Car Troubles

Last week, Toronto writer, Shawn Micallef, fired off the following tweets:

It’s been a bad few years for pedestrians in Toronto, deaths up 90% over the past 4 years, 34 so far this year (and counting), compared to 18 in 2011. speedingcarsAs Jessica Smith Cross wrote in Metro over the weekend, that accounts for 59% of road deaths in Toronto this year. In the first 10 months of 2015, over 1500 pedestrians have been struck by cars.

And the official response from those tasked with the oversight of street safety, the Toronto Police? Do The Bright Thing. “We have to put ourselves in the position to be seen,” Constable Hugh Smith informs us.

How twisted is that? Those most vulnerable, the ones not behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle, sanctioned to go lethal limits of speed, those of us with the least control, are held responsible to make sure we don’t get run over. Because, you know, drivers have places to go, people to meet.

So even when we are full in our rights, crossing a street legally, as Micallef pointed out, we have to check and re-check around us to make sure somebody’s not rushing to make it through that light or checking their phone or just simply zoned out, unburdened of any consequence of their inattention. overthespeedlimitHow many of us pedestrians have had to stop up short in an intersection out of fear that driver may not have judged his stopping distance correctly? Who amongst us pedestrians haven’t had cars blow through a well-lit crosswalk or open streetcar doors?

Why just yesterday, in fact, I had to pick up my pace crossing a street at a green light as some fucking jag off making a left turn, committed to going despite me being in his way in order to avoid a collision with oncoming traffic. A collision, no doubt, that would’ve harmed me, the literal innocent bystander, more than any of the occupants of the cars involved. And in the end, invariably written up as an “accident”. An unfortunate “accident” but an “accident” nonetheless. Harm but no foul.

Drivers go about their driving business with relative impunity. Even the most egregious transgressions, like impaired driving or vehicular manslaughter, are rarely met with the severest of punishments. intheintersectionJail, sometimes, but usually not for very long. How many people do you know who’ve ever had their licence revoked permanently?

Is that too much to demand from someone who’s got into a driver’s seat drunk and killed somebody as a result? Never mind incarceration. Should they ever be allowed to drive again?

Or how about those driving at dangerously high speeds, just one little unforeseen glitch away from losing complete control of their vehicle? They do so knowingly, not only at the risk of their own lives but everyone who just might be in their path. Another tragic “accident”.

How much over the speed limit is too much? 20 kilometres an hour? 40? 50? At what point do we say, you know what? Maybe you shouldn’t be driving a car?

We know a car travelling at 30 km/h puts the odds of a pedestrian dying if struck down at about 5%. At 50 km/h? 37-45%. 64 km/h? 83-85%.pedestriandown

We know this and yet, as Mr, Micallef pointed out, cars whipping down Jarvis Street are regularly travelling at 10-20 kilometres over the legally posted limited of 50 kp/h. That puts them right smack dab in the high probability kill zone if they hit a pedestrian or mow down a cyclist. Even without the possibility of casualties, racing cars make for an unappealing environment for anyone else not driving in the area.

We know all this and still, not only do we put up with it, we accommodate it with wider lanes to compensate for driver error, tearing up bike lanes which, according to Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation under then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, slow traffic down and greatly reduce the rate of road fatalities. pedestriandown1New York has recently experienced the fewest traffic deaths in a 100 years! But here in Toronto, whatevs. Mom’s got to get home a few minutes quicker to have supper with the kids.

My intention is not to demonize drivers here. I’m demonizing the system that continues to coddle them, entitle them, under-charge them and very, very, rarely penalizes them appropriately for the life-altering and often life-ending choices they make (largely for others) when they are behind the wheel of their vehicles. The political and societal clout the cult of the automobile is far greater than any good it delivers, often falling short by orders of magnitude.

Others cities throughout the world have recognized this and are attempting to reorder the hierarchy of their transportation system. Not just European cities. Cities we here in Toronto look to in terms of inspiration. New York City, for example. De-escalating our car dependency can’t be written off as simply some lifestyle choice. deathrace2000It is now nothing short of an absolute necessity.

Unless Toronto’s car-bound leadership recognizes that fact, we will jeopardize whatever competitive advantages we have as an international city. We have to stop pretending that somehow Toronto’s different than other places. We aren’t. We built this city on the belief that prioritizing car travel was the future. It wasn’t or, at least, that future didn’t last. It is our duty to now fix that mistaken but hard to shake belief.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr

6 Responses to Car Troubles

  1. Dorothy says:

    Car drivers obviously are at fault in the examples you give. However, as a car driver myself at times, I cannot get over the stupidity of pedestrians not looking where they are going, stepping out to cross the road when texting or looking at their phone, oblivious as to whether there is a car in the midst of making a turn. Very often the pedestrian is very much at fault and acts as if they are the only users of the road. Perhaps if they put down their phones, took off their headphones and paid some attention to where they were walking they would fare better.

    • steve says:

      sigh!! another car driver blaming pedestrians and telling them to get out of their way.

      • Dorothy says:

        I am also a pedestrian, but I take responsibility by not blindly stepping out in front of vehicles. Take off the headphones and take your nose out of your cell phone before stepping off the sidewalk. We teach our children to be aware how come adults have forgotten basic road safety!

      • cityslikr says:

        Dear Dorothy,

        While we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke rarely think to edit any of our comments, we do offer you a suggestion to save some time and space on this topic.

        “At the end of the day, it’s their own fault.”

        Pedestrian makes a mistake and is struck by a car, pedestrian dies.
        Driver makes a mistake and strikes a pedestrian, pedestrian dies.

        See how this isn’t really an equal equation?

  2. Ron Wm. Hurlbut says:

    Residential streets in my hood are Dragway Straight. The posted speed limit in one direction is 50kph and in the other it’s 40kph with 30kph posted at the many speed humps. Usually 2 humps between each Stop Sign.

    Speed Up! Slow Down! Speed Up! Slow Down! Speed Up! STOP! Speed Up! Slow Down! Speed Up! Slow Down! Speed Up! STOP!
    Speed Up! Slow Down! Speed Up! Slow Down! Speed Up! STOP!
    Speed Up! Slow Down! Speed Up! Slow Down! Speed Up! STOP!
    Speed Up! Slow Down! Speed Up! Slow Down! Speed Up! STOP!

    I’m sure that if you averaged the speed travelled it would be ~30kph so why not eliminate the speed humps and rearrange the street engineering with chicanes and traffic circles to naturally slow the traffic to 30kph.

    Toronto the Good is too genteel. Instead of engaging in Tactical Urbanism we put little signs on our lawns begging drivers to “Please Slow Down”.

    The following should be writ large on billboards across the city:

    Drivers: You can all go to bed tonight with the comfort of knowing you may kill someone with your vehicle tomorrow. Sweet Dreams.

  3. Vincent says:

    I’ve recently moved from Toronto out to Edmonton for work and boy, are the drivers worse here! In the 6 months of living in the city I’ve seen cars run red lights, speed up to make a turn in front of pedestrians, stop so that their vehicle covers the entire hatched crossing……the worst thing is that here there are pedestrian crosswalks in between intersections, which motorists must stop at if someone is using them. This almost never happens and I can’t count the number of times some yahoo in a pickup has gone barrelling through one of these. Called the police and I was told to “watch where I was going”. Almost miss the relative safety of being a Toronto pedestrian

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