Transportation

Jaywalking is Part of How Safe Streets Work

By Ben Bull
Published January 27, 2010

So this is what it's come to? Ten people die in nine days and somehow it's the pedestrian's fault?

I wonder: why does the Toronto Police Service feel the need to protect us from ourselves? Aren't the police supposed to protect us from other people?

While some of the recent pedestrian deaths may well have been due to the carelessness of the pedestrians involved, it is the faster, heavier cars and trucks that provide the real danger.

Token punitive measures will never provide a disincentive to jaywalkers. I jaywalk at Front and Princess because the lights take so long to change and because I have a clear view of the road. I jaywalk at Front and Church because the lights are improperly timed.

Jaywalking is part of our urban culture - prevalent in Europe and Montreal and part of how safe streets work.

When you compartmentalize downtown traffic too much, you create more incentives for cars to speed. And faster cars mean only one thing: more deaths.

I have never had a single close call with a car while jaywalking. But crossing at the lights? And at STOP signs? I have two or three incidents a week!

Why don't the Toronto Police stand at the lights and ticket drivers blocking the intersection? Why don't they ticket the idiots who nudge closer to my kneecaps as I scamper between the lines? Might I suggest a blitz at Jarvis and Front, one day during the week? Rush hour should prove particularly profitable.

You will never 'educate' pedestrians by punishing them. The solution to pedestrian deaths is to implement pedestrian friendly light signals and streets that are safer-by-design. Until then I'm going to keep on crossing - with or without a cross walk.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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By HamiltonJaywalker (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 00:31:43

I frequently jaywalk even though I shouldn't. If I jaywalk and get hit, it's my fault for taking a short cut and for putting myself in that situation!!! The bottom line, in my opinion, is that if someone willingly steps into live traffic outside of a crosswalk, it is clearly that pedestrian's fault.

It's unfair to automatically blame drivers all the time in incidents like this without considering if someone jaywalked. Having said that, many driver's behaviours are just plain horrendous. To those drivers who feel the need for speed, they really need to SLOW DOWN - for everyone's sake!

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted January 28, 2010 at 08:28:50

Hamilton Jaywalker - it doesn't matter whose 'fault' it is. What's needed is to make streets safer. Laying the blame and enforcing our existing useless rules won't fix the problem. We need solutions.

As an update to this blog:

  1. An edited version of this blog was published in today’s Toronto Star:

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/article/7...

  1. A typically astute Chris Hume article discusses the same jaywalking ticketing incident:

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/...

Cheers

Ben

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 09:06:11

I always loved it out in Portland and Vancouver when cars would stop, mid-block, and allow pedestrians to cross. No screaming, no middle fingers. Just plain old courtesy and safe driving. That's completely foreign here.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted January 28, 2010 at 10:58:56

Jason writes "I always loved it out in Portland and Vancouver when cars would stop, mid-block, and allow pedestrians to cross. No screaming, no middle fingers. Just plain old courtesy and safe driving. That's completely foreign here."

Actually, I beg to differ - I have seen the same thing in Hamilton. Mostly in on King St. in Westdale or Dundas, but I have seen it many times.

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:15:11

I am reminded that the first student death on Cootes Drive from McMaster to Saunders didn't happen until a few weeks after the traffic lights were installed.

I don't know what actually happened, or if the driver was ever charged, so I don't know whose "fault" it was, but people had been jaywalking there for years without any fatalities. The traffic light was put in for cautionary safety reasons.

Disgustingly, even though they are the most responsive lights I've ever experienced, people are still jaywalking there.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:41:06

She wasn't crossing at the lights, and she was wearing headphones. The driver wasn't charged, but was apparently very traumatized, so he certainly paid a price.

The speed limit through that stretch was was 40km at the time and has since, inexplicably been raised to 50. Talk about a road designed for speed. It is very easy to unconsciously get up to 80km/hr in anticipation of the speed increase, long before it's posted, while you're still well within a busy pedestrian zone.

Actually, I beg to differ - I have seen the same thing in Hamilton. Mostly in on King St. in Westdale or Dundas, but I have seen it many times.

Guilty.

Comment edited by highwater on 2010-01-28 10:42:51

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:21:14

The speed limit through that stretch was was 40km at the time and has since, inexplicably been raised to 50. Talk about a road designed for speed.

TLC argued against only reducing the speed limit and asserted that design changes must accompany such a reduction otherwise it would not be obeyed and could not be consistently enforced. The city only reduced the speed limit. When it was universally exceeded, instead of progressing to design changes which actually reduce speed, they solved the problem by increasing the speed limit again.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:26:48

Enforcement just doesn't work when you're trying to enforce arbitrary restrictions on what routes people are allowed to take:

Enforcement Fail

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 14:08:43

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 14:12:21

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted January 28, 2010 at 15:18:41

"So Ben, is it okay for a driver to run through a red light if there is no traffic around and if the light changing takes too long?"

OK so Capitalists post was downvoted and it is very 'troll like' and provocative...but I'll answer it anyway.

