*Amid arm-band backlash, police data shows most pedestrians and cyclists killed or seriously injured in Toronto are hit in daylight, with clear visibility*
A weekend event where seniors were given fluorescent arm bands to help protect them from getting hit by cars has sparked a fierce backlash from safe streets advocates who say the measure amounts to “victim blaming.”
Toronto Coun. James Pasternak was the latest to cross advocates on Monday after he tweeted that high-visibility clothing or reflective gear is “a key part” of keeping everyone — including pedestrians, construction workers, cyclists and crossing guards — safe.
Toronto police investigate the scene of an Oct. 13 crash in which two pedestrians and a baby in a stroller were struck at the intersection of Pharmacy Avenue and Ellesmere Road shortly before 11 a.m. The driver fled the scene, police said. (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)
That comment has prompted nearly 300 outraged responses https://twitter.com/PasternakTO/status/1199016505343651841?s=20 from people who say asking pedestrians to wear reflective gear is at best a distraction from the city’s efforts to reduce traffic deaths.
Several noted that a crossing guard https://www.therecord.com/news-story/9734496-waterloo-crossing-guard-struck-in-hit-and-run-urges-driver-to-come-forward/ wearing a bright yellow and orange reflective vest was recently hit during daylight hours in Waterloo, and referenced recent crashes in which drivers plowed into (very visible) buildings. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/11/22/driver-arrested-after-15-cars-home-struck-near-dupont-and-dundas.html
“Wearing high visibility gear to protect yourself from negligent and reckless drivers is like asking people to wear fire-retardant pyjamas to bed just in case there’s a fire because someone was irresponsible with fire codes & safety,” said one typical response from Dale Thompson https://twitter.com/daleethompson/status/1199349959826513920?s=20. “In other words: This isn’t a pedestrian issue,” he wrote.
The arm bands are supposed to make pedestrians, especially seniors who are the ones more likely to be hit, more visible to drivers.
According to Toronto police data, most pedestrians and cyclists who are killed or seriously injured on city streets are hit by drivers in daylight hours with good visibility.
Between 2007 and 2018, a majority — 1,413 in total — of killed or seriously injured pedestrians and cyclists were hit in daylight with clear visibility, the conditions in which an arm band would be unlikely to make a difference.
Those conditions account for 51 per cent of the 2,741 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed or seriously injured over that period.
The other 1,328 were hit under other conditions, from dusk to dawn, or in rainy, snowy, fogging or otherwise unclear visibility.
Police and Coun. Cynthia Lai handed out hundreds of the armbands to seniors at Scarborough’s Woodside Square Mall on Saturday, part of an event in which officers shared safety tips like the importance of making eye contact with approaching drivers.
Lai later defended the event to the Star saying everyone has a shared responsibility for road safety.
This kind of effort is “textbook victim-blaming” that contributes to “misinformation” that pedestrians somehow contribute to their own deaths, said road safety advocate Jessica Spieker, a spokesperson for advocacy groups Friends and Families for Safe Streets.
“To distribute arm bands to seniors flagrantly flies in the face of all of the evidence about road safety,” she said, adding that drivers and infrastructure are at fault he “vast majority” of the time.
According to a city report on the same police data prepared as part of the city’s Vision Zero plan to reduce traffic deaths https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2019/ie/bgrd/backgroundfile-134993.pdf, aggressive and distracted driving contribute to a majority — 52 per cent — of all crashes that cause a death or serious injury on Toronto streets.
Spieker said she is frustrated with the “agonizingly slow” progress on making streets safer under the city’s plan.
Ahead of police board meetings last week, Toronto police https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/11/21/toronto-police-board-reinstates-traffic-squad-after-spike-in-collisions.html pointed to how crashes have spiked as traffic enforcement has fallen over the last six years.
Police pointed to a sharp decline in provincial tickets arguing that the board should reinstate a dedicated traffic enforcement squad, something it agreed to do on Thursday.
Separate statistics also presented to the board show Toronto police charged fewer drivers with a criminal traffic offence in 2018 than in any year since the city’s amalgamation in 1998 https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/11/22/even-as-collisions-rise-toronto-police-traffic-enforcement-falls-to-lowest-level-since-amalgamation.html.
Toronto police Deputy Chief Peter Yuen also defended the arm band giveaway, saying Sunday it was planned as part of Pedestrian Safety Month for seniors, who are disproportionately hit.
“Visibility is a key contributing factor in many pedestrian, road and traffic incidents,” he wrote in an email.“We’ll continue to do all we can to protect our communities and eliminate deaths and injuries on our roads.”
Speaking to CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” on Tuesday, Councillor Pasternak expanded on his reasoning for supporting giving out the armbands, telling host Matt Galloway that the main focus of Vision Zero is to get cars to slow down and making roadways safer, but there’s also a “public education” aspect.
“And that’s why we’re encouraging people to, when they’re crossing, to make eye contact with vehicles as they stop, to put away the cellphone and look up as they’re crossing, wear bright clothing, and of course for all traffic to stop.”
Pasternak, councillor for Ward 6 —York Centre, also chairs the Infrastructure and Environment Committee which oversees the city’s Vision Zero road safety plan. He rejects the idea that the arm bands are victim-blaming.
“No one’s forcing anyone to take it,” he said.
“Nobody’s playing blame here.”
Insisting that Vision Zero is working, Pasternak admitted there’s “mayhem” on the roads.
“And I don’t like using the word lawlessness, but to some degree people are totally disregarding signalized intersections, stop signs, speed limits, it’s a major problem,” he added.
The World Health Organization, he noted, does encourage https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/publications/road_traffic/make_walking_safe.pdf?ua=1 educating pedestrians about the importance of wearing light-coloured clothing and reflective materials.
“If we can save one life by reflective clothing or reflective gear I think it’s worth it,” he added.
Traffic deaths have not significantly declined in the city since council first adopted the Vision Zero plan in 2016, and both collisions and pedestrian deaths hit a high for recent data last year.
Based on the Star’s count, 34 pedestrians have been killed in Toronto so far this year.
*With files from Ed Tubb*
*May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11 https://twitter.com/maywarren11*