'Never jaywalk' signs send the wrong message, says safety advocate

A new city campaign instructing Edmontonians to “never jaywalk” has some pedestrians seeing red.

'I was disappointed and a little bit frustrated about the tone and direction of the campaign'

Safety advocates say a new awareness campaign from the city of Edmonton, targeting jaywalkers, sends the wrong message. (Travel Alberta)

Safety critics believe the city of Edmonton has its signals crossed on a new campaign which reminds pedestrians to "never jaywalk" 

Billboards bearing the new slogan, and instructions on how to safely cross the street, have cropped up on busy thoroughfares such as Whyte Avenue and Jasper Avenue.

They're part of Vision Zero, an Edmonton campaign intended to bring an end to traffic fatalities on city streets.

"I was disappointed and a little bit frustrated about the tone and direction of the campaign," said Conrad Nobert, chair and founder of Paths for People.

Nobert said he was particularly miffed to see the signs crop up on Whyte Avenue, where pedestrian and traffic collisions have become increasingly commonplace.

According to numbers released last August by Paths for People, in the last 10 years, 205 cyclists and pedestrians have been killed or injured on a three-kilometre stretch of Whyte Avenue.

Nobert said the signs fail to account for the behaviour of drivers, or design flaws which make intersections unsafe, and instead blame the victim. 

"It is a dangerous traffic corridor, and there are substantial ways that the city could almost immediately bring that number down and they haven't done that," said Nobert.

"And it's in that context that this campaign is very irksome for people who are walking around Whyte Avenue, having close calls, almost getting hit and then they see a sign that tells them they're to blame." 

Signals crossed 

However, Gerry Shimko, executive director of the City of Edmonton's Office of Traffic Safety, thinks otherwise.

He said the "don't jaywalk" signs are just one in a series of billboards that will be used in the Vision Zero strategy.

Other billboards in the campaign include messaging on distracted driving, speeding and intersection safety with slogans like, "Hang Up and Drive," "Share the Road" and  "Yield to Pedestrians."

"It's an education piece. It's definitely not targeted just at pedestrians, and us pointing our fingers," said Shimko.

"I'm kind of surprised they're taking that message from it, but it's a learning experience for us as well and we certainly didn't see it in that light.

"We've spent a lot of time and effort on trying to educate drivers as well on the risks associated with what they're doing."

Shimko said it's important that critics of the campaign are aware the billboards are just one part of a much larger strategy, which also focuses on road design, enforcement and public engagement.

Vision Zero was hatched in Sweden in 1997 and Edmonton became the first Canadian city to adopt it in 2015.

Shimko said the campaign, which launched in September, is just getting started, and won't be officially rolled out to the public until later this month.

"It's an ongoing process, and design is part of that," said Shimko. He noted that public consultations on road design, speeding and signaling will help shape the long-term campaign.

"It's really about starting to consolidate all those ideas, and get a good sense of what the public is thinking about...and how we can help provide better and education and guidance for the public."