Special Report: Walkable Streets

Victim Blaming By Police After Pedestrian Struck on Sidewalk

The police can't fix what ails Hamilton's streets, but they can stop adding insult to injury - literally - by conceiving and describing collisions in language that blames the pedestrian for daring to get in the way of a car.

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 25, 2015

This article has been updated.

The latest dispatch from the You Can't Make This Stuff Up files comes from Hamilton Police Service after a pedestrian was struck by a car driver at the corner of York Boulevard and Hess Street and rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Satellite view: York Boulevard and Hess Street (Image Credit: Google Maps)
Satellite view: York Boulevard and Hess Street (Image Credit: Google Maps)

According to Hamilton Police, the pedestrian, a 62-year-old man, was heading west on the south sidewalk of York Boulevard shortly before 4:00 PM when the driver, a 22-year-old man, drove into the pedestrian while exiting a parking lot.

Or as Hamilton Police decided to describe it in their news release, the pedestrian "walked into the path of the car."

Let's just pause here for a moment. This is a pedestrian who was walking on the sidewalk, not crossing the street or darting out into a vehicle lane.

Yet the police - the people whose job it is to enforce the law and protect people from harm - are so consumed by a worldview that sees out from a car windshield that they describe this in stark, explicit terms of the pedestrian getting in the driver's way.

This victim-blaming is appalling and unacceptable. Hamilton is already the second most dangerous city in Ontario for pedestrians, thanks in significant part to a road network designed to prioritize fast traffic over walkability, and older pedestrians are at disproportionately high risk of getting struck and injured.

The police can't fix what ails Hamilton's streets, but they can stop adding insult to injury - literally - by conceiving and describing collisions in language that blames the pedestrian for daring to get in the way of a car.

This issue demands a response from the Hamilton Police Service and from City Council. The police need to apologize for victim blaming and Council needs to commit much more forcefully to creating a street network that is safe, inclusive and accessible for all road users, not just people protected by 1,800 kilograms of motorized steel.

Update: Constable Steve Welton quickly addressed this issue on Twitter with a pretty classy response:

Thanks to Constable Welton and Hamilton Police for their willingness to engage on this issue.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 08:59:33

I wonder how police would describe the crash if it was an officer who 'walked into the path of a car'?

This city gets it wrong on every single level possible when it comes to streets: from engineering to enforcement. I think back to all the dead-end discussions with staff months and years before they rebuilt the Queen Street Hill with suggestions from the community to narrow the traffic lanes, add a multi-use path on the north shoulder, don't have wide space beside or in between the lanes because it encourages speeding etc....

Instead they do exactly the opposite of what every other leading city is doing today and now, a year after re-opening the hill are painting stuff on the road, adding bollards on the sidewalk, putting up speed indicator signs all in an effort to try to get people to slow down. People are speeding because THE CITY designed a road that encourages speeding.

And then on the enforcement/reporting side, this same blame-game continues despite our so called 'pedestrian charter' and other empty words from city hall pretending to care about pedestrians.

This case on York is very simple. Pedestrian walking westbound. Driver exiting a parking lot only looked westbound and didn't look both ways for anyone on the sidewalk. They drove into the pedestrian. 150% the drivers fault, every time. On Monday the initial police report said 'with the sun setting early, people need to take more care'. Today the Spec is saying this crash happened at 4pm. A full hour before the sun goes down. The victim blaming attempts from police were already being attempted mere hours after the crash. The mayor needs to make a strong statement about this, or just toss our pedestrian charter in the trash next to the laughable 'Putting People First' document from 10+ years ago that has also found a nice home in the trash.

Comment edited by JasonL on 2015-11-25 10:00:07

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 09:22:25

When I did driver training in BC I was told that EVERY driveway exit across a sidewalk must be treated like a stop sign: the driver must come to a complete stop and check there are no crossing pedestrians or incoming cars before proceeding across the sidewalk. I thought Ontario had a similar law.

In that case, how could a pedestrian 'walk into the path of the car'?

The driver should have seen there was a pedestrian walking on the sidewalk near the driveway exit and waited until they had crossed. I highly doubt that a 62 year old pedestrian suddenly darted out at high speed in a way that would have been impossible for the driver to see!

Did the police even interview the injured pedestrian before jumping to conclusions? Or did they just talk to the driver and take their word for it (obviously there is a conflict of interest here).

