A hundred years ago, streets were used by everyone and people were outraged every time a pedestrian got hit or killed. According to Joseph Stromberg in Vox,
Automobiles were often seen as frivolous playthings, akin to the way we think of yachts today (they were often called “pleasure cars”). And on the streets, they were considered violent intruders. Cities erected prominent memorials for children killed in traffic accidents, and newspapers covered traffic deaths in detail, usually blaming drivers.
This was a real problem for the car industry, so they got together and pretty much invented the concept of jaywalking, getting laws passed that insisted that pedestrians cross at crosswalks, at right angles to the road, preferably at intersections, even though that is probably more dangerous than crossing midblock, since cars come from four directions instead of two. It was a very successful campaign; Historian Peter Norton notes: (my emphasis)
In the early days of the automobile, it was drivers’ job to avoid you, not your job to avoid them. But under the new model, streets became a place for cars — and as a pedestrian, it’s your fault if you get hit.
This attitude continues to this day and is reinforced by statute, by the media and even by well-meaning groups: It’s the pedestrian’s fault if they get hit.
— Metro Toronto (@metrotoronto) December 7, 2015
In Toronto recently, a young woman was killed by a big truck early in the morning at a major intersection; she was crossing with the light but was hit by a big fuel truck that was turning right, which is legal on most red lights. The driver evidently didn’t see her; It also turns out that two of the street lights that illuminate the intersection were not working, and that the city had been informed of this a few weeks earlier by a citizen who was worried about pedestrian safety. Glyn Bowerman writes in Metro about how car-related infrastructure is treated differently.
It’s a tragedy that didn’t need to happen and it speaks to our city’s flawed priorities when it comes to pedestrians. What, for instance, is the turnaround time for something that affects drivers, like a dead traffic signal? James Chandler, the manager in charge of city traffic signals, says about 90 minutes. Private contractors are dispatched to fix the problem, and their contract with the city requires a 90-minute turnaround time, 90 per cent of the time. That’s the level of service drivers in this city expect. Why should we expect less when it comes to infrastructure needed to keep pedestrians safe?
Toronto Sun/Screen capture
Meanwhile, how does the local tabloid handle the story? It immediately assumes that it is the victim’s fault, she must have been wearing headphones, even though there is absolutely no evidence that she was. They just do that.
Globe and Mail/Screen capture
Those jaywalking laws are really important to the automobile industry. Sarah Goodyear quotes Peter Norton about how they evolved:
Norton explains that in the automobile’s earliest years, the principles of common law applied to crashes. In the case of a collision, the larger, heavier vehicle was deemed to be at fault. The responsibility for crashes always lay with the driver. ….The industry lobbied to change the law, promoting the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of “jaywalking” – a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 – was enshrined in law.
And now governments everywhere are happy to take up the job, cranking up the fines for jaywalking to an incredible C$697.50 in the Province of Nova Scotia- even in real money (US$ 515.11) that’s a lot. (so far as I can tell, in Nova Scotia the fine for a driver running a red light is $169.91 for the first offence, rising to $342.41 for the third)
And clearly the pedestrians deserve it, because as the Police in Toronto so kindly point out in the Star:
Const. Craig Brister, a spokesperson for the Toronto police, said ticketing pedestrians can play an important role in preventing accidents. “Pedestrians walk out — they just expect a car is going to stop. Their head is buried in their phone, they’re not even watching where they’re going,” he said.
Even though, as Walking Toronto’s Dylan Reid points out, Toronto studies showed that 67 percent of the time, pedestrians who are hit had the right of way.
Most pedestrians who are jaywalking aren’t actually putting themselves or others in danger,” Reid said. He argued that the most effective way to prevent pedestrian injuries is to lower speed limits, educate drivers, and design safer streets, which includes brighter lighting and more clearly marked crossings.
Finally, there is a new safety campaign by SafeKids, an organization that “is dedicated to finding the best ways to keep kids safe.” It seems totally a reasonable organization run by concerned people. But every single one of their seven mistakes essentially blame the victim. It’s no wonder people drive their kids everywhere, this would scare anyone off the street.
Look out behind you!/Screen capture
Perhaps the most egregious is Not watching out for careless drivers. Try the animation, the Don’t do this, Do this buttons. Even with the right of way, you are supposed to scan the intersection like a ninja, checking behind and to the side like a radar, because if you don’t the illegal left-turner will get you. They are demonstrating a situation that is almost impossible for a pedestrian to avoid yet somehow now the pedestrian has contributed.
— Brooklyn Spoke (@BrooklynSpoke) December 9, 2015
Yes, people should be careful, and I don’t feel as strongly as Doug Gordon, AKA Brooklyn Spoke, but this is ridiculous. Safe Kids would do a lot more good if they devoted their energy to getting cars to follow the rules instead of scaring kids and their parents off the street.