Making the Streets Safe for Walkers (slowly)

Two interesting pedestrian initiatives are coming to the Works Committee of City Council on Monday, Sept. 11.

The first is a proposal to extend the crosswalk improvement program already begun on major arterials to minor arterial roads (PDF). It’s a straightforward and useful proposal. The interesting thing is that, unlike many feel-good pedestrian gestures, it will cost some real money ($6.5 million over 4 years). This is a good opportunity to see if council is willing to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to pedestrians. Even if it is approved, it will have to be watched to see if it gets cut when the budget crunches come.

The second item is a proposal to put zebra markings at all pedestrian crossovers (PDF) at traffic lights and crosswalks. The markings will be added as streets are re-paved, which means it will take about 20 years to do the whole city. The plan will come at no extra cost to the city, because it will reduce the number of expensive concrete/paver crosswalks the city puts in. The city has been testing various methods of creating long-term markings, and I hope they’ve found a better one — the zebra stripes put in on College as a pilot when it was re-paved are already coming off.

A fascinating part of this proposal is the study of two pilot intersections the city did to see if these zebra stripes made a difference. They looked not only at collisions, but at vehicle-pedestrian conflicts (which they don’t define, but I assume it means, for example, where cars get uncomfortably close to crossing pedestrians). At Mount Pleasant and Eglinton, the zebra markings reduced such incidents by 82%, rising to 88% after six months — an extraordinary difference. (The difference at the other intersection wasn’t notable because there weren’t a lot of conflicts in the first place). Surveys also showed that pedestrians felt noticeably more comfortable when using zebra crossings.

The study started quite a long time ago, so it’s good to see it finally coming to fruition. Council had better pass it before the election — any more delays would be ridiculous.

(It also reminds me of a place in Oxford, England where a zebra crossing was combined with a speed bump, resulting in a street sign that read “Warning: Humped Zebra Crossing”.)

photo by Adam Krawesky 


  1. I find crosswalks one of the hardest things about driving in Ontario – I’d much prefer a traffic signal than those overhead Xs, having the added advantage of less overhead wires and clutter. Where the existing ones are I’d like to see rumble strips to enhance the awareness of approaching traffic.

  2. I don’t think fancier decorations are needed to keep pedestrians from getting struck. Pedestrians have to pay more attention.

    I see people punch the crosswalk button and frog-march out into traffic, occasionally with their fingers jabbed upward into the sky, unaware or indifferent to anyone bearing down upon them. In the many cases, a car has to make a 50kph to 0 stop in the time it takes someone to cross one lane of road, which is a great opportunity for a rear-end collision.

    About 1 out of every three times I encounter a pedestrian crosswalk lit up, I see (or have to) make a crazy scramble stop because the crossing pedestrian thinks they’re immune. Yes, they’re entitled to cross, and cars are required to stop, but they’re just begging to get hit.

    I ride a motorcycle a lot of the time; about once a week someone does something that is clearly illegal, clearly dangerous, and I need to do something to stay safe, but what can I do? Pay attention and stay out of their way. Being right doesn’t help if you’re dead.

    Still, yay for the zebras.

  3. Ummm,

    Yes, you do have to stop for pedestrians. And no, we are not asking to be hit. I hate this attitude that the streets are for cars and the rest of us have to be careful. The roads are for all of us. And I have right of way when crossing the street. There’s also something called vehicular manslaughter. You wouldn’t want to be guilty of that. It’s expensive and you might have to sell that shinny (and probably noisy) bike.

    I have been nearly run over and yelled at by motorists enough to see that they can stop. They just don’t like to. I’m sick of being honked and at called names by uncouth polluters just because I choose to use my legs as my mode of transportation. (That goes for you too cyclists!)

    YOU CAN STOP! You have to stop. If your car cannot stop in time, get a new car.

    When you drive, look around and look ahead and if someone is near the cross walk, slow down in case they might decide to cross.

    You wouldn’t want to have to wash all those nasty brains out of your grill and off your windsheild.

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