Blaming the Victims


Photo by booledozer

On Wednesday a serious crash on Lake Shore Blvd. W. left 10 people injured. Six of the people injured were hit after two cars collided and one jumped the curb. One elderly person is in serious condition.

Today, the Toronto Star published an article by Andrew Livingstone about the crash and road safety. Incomprehensibly the article focuses on the behaviour of how people cross Toronto’s streets:

“How pedestrians interpret the newer countdown-type pedestrian signals is becoming a major concern for police, said Const. Hugh Smith of traffic services. Many don’t really understand what the timer means.”

Why are the victims, who may or may not “understand what the timer means,” being blamed? The people injured in this accident were not even crossing the street, but standing on the curb.  The person driving westbound made an insane left hand turn from the middle or right lane and got hit by the person driving in the left lane. Yet, for some reason two-thirds of the article focuses on the pedestrian signals.

This article makes it seem as if those six people standing on the corner waiting to cross the street are somehow at fault. For example, there are great tips on how people who are walking should behave:

Using the traffic lights properly to cross, and avoiding crossing in mid-block or walking between cars can improve safety for both drivers and pedestrians.

I’m not sure how those tips would have helped any of those six victims. Do you?  Meanwhile excuses are made for drivers hitting people walking in the area:

“People are coming out in the blind areas and the drivers think there is no pedestrian there, they’re starting manoeuvres,” he said. “The amount of construction … it disrupts driver’s sightlines and they have to pay more attention to the traffic signals and be more aware of what’s going on.”

What gives?

Let’s be clear, this accident had nothing to do with what the people standing on the street or sidewalks were doing or poor driver sightlines. The victims of this accident, travelling in the cars and standing on the sidewalk, are innocent bystanders injured by one person’s reckless, irresponsible, and criminal behaviour.

If Andrew Livingstone wants to raise questions about how drivers and pedestrians navigate major downtown arteries this is the wrong way and wrong place to do it. If anything, this accident highlights how dangerous it is to have a high-speed arterial road in the middle of a neighbourhood with thousands of residents, jobs, and tourists.

If you want to cut the severity and number of accidents in urban areas the most effective way to do it is to cut the speed and number of cars. The recent review on pedestrian fatalities in Ontario by the Chief Corner  is pretty clear on this fact. The study found that 75% of pedestrian fatalities occurred on wide roads, with four or more lanes and that pedestrians hit in areas where the posted speed limit was more than 50 km/hour accounted 95% of the total of pedestrian deaths. The major traffic safety issue in this city is not  countdown signals, it’s the design of our streets. Let’s stop blaming the victims and start discussing constructive ways to improve our streets.


The Texas Doughnut


Walkable Dallas

Developers are finding interesting ways to respond to latent demand for walkable neighbourhoods. As a result, the future of cities, at least in the south, may look like a Texas Doughnut. At least until cities start mandating more rational parking policies. As the The Old Urbanist, explains, the Texas Doughnut is:

a mid-rise residential liner wrapped around interior structured parking.  The product of on-site parking requirements and building codes which permit cheaper wood framing for lower-rise buildings, these structures have proliferated throughout the Sunbelt, though they can be found, with less frequency, outside that geographic range. To the extent these cities are experiencing urbanization near their centers (hello, Dallas), this is the form that urbanism frequently takes.

So the effect is that developers are building something like the image below, where you hide the parking to produce streets like those above. The streets in front of the building are narrow, walkable, and pleasant to linger on. The Texas Doughnut is an interesting innovation from developers in the Sunbelt who are responding to consumer demand for more walkable places, while still finding ways to meet very prescriptive municipal parking requirements.


Texas Doughnut


Safe routes to school

Caledon East

Contrary to the popular imagery of quiet main streets, many small communities have large and busy streets running through them. These streets are often the only retail, and social spaces in smaller communities. Yet, the high levels of speed and traffic on these important routes can have a significant effect on the quality of life of smaller communities.

For example, in Caledon East, a town of 2,201 people north of Mississauga, parents feel that walking in the town, which is bisected by Airport Road, is too dangerous for their children. As the Toronto Star reports:

More than 280 residents of Caledon East have signed a petition, recently presented to the Peel District School Board, asking it to keep the current school bus service — set to end this September — which picks up about 49 area children from 36 families and transports them safely to Caledon East Public School at 15738 Airport Rd.

They just don’t feel it’s safe for the children to walk a route to school that includes narrow sidewalks, obscured sightlines and a number of driveways, says Martin-Robbins whose twin 9-year-old daughters, Cassie and Taylor, are in Grade 3 at Caledon East Public School…

“Yes, there are sidewalks but there’s only about a 3-foot gap to the road. This is not a distance issue, it’s safety,” said Cameron. “Nobody is saying it’s too far to walk. The issue is whether it’s safe to walk.”

The Martin-Robbins’ children live about 1.5 kilometres from the 255-student school, with a big chunk of that route along Airport Rd.

And there’s a lot of traffic rolling along 50-kilometre-an-hour Airport Rd. in Caledon East, which is used by an average 11,000 vehicles daily, including about 1,200 heavy trucks, according to data from the Region of Peel, Traffic Engineering, Transportation, Public Works.

It is discouraging when children and their parents in any community are too afraid to walk to school. Yet, it is a common theme in smaller communities. Research from New Zealand shows that the quality of infrastructure and high levels of traffic in smaller communities is a significant barrier to walking and active transportation. This makes sense as the lower densities of smaller communities means they have less resources to provide decent infrastructure.

Entrance to Caledon East Public School

Main Entrance of Caledon East Public School

The issues with the street and infrastructure are also compounded by how the Caledon East Public School is designed and built. It is built on the edge of the town so that it can better serve the wider catchment area, not only the town itself. The consequence is that the school is placed and designed to be accessed by bus or car, not by foot.

Designing schools for buses and cars in any community dramatically increases costs to the town and the school board and negatively affects the health and safety of students. The impact of these decisions are easier to see in smaller communities like Caledon East, but similar impacts can be seen in small towns and large cities across North America. The ability of most communities to pay for busing hides the reality that in many children and adults simply don’t have safe routes to school.