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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Campaign advertises pedestrian deaths

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pedestrian death advertisement

I feel weird and kind of angry about this ad campaign in the metro and in bus shelters around town.

1367 pedestrians were hit last year, one poster advertises, above an image of man tangling with a car in mid-air.

50% of road deaths are pedestrians, another ad tells us, showing a woman’s body being tossed aside by a passing vehicle.

There something if not downright wrong, at least disturbingly politically incorrect about this campaign, which is signed by the City of Montreal, the police department and Quebec. Aren’t they supposed to be promoting active transportation rather than fear-mongering about the dangers of walking around the city? The small print reveals a blame-the-victim approach to pedestrian safety education. It reads: “Zero Accident: Traversez au bon endroit au bon moment” (Zero accidents: cross at the right place at the right time).

The problem with this campaign, which is directed at people who take transit rather than driving, is that these statistics aren’t useful to pedestrians. If police reports had found that a large proportion of pedestrian injuries and deaths occurred in instances where pedestrians were disobeying traffic rules, this would be useful content for an education campaign. But it’s no surprise that the human body is more vulnerable than a ton of fast-moving metal, and few will feel empowered by being made to contemplate this during their morning commute.

The good news is that pedestrian deaths and serious injuries have followed a decreasing trend since 2006. The total number of pedestrian deaths in 2009 was 18 out of a total of 33 deaths in traffic collisions. In contrast with the assumption that kids have the greatest risk of getting hit, two thirds of the victims were over 55 years old.

Engineering, Education and Enforcement

According to a police report (pdf), pedestrian safety is being approached with 3Es: education, engineering and enforcement.

I recently read about one case where pedestrian-friendly engineering has been forgone at the risk of pedestrian safety: Rather put up a traffic light, decrease the speed limit, or redesign a dangerous intersection located near Ludger-Duvernay school in St-Henri, police are removing the crossing-guard and asking children to make a detour on their way to school. According to this parent and blogger, the police attitude seems to be that if parents and students don’t accept the plan, it will be their own fault if someone gets hit.

As for enforcement, 11,900 tickets were given out to pedestrians in 2009 and three times that many were handed to drivers for disrespecting pedestrian right of way.



  1. I don’t think it’s weird that ads directed at pedestrians can be found in the metro. Plenty of public safety messages aimed at drivers can be found on thoroughfares including Sherbrooke, Pie-IX, etc. In the subway there’s a captive audience of guaranteed pedestrians, and they’re trying to reach them any way they can.

    I think it important to note here that while Montreal drivers are dangerous (there’s no denying it) that there are lots of pedestrians who take huge stupid risks, or don’t understand right of way concepts.

    I drive, walk, and Bixi around the city. I understand why everyone is mad at everyone else. There are big numbers of cyclists, pedestrians and drivers who do things that not only endanger themselves but others.

    When driving, I can’t count the number of times that pedestrians walk right into traffic in front of the car, often talking on a cellphone, only to flip me the finger for honking at them when I’m the one who slowed down and saved their life! Conversely, I’ve crossed on foot at green lights only to have drivers try to bump me. That doesn’t apply to pedestrians who cross against the hand or when the light is blinking green- that flashing light means pedestrians stay put! It doesn’t stop montrealers from walking, though.

    Green doesn’t always mean go… And if Montreal has taught me anything, red almost never means stop.

  2. It’s worse, they’re fining people for crossing the road at red lights WHEN THERE IS NO TRAFFIC. 

    This is not building good relationships between the police and the population.

    Be careful around “The Bay” on Ste Catherine.

  3. I find the “zero accident” stickers pasted on various intersections, which accompanying these metro ads, quite offensive as well. The fact is, whether or not they are following the rules of the road, pedestrians are hurt or killed because they are struck by fast-moving vehicles. Faster the vehicle, higher the chance of death. Certainly some law-breaking behaviour is dangerous, but enforcement of this is sporadic, and the unlikely possibility of penalty is not likely to change people’s actions.

