Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for April 26th, 2008

Have we forgotten the basics, like how to cross the street?

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I thought Pete McMartin was making some progress, but in this morning’s piece he has regressed back to his old, car driver self.

He does some research – he stands on some busy street corners, and he talks to Jerry Dobrovolny, assistant city engineer for transportation (NOTE TO EDITOR: Pronunciation guide: DOE-BRO-VOLE-KNEE), – and, surprise, decides it is all the fault of the pedestrians. They are infected by the spirit of Ratso Rizzo – don’t know who he is? The character played by Dutin Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy“. Not exactly a contemporary reference I know but Pete is a boomer. And like me he is in danger of becoming a Grumpy Old Man.

He could, of course, have sat at his computer for a few minutes and found a link to Dr. Barry Wellar, Department of Geography, University of Ottawa, who established an applied transportation research program with a focus on pedestrians and came up with the “Walking Security Index“. He is not popular with P Engs and that is no surprise. Because he does not start from the premise that the car driver should be able to go where he wants, when he wants with as few restrictions as possible. He is much more concerned with people who are not inside steel boxes on wheels with powerful engines.

Drivers frankly terrorise pedestrians – and cyclists. Drivers will usually ignore traffic control devices if they think they can get away with it. Speed limit compliance, for example, is near zero. Driving the wrong way around traffic circles is common. Yellow and red light running almost as frequent. Stopping for pedestrians on unsignalled cross walks unheard of – no matter what the legislation might say about every corner being a crosswalk.

If you stand on a street corner, eventually you will see a pedestrian taking a chance. If you drive any distance at all you will see so many moving traffic offences you will quickly lose count. And probably commit a few yourself.

Yesterday evening I saw the Critical Mass on Granville Bridge. It was a stirring sight. I think we need Critical Masses of pedestrians too. We are all pedestrians. Every trip always starts and ends in a walk. Making better urban places by definition means we change the priorities and allow pedestrians to move and control the cars better – or eliminate them altogether. And with gas now at $1.30 a litre and going to rise faster in future, I cannot think of a better time for a Sun columnist to rethink his own priorities

Photo by Janek Mann

Written by Stephen Rees

April 26, 2008 at 9:01 am