Look both ways

For pedestrians to be safe, we can't assume that streets are inherently for cars

By PETER NORTON, The Globe and Mail

You've seen them. Pedestrians on sidewalks or even crossing streets, faces down, their attention more on a device than on their surroundings. Such "phone zombies" can be a nuisance to other pedestrians. The practice can also be dangerous. Responses have varied. A few Chinese cities have tried dividing sidewalks to separate device users from other walkers. Some cities have special signs or lights for phone users. In Honolulu, pedestrians can now be fined if police deem their phone use hazardous. Ontario is considering a similar measure.

The most recent national data from 2015 show that 283 pedestrians were killed in Canada. In the United States, 5,376 were killed – a 10-per-cent increase over 2014 and the highest pedestrian death toll in almost 20 years.

Pedestrians will become visible to drivers only when drivers expect them to be in streets. The success of shared space in several European cities gives us a clear duty at least to consider it for North American cities. But as long as we are the heirs of a history we don't know, and which misleads us into assuming that streets are inherently for cars, and that we North Americans always preferred it that way, we will not give this method the attention it deserves. And until we overcome this obstacle, pedestrians will keep getting killed.


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