you take a deep breath and wadeinto Bloor West traffic, trying desperately to catch some polite driver's eye so you can finish that tiny jog to the other side. But the river of cars isn't your only worry. Thanks to Operation Target Street, navigating on foot through the city's gridlock has recently got a step more treacherous.The campaign, sounding ominously like another American military misadventure, is the latest attempt by Toronto police to keep pedestrians from bugging drivers. Officers are now encouraged to lecture or summons walkers who transgress traffic laws or get too feisty with cars.
The rationale for this crackdown was explained at a press conference earlier this month by Superintendent Gary Grant, who pointed to the 102 pedestrians killed by automobiles over the last three years. He didn't exactly phrase it that way, of course. In classic blame-the-victim style, he rattled on about careless walkers rushing across the street or disobeying red lights.
But despite the panicked tone of the police press release, the fact of the matter is that pedestrian deaths have declined since the 60s and have, over the last 10 years, remained fairly stable despite the increase in Toronto's population. What gives?
To put it plainly, the car-heads won. There used to be a lot more pedestrians on our streets for the killing. Kids used to play on car paths, for instance, and they were wiped out in astounding numbers. Now that kids have more television, they don't have to spend as much time outside.
What's more frightening is that those of us who have persisted in walking places have actually been trained, like so many circus bears, to toe the line in order to accommodate car drivers. Seniors actually walk the extra four blocks to a crosswalk before they cross the street. Kids walk to school less often. (Elmer the Safety Elephant is not your friend, he's a car-culture toady.)
Another interesting fact about those stalled ped fatality stats is that, because cars don't actually work very well as a system of urban transportation, the once car-friendly arterials of the 1960s have now become slow-moving rivers through whose fumes pedestrians and cyclists can pick their way with relative impunity.
Gridlock has given us safer streets! How ironic.
But as single-occupant vehicles clog roadways all across the GTA, the jig is now up. Get out of the way, you pesky peds, or Officer Grant will nab you.
Grant says that, "All we're doing is asking people to act responsibly. We all have a responsibility for road safety."
But what's really tragic about this misguided police initiative is that it actually discourages walkers from re-occupying their rightful place in the streets. Most have forgotten that they have the right of way when crossing roads, and Grant's missive neglected to point it out.
Pedestrians, do your neighbourhood and planet a favour. Continue to exercise your right to cross the street. Cross regularly and cross often. And now that public recreation centres have effectively been privatized via user fees, I would also encourage kids and adults alike to get out there with your hockey sticks and play. Reclaim your neighbourhood streets.
Rather than penalizing sustainable forms of transportation with bland and annoying ticketing campaigns, the city of Toronto should be rewarding pedestrians with tax breaks, safe infrastructure and properly guided police initiatives.
From 1991 to 2000, 383 pedestrians died on Toronto's streets, about one every 10 days. By comparison, only 241 drivers died on Toronto's streets during the same period (24.1 per year, one every 15 days). Now, who's killing whom? Whose behaviour needs modification? Thomas Timmins is co-chair of the Community Bicycle Network.