Accidental Activist

On the Other Side of a Traffic Incident

I saw a young lady jumping for her life just this past Friday. Sadly, the culprit this time around was me.

By Ben Bull
Published June 16, 2016

Toronto is finally endorsing a welcome, if somewhat tepid, plan to make walking its streets safer.

"Mayor John Tory is pledging to reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities by 20 per cent over the next 10 years as part of the city's new road safety plan," reports The Toronto Star.

The article goes on to say, "Sixty-five people were killed on Toronto roads last year, a 10-year high. The dead included 39 pedestrians and four cyclists."

Yikes! That's a lot of deaths.

It's nice to see pedestrians finally getting some love in Toronto, but this plan doesn't go nearly far enough. Calgary has committed to zero deaths in its 'Vision Zero' plan - why can't Toronto do the same? Isn't one death too many?

Walking around the streets of Toronto, I see near misses all the time. I saw a young lady jumping for her life just this past Friday. Sadly, the culprit this time around was me.

I was in downtown Orillia, making a left turn at an intersection. The sun was in my eyes (excuse alert!) and, after a five-hour drive thanks to an unsecured load on Highway 400, I was tired. The traffic cleared, I turned - then all hell broke loose.

"Watch out for that woman!" screamed my wife.

"How did you not see her!" yelled my daughter.

"Arrrgh!" screamed the pedestrian as she dived one way and tossed her shopping bag the other.



I pulled over and ran across, begging for forgiveness.

How many times have I been on the other side of this scenario? I wondered, as the lady screamed in my face. "Don't touch me!"

The poor woman was shaking, smitten with rage.

Well, why wouldn't she be?

The cops were called. There was no contact or physical injury but I knew what this lady wanted - recourse.

As we perched on the curb I reflected on my recent car-dooring experience on the streets of Toronto: Laying prostate on Spadina, tangled up in my spokes, cradling my bloody arm and screaming at the cabbie as he shrugged his shoulders and screeched away.

How come everybody gets to run away?

A nice police lady came by and took some notes, smelt my breath, checked my license and told me to go get a cup of coffee.

"Five hours is a long time to drive, sir – take a break."

None of this really helped my victim, of course, who was still shaking and searching for justice.

"What can I do?" I asked her, "Mail you a voucher maybe, buy you a meal?"

"No" she replied, "That won't help."

She asked me to help spread the word about road safety instead. So I wrote this article.

Perhaps RTH readers are the last folks who need to be reminded of road safety. It's John Tory and his ilk – Let's try and modestly reduce pedestrian deaths, yeah! - who need the smackdown.

I'm sure most readers of this site are more used to finding themselves on the other side of the windshield, wondering who the hell just tried to run them down.

Well, this time it was me.

And what have I learned from all this?

Road designers need to do better. Unless we can slow cars down to a crawl, we need to stay apart - far apart.

Just one last word to Laura: I hope you're feeling better. I promise to take a break next time. And if you'll reconsider – maybe I can send you that voucher?

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 fmurray (registered) | Posted June 16, 2016 at 13:58:46

I've been on both sides too -- it's terrifying to be the one almost killed, and sickening to be the one in the driver's seat for a near miss.

We are not perfect, but your reaction was better than the victim-blaming that is so common.

Give yourself a break, as the police officer said.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 16, 2016 at 14:24:18

"Sixty-five people were killed on Toronto roads last year, a 10-year high. The dead included 39 pedestrians and four cyclists."

This quotation from the Toronto Star is somewhat inaccurate, as it omits the 280 people who are killed on Toronto roads by being poisoned by motor vehicle operators.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 16, 2016 at 15:24:33

nice piece Ben. This is one of the most common points made by road safety experts and engineers: humans are human, and therefore will make mistakes sometimes. Our roads need to be designed to minimize the impacts of our mistakes as much as possible.

Road safety has many components, but engineering plays a massive role especially when we make mistakes.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 16, 2016 at 16:10:48 in reply to Comment 119414

Yes, this is the fourth principle of Sustainable Safety: Forgivingness. To quote from:

*4. Forgivingness of both the road/street environment and the road users.

Humans make errors and willingly or unwillingly break rules. This is a given that cannot be changed. So roads and streets should be designed in such a way that this natural human behavior does not lead to crashes and injuries. An example is a shoulder with a semi-hard pavement. A road user coming off the main road will not crash immediately; the semi-hard shoulder will give this road user the ability to get back to the main carriageway. The equivalent for cyclists is a curb with a different angle; 45 degrees in stead of 90 degrees. Hitting this curb with your front wheel will not immediately result in a fall. Forgivingness towards other road users is enhanced when road design leads to a predictable behavior of road users. A result of this principle is that motorized traffic sometimes gives priority to cyclists even if they don’t have it. Because it is so clear where the cyclists want or need to go the motorist anticipates their behavior and gives the cyclist more room than he or she is legally obliged to, often to the surprise of especially foreign cyclists.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2016-06-16 16:11:33

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By Martin Kent (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2016 at 04:42:26

The problem is the legislature is in Toronto. Traffic laws are made by the city and the province and ignored in town. Why not talk about civic responsibilities and putting the capital in a law abiding city? Except Winnipeg, Toronto is the only major city to have a capital.
Law abiding conscientious streets are easy to achieve. On Father's day watch all the families breaking traffic laws together. By introducing a conscience these parents will break the cycle of the freewheeling family phenomenon. This is caused by the Vestibular Structure which also causes Velocitization.
What people call human nature is just pathetic behaviour. If you don't speed you will be introduced to domestic terrorists, known as aggressige tailgaters and then you will "Keep up with the traffic." Imagine if people in Toronto obeyed traffic laws and there was law abiding streets full of cheerfull Canadians! Sounds like a great 150th birthday party!

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By Martin Kent (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2016 at 04:47:04 in reply to Comment 119414

The Vestibular Structure in the inner ear causes the freewheeling phenomenon as well as Velocitization (decelerating into a city from a freeway). Human nature is caused by the largest of the minor senses. You don't know about this, obviously. Imagine law abiding streets and highways!

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By 911 (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2016 at 09:15:47

Hey Kevin Love, should the woman have called 911 in this case? I mean, the insane driver was clearly aiming to kill her, and at the least, was driving recklessly, carelessly, and/or dangerously, right? Don't forget that he was trying to poison her with his mobile cancer machine!

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted June 20, 2016 at 11:07:58 in reply to Comment 119453

I’m actually curious about the answer to this question. The author stopped to apologize, but that’s a rarity: usually following a near-miss, the best one gets is an apologetic wave before the motorist speeds off. In this case, we have someone who is distracted by fatigue- if he hadn’t stopped, what should that woman have done, knowing that he could easily have proceeded to kill someone a few intersections hence? Shouldn’t she call?

As an aside, in Hamilton there is an aggressive driving hotline, but I’ve gotten the impression it is aimed at motorists squealing on each other. And, in a case like this, the police probably would not consider this person to be driving aggressively.

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