Pedestrian safety plan for Calgary has merit, writes woman who lost boyfriend

Laura Combden writes about the loss of her boyfriend and why she supports measures to make Calgary's streets safer for pedestrians.

Laura Combden's boyfriend died after being hit by a car in 2010

Public Space is CBC Calgary's online portal for opinion.

Laura Combden writes about the loss of her boyfriend and why she supports measures to make Calgary's streets safer for pedestrians. This article has been adapted from a post on her blog.

One morning this week on my way to work, I walked by a Calgary Sun box. The headline on the newspaper read "Pedestrian safety plans could cost millions.... City at a crossroads."

The Calgary Sun's front page as pictured in a newspaper box on Tuesday. (Laura Combden)

Pedestrian safety plans, you say.

I decided I would read the story when I got to work and continued on to Ninth Avenue.

The intersection at Eighth Street and Ninth Avenue S.E. is the entrance to Inglewood from downtown. It's the only set of traffic lights for 500 metres.

It is also the intersection where my love was killed six years ago — on the coldest morning of the year.

View of Ninth Avenue S.E. looking towards downtown. (Google Maps)
Eighth Street looking towards Ninth Avenue S.E. (Laura Combden)

As I waited at the crosswalk, I wondered what this pedestrian safety plan for Calgary was all about.

I wonder who created it, and what does it entail? Who will be listening to the presentation of this plan, and voting on whether or not it goes through?

Would it be council members and transportation committee members? Do they drive to work everyday and park? Do they live in the suburbs and drive along a highway everyday — twice a day?

I wonder how our lives are different and how they are similar.

Traffic in my neighbourhood

I live in the inner city. Depending on the day, I walk, bike, take the bus, use Car2Go or drive my own car to work. The roads that lead to Deerfoot and Macleod Trails are the roads of my neighbourhood. They are often packed with cars heading for those thoroughfares during rush hours. 

Even my own residential street becomes full of activity after 4 p.m. on weekdays, as drivers take the back way to Macleod Trail.

When Ryan was walking to work that morning, we didn't have a car, and he had just missed the bus. It was 6:59 a.m.. I told him — before kissing his warm face and telling him I loved him — that we'd get a car soon, next month.

Minutes later, he was hit. I saw traffic backed up on my street and wondered what was happening. I turned on the radio and the news said a woman had been hit.

They were wrong.

The car that hit Ryan Fox on Jan. 7, 2010. Police determined the driver was not at fault. Ryan died the next day. (CBC)

Ryan's coffee was still warm. He walked past the intersection, past the crosswalk, deciding instead to cross Ninth Avenue farther along. The next crosswalk would have been another seven minute walk for him.

The driver didn't see him in his dark coat and he didn't see the car in the fog. It was dark and it was snowing. Ryan wanted to wear his red coat that morning but I told him it was too cold. 

Ryan suffered a brain injury and was unresponsive from the time the paramedics arrived until he died in hospital the following night.

News seems full of pedestrian accidents

Nowadays, I pick up the paper and read about pedestrians being hit in traffic, some killed, and there's an awful lot of blame. On the pedestrian, on the driver, whoever didn't have the right of way. The comments section is sickening and the blame is relentless — contagious even.

I wasn't there that morning. I don't know how it exactly happened, although I can imagine. What it comes down to is that we are human beings.- Laura Combden

After all these years, and all these accidents and all these fingers pointed, nothing has changed. 

I wasn't there that morning. I don't know how it exactly happened, although I can imagine. What it comes down to is that we are human beings.

Many factors

Distraction is a factor in 78 per cent of pedestrian-vehicle collisions, both drivers and pedestrians being distracted, according to a report for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Time of day is also a factor — sunrise and sunset being the peaks times for collisions.

Sometimes traffic lights don't operate as efficiently as we'd like, and sometimes it's just cold as hell and we're in a hurry. We certainly don't always clear our windshield as thoroughly as we could and we don't always cross the road where we should.

A pedestrian safety plan has been developed by, I can only imagine, a group of concerned citizens. The plan outlines 50 recommendations, such as adding more flashing crosswalk signs, improving signals, building sidewalks along roadways with foot traffic and conducting safety audits in places where there have been multiple accidents.

Blame is not a strategy

I walk by the intersection everyday where Ryan was hit. Without meaning to, I have come up with many ideas about how the area around the intersection could be safer. Unfortunately, blame has been our "strategy" for too long.

So city council and the transportation committee will be presented a pedestrian safety plan in the next few weeks. It's been a long time coming for those of us that live and work right in the thick of it; while the rush hour cars race home past us, we are already home.

Laura Combden and Ryan Fox had been together for three years at the time of his death. (Laura Combden)

City streets will never be completely safe for pedestrians. But, rather than accept these collisions as inevitable, we must realize that it has been proven they are both predictable and preventable.

It starts with giving this issue the attention it deserves. 

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Laura Combden

Calgary blogger

Laura Combden, born in Toronto, has been living in Calgary for 10 years. She makes movies and writes stories.