red light at a busy downtown intersection when it was pointed out to him.
"I looked and there were no cars so I crossed," he said. "In Montreal we're used to looking both ways before crossing."
He had his own explanation as to why the pedestrians in Toronto were killed: "They don't check both sides of the street."
Sophie Remy, 26, also ignored the red light at the same intersection in Montreal's financial district and walked briskly across as cars approached. She blamed the tragic deaths of pedestrians in Toronto on cars, not the victims.
"It would be better if there were fewer cars - with a priority for pedestrians," she said.
Montreal police did not have statistics yet for this year, but said in 2009 a total of 19 pedestrians were killed.
Toronto City Council was scheduled to debate a motion Wednesday from Councillor Bill Saundercook, who co-chairs the city's pedestrian committee, on lowering speed limits on dangerous streets by 10 kilometres an hour to cut down on the number of pedestrian accidents.
-With files from Peter Rakobowchuk in Montreal.