The Sunday Edition

The war on pedestrians — Michael's essay

"The carnage of pedestrian deaths in our major cities and towns continues unabated. Last year, Toronto saw 40 deaths. Pedestrians are struck by cars at a rate of three a day. In one four-and-a-half hour period in 2018, 17 pedestrians were hit by cars. Last year set a record of pedestrian deaths in Montreal — 24. In BC, there were 49 pedestrian deaths. What is especially galling about these numbers is the fact that these terrible deaths were preventable.”
A woman adds to a memorial left for a 54-year-old woman who was struck and killed near Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue in Toronto in September 2019. (Angelina King/CBC)
Listen4:38

That didn't take long.

Three days into the new year, a 65-year-old man was run over and killed on a downtown Toronto street by a hit and run driver.

The carnage of pedestrian deaths in our major cities and towns continues unabated. Last year, Toronto saw 40 deaths. Pedestrians are struck by cars at a rate of three a day.

In one four-and-a-half hour period in 2018, 17 pedestrians were hit by cars. 

Last year set a record for pedestrian deaths in Montreal — 24. In BC, there were 49 pedestrian deaths.

What is especially galling about these numbers is the fact that these terrible deaths were preventable.

Compounding that bit of frustration is the reality, at least in Canada's largest city, that the cops have downgraded pedestrian safety as a priority.

In 2016, Toronto cops, at the urging of the police board, moved from enforcement to an over-reliance on technology — traffic cameras and the like.

In 2018, for example, Toronto police issued 2,344 fewer tickets than 10 years earlier. They charged drivers with the fewest offences since the city's amalgamation in 1998.

Of course, as enforcement volumes decreased, collisions have increased, in some years as much as 60 per cent.

The public outcry has come from all quarters.

Alok Mukherjee, former chair of the Police Services Board, wrote in an op-ed: "Police have shown a callous disregard for human life."

I live near a six-lane avenue, a highway really, on which drivers speed as fast as they can, knowing there is not a chance they will be caught.

As we all know, Toronto drivers are the worst in Canada. They ignore speed limits, red lights and stop signs. They make illegal turns. They skip from lane to lane without warning.

Many of the most flagrant abusers drive high-end luxury cars: Audis, Porsches, BMWs.

In my neighborhood there are four schools and two seniors residences. Drivers ignore flashing lights and signs telling them to slow down.

Toronto's crosswalks often become kill-zones, says Michael Enright, as drivers speed through them. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The city council and the cops have tried every new wing-ding tech solution, which is no solution at all.

Speed bumps are as useless as a screen door on a submarine. Drivers simply speed up from bump to bump.

Crosswalks don't work. In fact, they can become kill zones as drivers race through them.

Toronto has a system of illuminated countdown traffic lights which tells drivers how long they have before the light changes.

This works like the starting flag at Le Mans; drivers race to beat the light change.

Deep thinkers in the police service and City Hall thought it would be a great idea to give seniors reflecting armbands.

That's where we stand on pedestrian safety — armbands that glow in the dark.

Never mind that most deaths occur in daylight hours.

There are hopeful signs that things might be changing. After taking withering incoming fire, the chief of police and the mayor have suggested that perhaps the police could return to some kind of law enforcement.

In fact, a few days ago, I saw a living, breathing cop with a radar gun, patrolling a busy downtown thoroughfare. A rare sight.

Europe has generally been far more successful in cutting down pedestrian deaths.

In fact, Oslo recorded not a single pedestrian or cyclist death in 2019.

A rectangular rapid-flashing beacon (RRFB) crosswalk signal. (Richard Drdul/Flickr)

In British Columbia, the government is working on three fronts to reduce pedestrian injury and death.

There is even something called the Walkers' Caucus which advocates for walkers and their safety.

Perhaps a renewed police presence will cut down the number of pedestrian deaths, realizing that speed is the killer and enforcement is the only answer.

Maybe Toronto's notorious traffic gridlock will solve the problem of speeding.

Think about it the next time you are stuck in traffic.

You just might be saving someone's life.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full essay.

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