    As the work of Patrick Morency at the Direction de Sante Publique has demonstrated, pedestrian crashes are spread throughout the city, particularly along arterials (

    A degree of lawlessness seems to reign over Montreal’s streets, but when they’re involved in an incident, pedestrians (and cyclists) don’t get off easy with a minor fender bender.

  4. I hate the campaing.
    I’ve been living in frnace for over a year now. They cant drive, they fuckin suck at it BUT they respect pedestrians, bikers and wheelers; basically anything more vulnerable than a car gets a special attention.
    Jaywalking is not the problem.
    The problem is drivers who think they own the damn roads.
    Your car has potential to kill, my body doesn’t (not in a car / pedestrian collision anyways). Therefore anyone driving a car must see whoever is on the road, if you cant do that dont drive.

    That said there is no point in being a careless pedestrian, you as a vulnerable softy should know all the time where the cars are. Period.

    So fuck this campaing glorifying the right spots to cross. Tteach the people how to be conscious that they are NOT ALONE.

  5. Pick any corner on Saint-Catherines downtown and you’ll see why these ads make sense. I wholeheartedly agree with Colin’s second to last paragraph.

    That being said, motorists hardly escape blame. At almost every red light I see cars easing into the intersection oblivious to crosswalks and have even once ended up on the hood of a Lexus myself when crossing at a light. A potential solution is to have clearly painted crosswalks and fine any car inside the box on a red (solves gridlock too), but apparently this city does not like painted lines.

  6. I don’t like the city or the cops trying to nanny me. If you cross on a red light you’re taking the chance you might be hit by a car. It is YOUR CHOICE to take that chance or not. I’ve jaywalked practically every day all my life, I’ve never even had a close call. 

  7. It truly is misdirected. How about cracking down on the dangerous driving and lack of respect for the basic rules of the road that is the urban driving culture here? We are still so scared to directly ask people to do anything that restrains their relationship with their precious vehicle.

    I work across Laurier from the Laurier metro. There is a painted crosswalk there and when I cross it cars either zip ahead or behind me or just try and run me down. When I force them to stop, they get angry with me, even though it’s the law! Why don’t they put a sign there? Or even better, a cop and they can then just rack up the tickets.

  8. I agree that this campaign does seem to be rather misguided. No matter what a pedestrian or cyclist has done, a car NEVER has the right to hit them.

    The European approach to road safety for seems more balanced: if there are pedestrians or cyclists in the area, drivers must always be vigilant. Even if the accident was clearly the “fault” of the pedestrian or cyclist, the driver may still be found guilty if they were not exhibiting adequate caution. There is a very clear distinction between “legal” and “appropriate” behaviour. The speed limit may be whatever it is, but if that legal limit is too fast for the conditions (when it is dark, raining, or there are lots of pedestrians around) it is the driver’s responsibility to adapt and to drive safely. There have been numerous cases upholding this.

  9. that’s two tons of steel. Cars haven’t weighed only one ton for a very long time.

  10. Coming from NYC where jaywalking is a way of life and cops don’t care about it I realize it’s more about the assumed risk the pedestrian takes.

  11. Last summer, Ottawa had a ‘pedestrian safety’ campaign–without consulting with any pedestrian groups beforehand–called “Walk like your life depends on it.”

  12. That campaign angers me especially because of the “blame the victim” part. I’ve only been hit by a car once and it was while I had a little white walking dude sign. According to those signs I guess I’m one of the 1,367 and it was my fault.

  13. are you people kidding? I’m a pedestrian traveller for the majority of my travel and it never ceases to amaze me how outright stupid some pedestrians behave. Yes, if you walk directly in front of a car against the light and get hit, it is someone’s fault –and that someone is NOT the driver. I’ve lived in three other countries and never seen people so blatantly disregard both the law and common sense as they do here in Montreal when it comes to pedestrian safety.

    Yes, intersections need to be designed better, but look carefully every time you see an accident in the paper. With rare exception, it is almost ALWAYS some idiot crossing either in the middle of the street in the dark and rain (with kids no less!) or against the light. Wake up people, there are cars on the road!

