On Thursday, March 15, Jocelyn Bell wrote a front-page article entitled "Police Target Walkers," about the anticipated "crackdown" on jaywalkers to take place in May.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this article was not the statistic given about how many pedestrians have been killed by cars over the last six years (43), but the sheer acceptability of this campaign.
What is being suggested here is that if people are being hit and killed by automobiles, it must be their fault, and pedestrians must be re-educated as to how to coexist peaceably with these masterful showpieces of our society.
This type of victim targeting can be likened to an NRA crackdown on the victims of gunshot wounds, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Fining pedestrians is like fining shop owners in parts of town where they are likely to be robbed for badly selecting a place to set up their business.
This campaign ignores the structural nature of the jaywalking problem. The problem isn't pedestrians or cyclists, or even motorists necessarily, but for the most part, the problem is that Hamilton has been designed for drivers. Those of us who cannot afford or choose not to own cars are held at the mercy of the automobile culture.
Guns are legal. Murder is not. Cars are legal. Hit-and-run is not. What is being ignored here is the chaos into which our city has descended. Drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians do not share the roads, but struggle over them in an endless tug-of-war that is severely imbalanced.
Hamilton's police are trying to address this problem by educating senior citizens on how to "Step out Safely." Perhaps a more effective campaign, one that would have more long-term impact, would be the improvement of driver education. No matter how nimbly a pedestrian may be able to avoid oncoming traffic, the continuing presence of a "defensive driver" culture will work against all those who cross the streets by foot, whether with or against the light. And a tonne of steel will always win over a human being.
As long as the city of Hamilton ignores the overarching problem of a pro-automobile urban design, no real improvement will ever be made to "the jaywalking problem."
Only through the construction of more bike lanes, the adoption of traffic calming techniques, and a greater respect for the pedestrian in matters of street design will this problem begin to diminish.
In short, we must learn to share our streets as true members of a community, rather than support oppressive fines and rules that consistently favour one class over another.
Don't target the walkers: target the system
- - - -
Police target walkersJocelyn Bell, The Hamilton Spectator Thursday March 15, 2001
More than 40 pedestrians have died in traffic accidents in Hamilton in the past six years. Last year alone, 470 people were hit by cars. Of the eight who died, three were to blame for the accident.
Police are now gearing up to catch law-breaking pedestrians and aggressive drivers in May as part of the annual road safety blitz.
"People walk out whenever they feel like it," said Hamilton Constable John Rusnak. "It only takes about 40 seconds for the light to change. It's certainly worth life and limb to wait."
About six Hamilton pedestrians die in traffic accidents every year -- a total of 43 since 1995. The May jaywalking blitz will focus on three of Hamilton's worst intersections: King Street East and Wellington Street, Barton Street East and Kenora Avenue, and Ogilvie Street and Governor's Road.
Anyone caught disobeying the signals or failing to use the crosswalk could face a fine of up to $40.
Under the Highway Traffic Act, a person can be charged with failing to use the designated crosswalk if they are within 100 metres of the crosswalk.
"We're just saying: 'Listen --cross the proper way,'" Rusnak said. "We want to reduce the number of people struck on our streets."
Although jaywalking and disobeying traffic signals is a habit that spans all age groups, senior citizens and children are at particular risk of being hurt.
Because children are short, they have trouble seeing cars and drivers have trouble seeing them. Kids are also poor judges of the speed at which an oncoming car is being driven.
Seniors are often less mobile than younger adults and may take longer to cross.
About a quarter of the pedestrians struck and killed each year in Canada are senior citizens.
"Many of the worst intersections are around seniors' residences," Rusnak said. "Drivers need to be patient."
A Canadian Automobile Association spokeswoman says the risk to older pedestrians increases in winter.
"Snowbanks pose a particular problem to seniors," says CAA's Pauline Mitchell.
White hair and a light coloured jacket are enough to make it "difficult to distinguish between a snowbank and a senior standing beside a snowbank."
Hamilton police are trying to spread the message to seniors with a seminar called Step Out Safely. It teaches pedestrian safety tips to senior citizens. The annual traffic safety blitz begins in April with seatbelts and speeding and continues to November.
--With files from John Burman, The Hamilton Spectator