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-11-25 10:22:56

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By One Way the Only Way (anonymous) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 11:26:37

Last night walking home from work south on Bay, a women 20 feet in front of me had to react to almost being run over by a car turning northbound off of Bold. Of course the driver only looked southbound on Bay for oncoming traffic.

The drivers in this City are careless beyond belief largely because of the design of our roads. Why on earth are so many streets one way in Durand? None of it makes sense.

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By Nygil (anonymous) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 11:42:16 in reply to Comment 115052

Nearly the same happened to me, though I am a little more happy to blame the driver than the streets it is also clear that the street set up is partly to blame.

Walking across the street on King and one of the smaller streets near Dundurn (I forget the name) I had an older man drive right into/at me while I was crossing the street. I was walking from the opposite direction of traffic, so he was just staring Right while I came from the left. While I was RIGHT in front of his car he started to drive... did not even look forward. I ended up doing a little hop so that my butt landed on the hood of his car and took a ride for a few feet before he noticed. He stopped, I scrambled off and finished crossing the street. The weirdest part was that he did not speak to me, stop, or anything. He just glared like I had nearly run HIM over, then he drove off leaving me bewildered.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 15:58:38 in reply to Comment 115053

When you see a driver is looking left and turning right or vice versa walk BEHIND their car. I know it sucks to have to do that but it's better than being hit.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 13:11:05

This is a major problem in Ontario and largely driven by the insurance industry.

Even though the Highway Traffic Act creates a reverse onus in car/pedestrian collisions, the industry routinely seeks a reduction in damages due to what they say is "contributory negligence." To add insult to injury, you cannot sue unless you have a permanent and serious injury, whatever that means, and you are now subject to a deductible - a gift to the insurance industry - of $36,000.00 for each claim indexed every year to inflation.

On top of that, drivers are required to carry insurance to pay for the medical care of people they harm. That has been reduced to $3500.00 in 95% of accidents in Ontario and halved for the balance as of September this year.

So. A drunk driver exiting a parking lot runs you over, and breaks your leg. He says it's your fault. Then he says your leg is healed so he doesn't have to pay anything at all. Then he says even if he does have to pay, you have to give him $36,000.00. Nice law.

Who here votes Liberal?

You want to effect change. Make the driver responsible for what he does. In life, people who are held accountable for what they do generally try not to do bad things.

This situation is outrageous and getting worse all the time. So long as you let drivers suffer no consequence, this will continue.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2015-11-25 14:12:52

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 13:22:37

That corner is the worst. It's the devil's triangle at York, Hess and Cannon. Pedestrians and cyclists can enter at their own risk.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 13:24:31

From the description it sounds like the car drove straight into a pedestrian on a sidewalk who had the right of way. Are there charges?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 13:59:48 in reply to Comment 115056

That's a good point: pedestrians always have right of way when walking on the sidewalk:

When entering a road from a private road or driveway, you must yield to vehicles on the road and pedestrians on the sidewalk (Diagram 2-21).


It is beyond belief that the police would describe the incident as the pedestrian "walking into" the car! The driver is legally required to yield to pedestrians! It is hard to imagine a situation where the motorist would not be at fault for hitting a pedestrian on the sidewalk!

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 25, 2015 at 14:05:59 in reply to Comment 115058

I wonder how this interacts with annoying mall driveways where the asphalt continues from the parking lot to the roadway uninterrupted - that is, there is no sidewalk. This can be small things (the frustrating driveways at the Dundurn Fortinos plaza) or large ones (the fully-controlled intersection entrances Lime Ridge Mall).

What defines a driveway vs a road into a parking lot?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 16:20:39 in reply to Comment 115059

As you can see from the quote, "a private road" is treated the same as a driveway.

p.s. I'm very impressed the officer responded and clarified that there was intent to blame the pedestrian ... and that the officer understands that these sorts of statements in the press can have negative impacts. This is reassuring.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-11-25 17:29:18

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 19:20:59 in reply to Comment 115068

yes, it was nice. But I don't buy it.
They report things in this manner all the time. I've never once heard the police come out strongly against our lethal streets and inattentive drivers.
Next time it'll be the same.

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By bicyclers on sidewalks (anonymous) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 15:29:46

And then there are bicyclsts whipping along sidewalks, appearing suddenly in the path of left turning cars [or right turns too] after drivers checked and saw no pedestrians in the crosswalk. I have observed three such dumbnesses recently, resulting in bike nearly slamming into car that was completing a left turn, and on biker who fall off bike after car screeched to brake, and one other, once happening to me & other times to other drivers, all just missing each other, all with bikers whipping along sidewalk. And responses to this on this weblog? OH THE TERRIBLE DRIVERS

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted December 02, 2015 at 13:46:39 in reply to Comment 115062

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 19:21:40 in reply to Comment 115062

if there's no safe, protected bike lanes on these streets, please email the mayor and council and tell them to safely accommodate cyclists.

