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Why car culture is back in black in Edmonton

Pedestrians should wear reflective tape to stay safe, city campaign proposes.

Screengrab/City of Edmonton

A motorist hit a 19-year-old man in a marked crosswalk last week. He later died. It was Edmonton’s 18th traffic fatality of 2016, a sobering statistic indeed. 

What should we do? Well, according to a new Edmonton advertisement, similar to many other cities, it’s on pedestrians to find a solution. 


Consider the ‘Look out for each other’ campaign.  

The city opened consultation for their annual transportation safety campaign last week. The “Heads Up, See Me” advertisement illustrates a stick man with reflective strips on his arms and ankles. The proposed sign reads, “Look Out for Each Other.” The ads are also tied to the city’s Vision Zero campaign. 

But these ads miss the intent of Vision Zero.

In his blog, ward 11 candidate Troy Pavlek explains why. “... [T]his ad does significant harm to the Vision Zero iniative [sic] by educating drivers that pedestrians are at fault for collisions,” he writes. “The city is stating [sic], with our current system, if you cross a 60km/h road at night you will be hit by a multiple ton piece of metal, even without driver error.” 

He’s right. 

The focus of the Heads Up campaign is to encourage pedestrians to remain visible. Drivers are just sort of forgotten.

The reason, according to the city, is that statistics show pedestrian collisions tracked between 2010-2014 skyrocket during the fall months, when light is low. 

But the campaign is car culture run amok into victim blaming rather than driver shaming. It’s a hop, skip and a jump away from saying, “Yeah maybe he was struck by a car — BUT WHAT WAS HE WEARING?”

Sure, it’s beneficial to all pedestrians to have policies that slow traffic, narrow roads and increase bike lanes. But shouldn’t drivers still bear some responsibility — especially when, anecdotally, it seems a large chunk of pedestrian killed by drivers are hit in marked crosswalks?

Toronto recently came under fire for the same type of pedestrian-focused advertising, with many opponents calling the ads warning pedestrians to stay aware, “pedestrian-shaming.” 

The campaign, called Stay Focused, Stay Safe used much of the same rhetoric we’re seeing in Edmonton. 

Sweden created the first Vision Zero strategy, and it caught on in many American cities like New York and Boston. Last September, Edmonton city council bragged it was "the first Canadian city to officially adopt Vision Zero.”

As the name suggests, the goal is to reduce traffic related deaths to zero.

Design is important, and awareness campaigns help everyone pay attention.  

But it is still important to insist to drivers that they share the road. I don’t think the citizens of Edmonton who make their way around on foot should bear the sole responsibility for staying safe against the driver of a vehicle, especially when pedestrians are run down in the crosswalk. 

What good is reflective tape, after all, when our streets are designed like the Autobahn — big, wide lanes that suggest they are the exclusive domain of the driver? 

It’s time we also include motorists in the responsibility game on Vision Zero.

- This column has been edited from the original post to correct an error about Troy Pavlek. 

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