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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

Here's a safety tip for pedestrians and cyclists— walk or ride to City Hall

If pedestrians and cyclists want to protect themselves, the answer isn't reflective clothing, writes Matt Elliott. They need to get political.

Most elected officials at city hall still do not give the needs of pedestrians and cyclists anywhere near the same weight as the needs for drivers, writes Matt Elliott.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Most elected officials at city hall still do not give the needs of pedestrians and cyclists anywhere near the same weight as the needs for drivers, writes Matt Elliott.

I’m not going to tell you not to wear black.

It seems every year around this time — as the days get darker — Toronto pedestrians are advised to wear bright, reflective colours as they walk around, lest they become another statistic.

This year, those statistics are again terrifying. According to numbers from the Toronto police there have been 28 pedestrian deaths this year, with a bunch of those occurring over the last two weeks.

But the numbers don’t mean pedestrians should have to wrap themselves in a string of Christmas lights in the vain hope that it helps them not get mowed down by dangerous drivers.

This kind of advice is nothing more than victim blaming.

Still, the stats are indeed scary. So is there anything pedestrians and cyclists — another group facing regular danger on the road — can do?

Based on my own experience, I’ve got a couple of tips.

First, assume every driver on the road is a madman. Assume that when given a choice between rational and reckless, they’ll choose reckless.

So be better and smarter than them. On a bike, don’t blow through stop lights and do pass on the left. On foot, use a crosswalk if there’s one nearby. Make eye contact with drivers if you can.

But don’t kid yourself: none of that is realistically going to do much when you’re faced with speeding cars, narrow sidewalks, unprotected or non-existent bike lanes and wide roads that operate more like highways than neighbourhood streets.

Which is why my second tip is the one you must remember: to ensure your safety, get political.

The reality of municipal politics today is that elected officials believe there is a strong constituency of motorists who will cast their vote based on their desire to get places in their car without delay.

It’s why Mayor John Tory and Toronto City Council were so quick to approve spending a billion dollars to keep part of the Gardiner Expressway.

While things have gotten a bit better over the last couple of years, most elected officials at city hall still do not give the needs of pedestrians and cyclists anywhere near the same weight.

As a result, it still takes months of political wrangling to get council approval for new traffic lights, even in locations where pedestrians have been killed. Speed limit reductions still run into opposition, even though it’s a fact that lower speeds save lives. And bike lanes remain subject to removal if they do not satisfy arbitrary sets of criteria.

And when council was faced in 2016 with an opportunity to accelerate implementation of the city’s Vision Zero road safety plan — based on the notion that the city should have zero road deaths — a majority rejected it.

There is an opportunity coming to fix that.

Last week, Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam successfully introduced a motion that will give the city’s public works committee another shot at speeding up implementation of the road safety plan.

By bike and by foot, active road users need to show up and demand that outcome — and to demand better infrastructure all over the city.

Forget all that victim-blamey stuff about reflective clothing, cyclists and pedestrians really just need to make themselves visible at City Hall.

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