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By couple things (anonymous) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 19:05:04 in reply to Comment 115062

1. Most authors around these parts would NEVER advocate for sidewalk riding. It is understood that this is one of the most dangerous things a cyclist can do in terms of endangering themselves.

2. When there is zero accommodation made for cyclists, the city is setting people up to fall victim to this temptation. The city has made the streets terrifying, the city has set up one ways that disallow cyclists to reach destinations, so residents who don't fully understand the risks of sidewalk cycling are encouraged to engage in this risky behaviour, thinking that it's safer than the road, and having little alternative choice when the one way streets don't lead to the right places.

We can try to educate the behaviour away but it would be much more effective to properly design the roads instead (i.e. create space for cyclists and remove barriers such as one ways and turn restrictions)

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By Riddle Me This (anonymous) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 15:37:08 in reply to Comment 115062

Who's talking about bikes?

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 19:22:16 in reply to Comment 115063

car drivers who think it's their God-given right to run over pedestrians and such want to change the subject of this discussion.

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 15:37:14

Wherever there is a one way street, these dangerous conditions will continue to exist. For this very reason, I try to avoid the Cannon cycle track when travelling east, so I guess I'm talking about bikes lol.

Comment edited by Core-B on 2015-11-25 16:38:11

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 15:46:15

Kind of harsh picking apart the semantics of a cops accident report. It was hardly 'appalling'.

Remember these men and women are the ones who see this stuff, and worse, every day. They have to go home with it and quite often it becomes too much for them - human beings - to handle. Cops aren't all saints but, considering the nature of their work, give them the benefit of the doubt.

And for the record the pedestrian did walk into the path of the car. What was left out is that the car also drove into the path of the pedestrian.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted November 26, 2015 at 09:43:04 in reply to Comment 115065

I agree with the poster below. Words matter. This wasn't an accident. It was negligence and the driver is liable morally and in law unless he has some pretty damn good explanation why he moved his vehicle in a situation where a pedestrian was run over on a sidewalk.

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By NortheastWind (registered) | Posted November 26, 2015 at 09:36:59 in reply to Comment 115065

It is critical that the facts are precise and correct in a police report, so semantics do count.

Kudos to the officer for publicly showing his recognition that he learned from this.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted November 26, 2015 at 09:36:01 in reply to Comment 115065

Words matter.

"Pedestrian walked into the path of the car" implies that the car had right of way and that the pedestrian was in the wrong. Perhaps the pedestrian stepped out onto the road without looking? A tragic incident but you can hardly blame the driver for an inattentive pedestrian, can you?

Wait, the pedestrian was on the sidewalk? The driver exited a parking lot? Since the pedestrian had the right of way, while technically true, "the path of the car" is highly misleading.

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By start somewhere (anonymous) | Posted November 25, 2015 at 19:00:40 in reply to Comment 115065

It has to start somewhere and it should be with the police. They are very careful in choosing their public statements, it should be part of their job to understand these nuances. It's not harsh at all.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2015 at 16:19:07

Bring on the technology...


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By fmurray (registered) | Posted November 26, 2015 at 20:30:21

I hope the pedestrian recovers fully from his injuries.

I agree about the dangers of cyclists riding on sidewalks. I saw someone doing that on Dundurn yesterday and thought, "oh buddy, you're taking a risk" (he was riding against traffic). But what drives me crazy is the reporting of car/cyclist accidents and the line, "The cyclist was not wearing a helmet". Why is this important? They don't report whether the driver was wearing a seat belt. Are people really going to accept the injury or death of a cyclist because they weren't wearing a helmet?

Wording of accident reports matters.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 30, 2015 at 19:00:10

Sadly, this gentleman has now died.


I walk in this area regularly and hate how dark it is. I was just thinking of sending an email off to city hall a week ago suggesting they use those sidewalk level lights on all main streets to help better illuminate pedestrians. There are slowly but surely more pedestrians walking on our sidewalks each year as people look to live in walkable communities. This time of year with the early setting sun is just awful on such dimly lit streets.

Main Street downtown has the new lower height lights that shine on the sidewalk: https://youtu.be/9O5kWSP_FUM?t=54s

This should be standard, city wide.

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