Car Troubles

December 2, 2015

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