The big story in Toronto this week is the number of pedestrians getting killed by vehicles. An “epidemic”, one no-talent Canadian news anchor who colours his hair said tonight. About 14 people have been killed so far this month (which apparently is more than is allowed). The public and police are shocked by these events. How could this happen? Why is this happening? The Mayor is suggesting using “technology” (like more of those countdown cross walk lights) and a city councilor is suggesting lowering the speed limit to 10km/hr in the city to fix this. Why not call in the Army and make them crossing guards?
Technology is not the panacea of all of life’s problems. Once again, the problem and solution is people. And in Toronto pedestrians are stupid idiots. I don’t mean to be insensitive to the families and friends of those recently killed but how do you explain why someone got struck by a street car on a fixed track?
I moved to Toronto from Montreal in January 1994 when I was in my mid-20s. Montreal has a reputation for having “crazy” drivers weaving in and out of traffic but somehow I learned how to cross a street there. I cannot think of a day when I didn’t jay walk across Rue Ste-Catherine or any of its perpendicular streets and avenues. I am not advocating this sort of behavior but it just seemed to work in Montreal. And here’s why.
I’ve always believed that the pedestrians and drivers in Montreal did a dance. The drivers looked out for the jay walkers (because at times they were the pedestrian) and vice versa. Whenever I darted through traffic, I could always see the driver and knew the driver saw me. I was not darting covertly. I deliberately crossed because I knew it was safe enough to make it across. This was the dance. And this is quite possibly the reason that Montreal is one of the few places in North America where “right on red” is not permitted. That would simply distort the delicate balance that exists between the dancers.
During my first week in Toronto, I found myself driving downtown and I recall being stopped at the corner of York and University; I was about to experiment with my first “right on red”. I signaled. There was no northbound traffic and I had the pole position. No people were coming. Here comes a right on red. As I started to inch forward, a pedestrian (or a few) walked off the curb and in front of my car. They did not look at my eyes, they did not even ponder what I was planning (but apparently the yellow flashing light was not enough of a clue.) In their minds, they had the right of way. The sign read WALK so they simply walked across the street in front of a moving car turning right. When I managed to avoid hitting anyone with my blue Mercury Topaz, I realized I was in the cross walk and started backing up. By then more pedestrians were crossing from the other direction and walking behind me (which I could see in my rear view mirror.) I narrowly avoided hitting those people too. My confidence was shot and it took me almost another fifteen minutes before I tried the right on red again.
I realized in 1994 that there was no dance here. Pedestrians had a false sense of entitlement that they owned the road when the light was green much in the same way they stood there like lemmings at 7:00 AM waiting for a red lights to change and not crossing when there isn’t a car for 6 blocks. (Think of that scene in Harold and Kumar.)
Toronto paradigms would suggest “cross the streets because the light is green and not cross the street when the light is red”. This paradigm is wrong. You should cross when it is safe and not cross when it is unsafe (which is usually when the light is green and red respectively but not always the case.) Like any data set, there are outliers and at least 14 of you have found that out the hard way this month.