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Danielle Paradis explores what makes Edmonton a great city.

Edmonton's pedestrians losing in the battle against cars

A thousand of Edmonton's 1,535 vehicle and pedestrian collisions between 2010 and 2014 took place in intersections.

File photo

I’ll always remember when trying to survive crossing the street became part of my college education.

As an undergraduate at MacEwan University, my days began by jumping off the bus at Jasper Place Transit Centre and then trying to safely cross 156 Street.

I never witnessed anyone get run over, but saw pedestrians and bumpers meet a few times as careless drivers sped through the intersection.

There’s a war between people and machines in our cities and people are losing. In the past week alone we saw an 81-year-old woman struck and killed by a driver in west Edmonton, and a young boy hit while walking in a marked intersection.

From 2010 to 2014 there were 1,535 vehicle and pedestrian collisions in Edmonton. A thousand of those took place in intersections.

While in 1924, the New York Times bemoaned “the homicidal orgy of the motor car,” when talking about their effect on pedestrians, cars quickly changed not only the makeup of the city but also the way we think about movement.

It was the automobile industry that campaigned against jaywalking (where the “jay” was a stand-in for a rube), which pushed pedestrians onto sidewalks and let cars reign over the streets.

Today campaigns pop up telling pedestrians to look up from their cellphones to avoid getting hit, even though the near-monopoly motor vehicles have on movement and urban design stacks the deck against the pedestrian.

This week, former Calgary city planner Brent Toderian put that plainly. He criticized Edmonton for the mismatch in funding and policy when it comes to a unified strategy that plans for density, mixed-used development and manoeuvrability for both the pedestrian and automobile.  

Toderian added that Edmonton’s new neighbourhoods offer no alternatives to cars for transportation. Instead of walkability and pedestrian safety, the city’s planning tends to focus on traffic movement, he said.

This is not to say the city has done nothing. There have been safety reports for intersections commissioned and the Vision Zero strategy adopted, which aims to reduce collisions — but the strategy isn’t focused on pedestrians.

While the word “vehicle” appears seven times within the Edmonton Road Safety strategy, “pedestrian” does not appear at all.

Many of the safest cities in North America have ample car-free zones that take the pedestrian away from most interaction with cars. In a well-designed city, there has to be enough space for all of us.