I would advocate less rules for all road users, including cars. Lowering a speed limit on a little used straight highway in the middle of nowhere is unlikley to result in much compliance. However if the road is tight and has a lot of curves and off road distractions, drivers will slow down out of necessity.

Same goes for light placement. Why put a stop light up where there is little traffic? Why leave the timing unchanged at night when less cars are around? Good road design will take into account the respective needs of different road users and encourage safe habits without the need for unrealistic rules.

As Hume says, Jaywalking is part of the ultimate solution, not the problem.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 15:18:52

actually, what made me look ridiculous was the number of times I'd be waiting to cross a street and would have cars stop and honk at me to get walking. I would always forget the unwritten rules of who had the right of way. They must have known that I wasn't from there....my local Portland buddies always laughed at me and would say things like "you're trying to tell me that back home a car would just flatten you if you crossed the street??" I would reply "Ummm, yea. they would".

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 28, 2010 at 15:48:09

I have to back up Jason on this one.

I grew up in Vancouver and lived there for over twenty years. The convention in Vancouver was indeed that cars would stop (in both directions) whenever a pedestrian looked like he wanted to cross the street. This convention is slipping a bit, but drivers are still far more courteous to pedestrians out west.

My father moved to Vancouver from Montreal in 1960, and one of the big culture shocks was seeing how all the cars stopped when he started to cross the street!

I am amazed how many drivers in Hamilton and Toronto consider that any pedestrian foolish enough to venture onto the pavement is a fair target, and better jump quick to get out of their way. They don't seem to realize that although pedestrians slowing them down is annoying, their behaviour is endangering someone else's life.

Even Parisian drivers know that they must stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk (although it annoys them, and they will try to intimidate you out of crossing). What's more, they will notice that pedestrian since driving in Paris requires full attention all the time.

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By LL (registered) - website | Posted January 29, 2010 at 02:08:03

"So Ben, is it okay for a driver to run through a red light if there is no traffic around and if the light changing takes too long?"

Uh, duh. Of course it is, if you're certain not to hurt anybody else. Just don't get caught.

The division in society is workers and capitalists (not like you're really one), not "drivers" and "pedestrians".

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted January 29, 2010 at 08:50:48

I'm going to toronto after work today and I'll make sure to jaywalk at Yonge and Front before getting on the subway.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 29, 2010 at 09:21:59

I love how we even have a name for it - jaywalking. Check out all the 'jaywalkers' in these photos:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:New_Ro...

http://www.pps.org/graphics/upo-pages/gr...

Comment edited by jason on 2010-01-29 08:22:17

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 29, 2010 at 10:34:38

I'm going to toronto after work today and I'll make sure to jaywalk at Yonge and Front before getting on the subway.

I'm driving to TO today. I'll be sure to watch out for you! ;)

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:36:44

There was an interesting letter in the Star today:

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/article/7...

The letter writer pointed out that, at corners, he has to look left, right, up and down for cars as they drive too close, turn behind him and in front of him. He also noted that the drivers view is obstructed by the windshield corner post as the driver turns.

Whereas:

"If I cross in the middle of the block, I need to watch for cars in only two directions, and I can see any potential danger a half block or more away. More, the driver of any car that may cross my path can see me by looking straight ahead. Is this supposed to be more dangerous than the corner?"

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted January 29, 2010 at 12:20:10

I'm driving to TO today. I'll be sure to watch out for you! ;)

I'll watch for you when the go train is flying past parked cars on the gardiner

Comment edited by Jonathan Dalton on 2010-01-29 11:21:14

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By woody10 (registered) | Posted January 29, 2010 at 18:45:49

The day they installed the light and changed the speed etc. on Cootes we at work said, "someone is going to die" sure enough it happened. When you give these kids who are supposed to be smart, I-pods and a green light, they instantly think they are privileged and can just walk across without looking. As soon as you try to control something that has worked well for years, it gets screwed up. Cootes is a highway. The limit should be back where it was, cars weren't racing and braking like they are now. People were much more controlled and SAFE when they knew that there was a steady run then deceleration ahead. Plus the kids knew to play it safe and either go to the lights or be very, very cautious. Notice how everybody tries to go as fast as they can until the 50km sign so they can be first up at the lights, it's comical, not to mention the people who can't read and think it's 50 all the way. This city is full of stupid street signs, traffic lights and limits. In London (England) you step off the curb outside of a walk, your dead, and the pedestrians know it.

Also, haven't you noticed how busy Main Street is now since they ruined Cootes? And there's tons of Jay walkers who don't get hit along there, because they know they have to pay attention.

Comment edited by woody10 on 2010-01-29 17:49:51

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By JonC (registered) | Posted January 30, 2010 at 08:46:28

"is it okay for a driver to run through a red light if there is no traffic around and if the light changing takes too long? "

Well currently that would be illegal, whereas crossing mid-block isn't. Having said that, I'm of the opinion that in general most red lights should be replaced with flashing red lights and most green lights with flashing yellow lights.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 30, 2010 at 16:15:23

"In London (England) you step off the curb outside of a walk, your dead"

Wow, sounds like paradise. Maybe you should move there!