  14. Je traverse, oui, un peu n’importe où. Cela dit, les voitures ne s’arrêtent pas plus aux intersections (cette semaine, par trois fois, j’ai vu des automobiles brûler des feux rouges), ni aux traverses de piétons. Je me demande toujours : est-il plus sécuritaire de traverser en l’absence de voiture ou en leur présence? …Cela implique donc parfois de choisir un endroit plus original…

    Selon l’article : « As for enforcement, 11,900 tickets were given out to pedestrians in 2009
    and three times that many were handed to drivers for disrespecting
    pedestrian right of way. »

    Il me semble qu’on devrait sensibiliser également les deux côtés, non? J’aimerais connaître les statistiques : qui sont les principaux responsables des accidents?

  15. I think this campaign is disgraceful. It seems to blame pedestrians if they are hit by a car, giving the message that they would be better off if they used a car themselves.
    Why not have crosswalks with pedestrian priority that is rigorously enforced. I have been in three European countries recently, France, Spain and Portugal where it most definitely is. As soon as show your intention of crossing, traffic stops immediately. Once I spent an agreeable hour watching French police issuing tickets to any motorist who did not,
    Why can we not have such a law here? As far as I know it exists elsewhere in Canada. Are Quebec drivers too lawless to obey? Here we are told to walk sometimes 100m twice to cross the road at a controlled intersection which needless to say, has its own particular dangers

  16. A few clarifications to my previous comment. Pedestrians and cyclists should of course also be respectful of drivers. If a car has the “right of way”, then one should let the driver have it. There seems to be a general lack of respect between road users – perhaps this is an extension of the increasingly disrespectful tone of ‘social interaction’ that one finds all too frequently in our media…. Whatever the reasons, it would seem that confrontation has become the norm. And this is not something which can be resolved through more laws. More enforcement may help, particularly if targeted at drivers and not only the “vulnerable” populations. But what is really needed is not “more enforcement” but rather “better enforcement”: some actions are dangerous, other are not; a fine may be appropriate for some things, but in other cases a warning may be more effective. Is the purpose of these operations to improve public security, or is it to fill the coffers of the police departments whose budgets have been decimated by our populist politicians?

    On the other hand, we are all human and we all can make mistakes (ie do something without paying sufficient attention). When a pedestrian or cyclist “makes a mistake” they all too often pay with it with their lives. When a driver “makes a mistake” they may get killed, but they may also kill someone else too. Drivers, as someone operating a heavy vehicle, should always be on the lookout for any possible source of danger. When someone is walking next to a road (or riding next to the curb), a driver should always expect that that person might accidentally fall. Would they be in a position to take evasive action if necessary?

  17. Even if I don’t like the pedestrian-scaring texts attached to the advertising images, the illustrations themselves also work as making cars look dangerous.

    All that’s needed to turn them into anti-car ads is to change the text from the passive to the active voice (“pedestrians were hit” could be changed to “cars hit….”

    As a slogan for the first ad, “Cars hit 1367 innocent pedestrians last year” would work very well at outing the perpetrators of these terrible crimes against walking.

  18. Last summer, there was a similar ad/psa campaign in Washington, DC, though the images were far more graphic. Like many people I know, the first time I saw the images I was shocked. has an example. Not just an abstract figure getting hit by a car, but a fully illustrated woman – and her baby in stroller.

    Having these ads on bus shelters and the like… I doubt they have impact on drivers.

  19. My concern and feel somewhat of an expert on the topic is the falsehoods being portrayed by the reduction in fatalities and serious injuries. The statistics are for Montreal and Montreal only. When my daughter was killed in Westmount in December 2005, she would have been included in the Montreal statistics.
    In 2006 the amalgamation between the cities was reversed and hence Montreal (and Montreal only) is a much smaller district. Might it be that the decrease in the statistics was a mere representation of the smaller city rather than an improvement in safety for vulnerable road users. I’ve seen that the Police have received awards for the reduction, but the award may be better placed with the city planners or lawyers that redrew the boundary lines.

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