The Current

Would a 'distracted walking' ban make streets safer?

There are moments when content on a smartphone can make you oblivious to your surrounding and at imminent risk. It's called "distracted walking" and the outlaw it has begun in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. Heads up!
Do distracted walking bans blame pedestrians for unsafe cities? (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Walk around a busy city and you will see many pedestrians glued to their phones, sometimes with headphones on, crossing crowded streets without even looking up.

That's why Vancouver and Calgary are contemplating distracted walking bans, as well as Toronto where pedestrian fatalities have increased by 34 per cent since 2005.   

A recent poll suggests a majority of Canadians would support a distracted walking ban. 

And that's encouraging news to Toronto city councillor Shelley Carroll who voted in favour of the ban because she says it's a serious safety issue for pedestrians in Toronto.

"A ban generally isn't enforced every minute of the day but what it does give us is a wide and resourced education program soon to impose a ban. You know you get to ... educate people that this can be fatal." 
Pedestrian advocate Gil Penalosa says a proposed ban on distracted walking with phones is a distraction from the key factors making cities unsafe. (Sullivan/Getty Images)

Carroll says there's no hard data on pedestrian deaths caused by distracted walking with phones.

"But we know that the closer you get to the core … of the city the pedestrian that seems to be getting hurt has been younger. And often there's a phone involved, whether it's behind the wheel of the car, or the pedestrian."

Seven pedestrians are struck on average on a given day in Toronto. And just recently, on Oct. 21, in Toronto, 18 pedestrians were struck. 

Beyond distracted walking, Carroll says this is due to the density and large cities but also visibility during this season.

"Every year as we get that light change as soon as it becomes darker in the morning and as soon as you get a little bit of precipitation, we generally have this tragic wake-up call day."

According to Gil Penalosa, founder and chair of 8 80 Cities — a Toronto-based non-profit organization that looks at livable cities, sustainable mobility and public space — it's "absolutely ridiculous" to blame incidents of pedestrians being struck on seasonal changes

"Our streets are not safe. In Toronto, a person is being hit by a car every three hours on average 365 days of the year.That is not civilized." 

A road sign warning against pedestrians focusing on their smartphones near the old town in Stockholm. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

Penalosa says there are many ways to make pedestrians safe, and it is not by banning texting.

He suggests to Tremonti a few ways to help make cities safer for pedestrians and one is to build sidewalks.

"In Toronto more than 25 per cent of residential streets do not even have a sidewalk. That is shameful."

Penalosa believes that lowering maximum speed limits in all residential areas to 30 km or less across Canada and adding small islands at crosswalks should be considered by politicians to actively address concerns about safety.

"This is happening in cities of 5,000 people, 50,000, a million, three million."

"We must make pedestrians a top priority in every single community."

Listen to the full conversation.

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins and Karin Marley.