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Pedestrian advocates plan to protest Sunnybrook's new safety campaign

Walk Toronto's Adam Cohoon says a new campaign from Sunnybrook Hospital is an example of "victim blaming" pedestrians who don't wear reflective clothing.

Walk Toronto member Adam Cohoon is organizing a protest against an upcoming safety campaign by Sunnybrook Hospital that encourages pedestrians to wear brighter clothing. He believes road safety efforts should focus more on driver behaviour and engineering changes like lower speed limits.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Walk Toronto member Adam Cohoon is organizing a protest against an upcoming safety campaign by Sunnybrook Hospital that encourages pedestrians to wear brighter clothing. He believes road safety efforts should focus more on driver behaviour and engineering changes like lower speed limits.

Pedestrian advocates in Toronto are planning to crash the launch of an upcoming safety campaign to protest what they see as “victim blaming.”

But Sunnybrook Hospital, the campaign’s sponsor, is standing firmly behind the Be Alert, Be Seen initiative that encourages pedestrians to wear reflective clothing as we head into the darker winter months.

“We know that statistically this time of year is especially problematic,” Joanne Banfield, manager of trauma and injury prevention at Sunnybrook, told Metro. “We’re trying to highlight things pedestrians can do to keep themselves safe.”

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Representatives from Walk Toronto and Friends and Families for Safe Streets have been quick to condemn the campaign for placing the onus on pedestrians when city data shows drivers are at fault in two-thirds of fatal collisions.

“We have all had experience of having a near miss, or worse, with a car, in broad daylight wearing the most flamboyant colours, yet road safety is continually and dismissively boiled down to the need for pedestrians to change their clothing,” Walk Toronto member Adam Cohoon wrote on Facebook Monday.

Critics say Sunnybrook's Be Alert, Be Seen campaign puts all the attention on pedestrians, who are most often not at fault in collisions with drivers.

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Critics say Sunnybrook's Be Alert, Be Seen campaign puts all the attention on pedestrians, who are most often not at fault in collisions with drivers.

When the campaign debuts Tuesday at police headquarters, Cohoon and his colleagues plan to be there in force. 

“We decided, after much discussion, to … show up in numbers to engage people in conversation, to explain why the thinking behind this gesture is bankrupt,” Cohoon told Metro.

Banfield disputed claims the campaign targets pedestrians over drivers, but said that regardless of responsibility, pedestrians are the ones who “suffer the consequences” of road collisions.

“A pedestrian can have the right of way but still end up dead if they don’t make eye contact with drivers,” she said. “And at the end of the day, we are all pedestrians.”

Banfield said the hospital has seen an increase in serious injuries and deaths related to collisions and she hopes the campaign will help curb the trend.

“What we see in our trauma rooms, we don’t want to see that anymore,” she said. “No one should have to end their life in that way. These are all preventable incidents.”

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