Earlier this winter, the Toronto police announced that pedestrians should wear light-coloured clothing at night to avoid being hit by cars.
This was very good timing for me, as I was giving a lecture about Toronto that afternoon to my Dutch urban geography students at Utrecht University where I work, in preparation for a field trip we will be making this spring.
As you might imagine, this suggestion by the police was met with mild laughter, amusement and general bewilderment by this group of young Europeans from a country where cyclists rather than motorists rule the road.
One of the themes of my presentation on Toronto (where I was born and raised) was that while it once led the world in progressive transport, the ensuing decades have bred a lost generation.
The debate between people and cars has already been fought in European cities, where the postwar decades also saw increased car usage and cities reshaped to make way for them.
Being a pedestrian or cyclist in the 60s or 70s was much more challenging than today. Roads cut through the heart of many cities, historic squares were converted into parking lots, and traffic flow and accessibility (by car) were the driving forces of urban planning.
Even in Utrecht, medieval canals were filled in and replaced by a highway. The fact that this road is being turned back into a canal again shows how much policy and public attitudes have changed.
In the Netherlands, the aim now is to create vibrant, healthy cities; shopping streets are pedestrianized, parking is removed from the grand squares (often to be ingeniously buried underground) and the key routes that remain through city centres are for buses, trams and cyclists.
Rotterdam has a "park and walk" policy, with large parking garages on the fringes of the downtown leaving the centre with fewer cars and more pedestrians. This in a city whose postwar planning mentality would have made Le Corbusier and Robert Moses proud.
My point is that if this monumental change in approach can happen in crowded European cities, it can surely happen in a place like Toronto, where there is far more space to play with. There is absolutely nothing preordained about the way we can design and manage our cities in the future.
This brings us back to pedestrian safety. In the Netherlands and other European countries like Denmark, when there are accidents involving motorists and cyclists or pedestrians, the onus of responsibility lies almost exclusively with the driver. Why? Because he or she is driving a potentially lethal machine.
Driving in Holland is tough and requires your full attention. The roads are narrow, there's lots of traffic and you have to be constantly on the lookout for other road users. It is not a level playing field and the laws reflect this. That's why in Holland and elsewhere in Europe, the driver is at fault if there is an accident.
Last year I took my students to Scotland. While in Edinburgh, we heard a presentation from the city's design leader, Riccardo Marini. He made an excellent remark about something that often gets overlooked: at some point, everyone becomes a pedestrian.
Even if we drive from our garages to our offices or the mall, the moment we step out of our cars, we cease being motorists and become pedestrians. Stating that pedestrians should wear light-coloured clothing should be interpreted as telling everyone to wear light-coloured clothing. (Do we really want the police to tell us what to wear?)
Every time I return to Toronto, I am impressed by the scale of development taking place downtown and beyond. Because I don't see this change on a day-to-day basis as you do, but rather once or twice a year, I am awestruck at how quickly my hometown is changing.
Toronto's streets are filled with people! Citizens are clearly voting with their feet. They want public spaces to be more inclusive for all road users so everyone can enjoy a more vibrant and safe city. Now it is time for the city's leaders, politicians, planners and police to catch up.
Brian Doucet is a lecturer in urban geography at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. He was born and raised in Toronto.