The spate was not all that surprising. Late November and early December are when collisions of cars and pedestrians are most common, as this excellent chart by Patrick Cain of Global News shows. The reason is pretty clear — it’s the time of the year when much of rush hour happens in darkness (all of Monday’s collisions happened before sunrise), but drivers and pedestrians have not yet adapted their habitual behaviours to compensate. Anecdotally, these concentrations of collisions also seem to happen more during overcast weather, which presumably accentuates the lack of light during dawn and twilight, and may reduce constrast.
As host Matt Galloway pointed out, many drivers and pedestrians habitually engage in dangerous behaviour. They are usually able to correct for danger at the last second, however. But at this time of year, that last second gets lost thanks to poor visibility, and an increase in collisions is the result.
Can the City government do anything to reduce this yearly spike in collisions? I can think of a couple of things. First is a state of good repair. One of the primary signals to drivers to watch out for pedestrians are the painted white lines at crossing points. These tend to be poorly maintained and often end up severely faded. If before November comes around these were repainted, and burned-out street lamps replaced, it could make that split-second difference to visibility.
A related issue is the zebra-stripe style painted crosswalks at signalized intersections. They’ve been introduced because a pilot project demonstrated they reduced vehicle-pedestrian conflict, presumably by giving a stronger signal to drivers to look out for pedestrians. After the spate of 14 pedestrian deaths in the GTA in January 2010, the first batch were rolled out to major and dangerous intersections. But for the rest of Toronto’s intersections, they are only being painted on when the road is repaved (which means it will take 20 years or so to finish the task). Rolling them out faster could help.
Another measure the City could take would be a safety campaign at the beginning of November each year — one directed at all users of the road, not just at pedestrians. It could remind everyone — drivers, pedestrians and cyclists — that visibility is being reduced and that everyone should take an extra second to look out before proceeding. The police do undertake a safety campaign each year in November to raise awareness, but since they tend to frame it as a crackdown on pedestrians, and police by their nature focus on enforcement, the overall message to all road users gets lost (pedestrians get annoyed, and drivers don’t pay attention). A City campaign could get away from the blame game and be directed at all road users equally — and maybe save a few injuries and even deaths in the process.
photo by Sean Marshall