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted January 30, 2010 at 20:40:57

at least London has a fee if you even drive into their core... :)

Someone stopped for me on Main the other day. I hadn't even started to cross the street and they could easily just have kept on going... I was completely floored.

Of course, later on I was crossing John and King at a green light, in the crosswalk, and a cab went flying around the corner and almost hit me... ya can't win.

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By woody10 (registered) | Posted January 31, 2010 at 23:38:37

Nice seancb, real nice. A nice rebuttal would be a little more appropriate don't you think? Or can you?

See, you've brought out the best in me, lol.

Comment edited by woody10 on 2010-01-31 22:39:13

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2010 at 22:32:50

Well, there's no point in trying to have a coherent discussion about pedestrian safety with someone who believes that if you step onto the street, you deserve to die - and who would like to see the rest of the city modeled after cootes drive (which has presumably been ruined because a couple hundred metres of it was slowed to a slightly-less-deadly speed limit)

My point was that if you are going to become teary eyed and nostalgic for a place that treats pedestrians like potential roadkill, then save us the carnage and do your slaughtering over there, thank you very much!

Comment edited by seancb on 2010-02-01 21:33:01

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2010 at 22:49:30

The lunacy has now spread to Hamilton. Live and don't learn, that's us.

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By woody10 (registered) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 00:26:04

Seancb, did I once say people deserved to die?? No, I merely stated that the pedestrians over there were smart enough not to cross in the middle of the street. And I also didn't say the city should be modeled after Cootes drive, I repeat, IT'S A HIGHWAY let it be one and lower the limit when it approaches it's natural end, not the middle. I drove up and down it only twice today and both times kids were crossing all over the place. I suppose you'd like it to be completely banned from cars so they could do this? And by the way, I would take the HSR if it was serving my area better and in the summer I ride the old bike to work so don't get on your high horse.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2010 at 08:09:29

the pedestrians over there were smart enough not to cross in the middle of the street.

Is that so?

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-02-02 07:10:22

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By woody10 (registered) | Posted February 02, 2010 at 22:22:32

lol, that must be the German soccer hooligans coming over for a match, lol.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 03, 2010 at 08:56:56

Ryan, don't let anyone at the city see that video. I can see the plans already being drawn up for such fabulous 'safety improvements' to our downtown streets.

Remember, it wasn't too long ago that a steel railing was proposed all along the sidewalk of Main st in the area of the courthouse to do this exact same type of thing. thankfully that proposal died.
A modern architect recently stated that when designing university campuses he saves the pathways and grass as the last thing to install because he wants to watch the students walking patterns and see where THEY want and need to go. Then he puts the pathways in the appropriate spots and useless lawns in their appropriate spot. For an example of how NOT to do this, go stand in front of McMaster hospital sometime and count how many people cross at the newly installed 'grand entrance' light or how many cross 40 metres to the east because the main destination across Main St is the Williams Coffee Pub plaza. I've done it myself when at Mac.
Nobody in their right mind will walk all the way around to the new stoplight when they can just walk out of the hospital in a perfectly straight line and end up at Williams' front door. More poor Hamilton planning with nary a thought to anyone but drivers.

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By woody10 (registered) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 13:33:36

Jason, I like the wit, lol.

But there is a light one block east of the other light on the other side of the Coffee Pub. You can't be bothered to walk that way either?? No wonderr our society is getting obese (I don't know if you are or not, just generalizing again)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 04, 2010 at 14:01:34

there is a light one block east of the other light on the other side of the Coffee Pub. You can't be bothered to walk that way either?

No. No. Absolutely not. It's unconscionable that a pedestrian, moving under their own power, should have to schlep two blocks out of the way (a block there and a block back) to get across the street, just to accommodate the convenience of motorists.

Why not ask instead:

you're sitting comfortably in a climate controlled pod with an entertainment system at arms reach. You can't be bothered to wait 15 seconds for someone to cross in front of you?

Only a total sucker would actually walk two blocks out of their way just to cross a street. People absolutely resent having to do pointless busywork just to accommodate bureaucratic, regulatory or otherwise arbitrary policies. Notwithstanding the lack of a signalized intersection, I can easily look both ways and determine whether it's safe to dart across the street without getting dinged.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-02-04 13:24:55

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By woody10 (registered) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 14:28:50

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 04, 2010 at 14:39:52

Is the speed of life too slow for you?

Hilarious link, thanks for sharing.

Of course, my interpretation of the link is that people who are actually walking around - that old-fashioned, low-tech, human-powered mode - have the right idea and people sitting in climate controlled machines need to get over themselves. :)

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-02-04 13:40:21

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By adam2 (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2010 at 22:59:52

Is there any law that states pedestrians must look both ways before crossing? If not, these tickets would be bogus.

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