Mayor Rob Ford's delegation to Chicago could have been a lot less pedestrian - or should I say more pedestrian? - if it had been less preoccupied with wooing investors and more open to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel's offer to learn from, not just do business with, each other.
Pedestrian safety wasn't on the agenda, but it could well have been.
On September 19, the Officer of the Chief Coroner of Ontario published its sombre-titled Pedestrian Death Review. In 2010, for example, there were a record 95 deaths in Ontario. The report made recommendations that could reduce fatalities by 50 per cent by 2022.
Two weeks earlier, Chicago's new Pedestrian Plan was released, calling for eliminating fatalities over 10 years while also cutting serious injuries in half.
Unlike Toronto's official delegation, I'm interested in how Chicago treats this issue, if only for a small-minded reason. Fifteen years later, I'm still mad that Chicago's then mayor, Richard Daley, lured away Tom Samuels, who was Toronto's leading expert on walking. We haven't kept up, despite the fact that Toronto is one of the few cities to boast a pedestrian charter.
As is now the norm with workplace health and safety, childbirth, boating, swimming and other areas, science and prevention are allowed to prevail. Zero is the number to aim for.
Both reports point out that most pedestrians are hit by cars turning at intersections in the late afternoon or early evening, and that older people are much more likely to die in these accidents. Cars going over 50 km/h are more likely to kill pedestrians of any age - five times more than cars going 30. Both reports call for lowering speed limits.
The absence of laws regulating car speed or car turns at intersections in both jurisdictions is not an accident. Such laws are driven by politics. The same goes for measures to protect walkers, such as signage at crosswalks, advance lights for pedestrians and pedestrian-only lights at mid-block.
The Chicago plan lists a multitude of measures for reducing crashes and increasing walkability, such as encouraging ward-based transportation committees; instituting lags in left-hand turn lights so walkers get a head start in busy areas; putting streets on "diets," i.e., limiting space on roads for cars; erecting speed feedback signs for drivers in areas inclined to be treated as speed zones; setting up temporary art exhibits in public spaces; and pushing owners of vacant storefronts to animate their windows with public art.
The Ontario report has fewer proposals, with less detail and pizazz. While the coroner's report is confined to a safety mandate - that's what the coroner is paid to do by the province, and significantly not by any city - the Chicago study is all about making walking the lifeblood of a metropolis, not just one transportation mode among others.
From obesity to crime to loneliness, the Chicago plan aims to ward off a range of urban problems, and sees change as being afoot because there's both safety and health in numbers. Encouragement through art installations should be part of every stroll.
Two things are missing from both reports. One is awareness that environments that are good for walkers are also good for other city functions. People who walk are ideal customers for independent main street retailers, who contribute more economically and socially to a city than chain stores in malls that most people drive to. Of course, more walkers also means fewer time-wasting traffic jams, a multi-billion-dollar-a-year issue for both Toronto and Chicago.
As some might suspect, I also have a bone to pick with reports that don't make one reference to food. On the positive side, few things make a street scene more walkable than sidewalk food vendors, food trucks and people-watching café patios.
On the negative, drive-throughs at junk food outlets (a quarter of meals are said to be eaten in the car) obviously encourage munching and driving - almost as dangerous a mix as drinking and driving. Driver distraction is a factor in 20 per cent of Ontario crashes and driver inattention a factor in 14 per cent, so there's lots to encourage and discourage.
Slower traffic and slower food go together, if only because both are about enjoying the moment and place rather than using city streets and food only as utilities that provide services gobbled down on the way to somewhere else more meaningful.
The Ontario report found visibility was good when 95 per cent of crashes happened, but perhaps vision was clouded by driver narcissism or entitlement, which may also explain why members of Ford Nation couldn't see anything to share with Chicago on pedestrian safety. The war against walkers is not over.
WALKING INTO TROUBLE
Highlights of the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario's Pedestrian Death Review
35% Fatally injured pedestrians who were 65 or older (an age group that only makes up 13% of the population)
36% Fatally injured pedestrians who were struck by a driver who had committed a prior traffic infraction
60% Pedestrians who were killed at night or under dim light conditions
67% Fatalities caused by drivers who were male
January Peak month for pedestrian collisions
81% Incidents that occurred under dry road conditions
67% Deaths that occurred on roads with posted speeds above 50 km/h
Pedestrian crossing "islands"
Lights with longer countdowns
More landscaping, trees, planters, ground cover
More traffic calming measures
Allow municipalities to set default speed limit at 40 km/hr
All municipalities to identify collision-prone areas
Driver education campaigns