Let me get this straight: a 76-year-old man is struck and killed while crossing an intersection in the city’s east end, and the suspect driver flees the scene. Two days later, a woman, while traversing a pedestrian crosswalk, is hit by a remiss automobile chauffeur, eventually dying of her injuries a few days later. Witnesses say that the motorist seemingly ignored a red light. (“Police preach pedestrian safety after three deaths,” Gazette, February 3, 2016, A-4)
The reaction of the police to all of this is to take to the streets in search of pedestrians to whom they can lecture about the importance of road safety. Why, the officers of the law even found the time to distribute pamphlets to those they intercepted.
One can only wonder if the forces of order consumed as much energy – or perhaps, dare I say, more – on attempting to track down the criminal motorist responsible for the death of the 76-year-old walker in Montreal’s east end? Neither do we know the consequences, if any, faced by the negligent driver who ran a red light, overseeing one of the city’s notoriously perilous crosswalks, with fatal consequences. No, instead, pedestrians are not so subtly rebuked for having had the temerity to come out in greater numbers as a result “this winter’s warm weather.”
In choosing one approach over the other, the police are, however, only reflecting the priorities of a society that simply does not valorize those who choose to move around on foot as opposed to those who prefer to be behind the wheel of a powerful and cozy automobile.
Pierrefonds-Roxboro city councillor Justine McIntyre touched upon this fact when, about opting to proceed about on foot instead of driving, she wrote: “Everything in the layout and urban fabric tells you you’re not supposed to. The message is: If you’re not in your car, you are wrong.” (Gazette, February 15, 2016, A-9)
McIntyre made five specific observations based upon her experience of walking instead of driving. I would like to comment on three of them.
Firstly, Councillor McIntyre notes “that certain intersections are very risky when you are actually trying to walk across the street instead of zipping through that yellow light in your car.” While writing primarily from the perspective of a suburban resident, her remark is equally valid (perhaps even more so) for those living in the city centre.
For instance, during last February’s brief, bitter cold spell, I found myself crossing St. Jacques Street, at Peel. With the pedestrian light in the final countdown, I was sandwiched in by two snug, yet nevertheless impatient drivers, one of whom passed in front of me while other slipped behind. As a regular downtown rambler, it is far from the first time I have experienced such precarious haste.
Secondly, McIntyre observed in addition that motorized vehicles “are also very, very loud.” Indeed, they are, and that is without factoring in the often-unnecessary use of the extremely meddlesome car horn, which is employed more often than not to express anger and frustration rather than out of a genuine safety concern. It’s an old issue in Montreal, as the general tumult created by the automobile was in fact the subject of an editorial in the now-defunct Montreal Star – back in July of 1910!
Thirdly, Justine McIntyre writes that “car-friendly and pedestrian-friendly cannot co-exist,” an assertion with which I totally concur. How could one think otherwise when, returning to the Gazette article of February 3 last, Montreal police inspector of road-safety, André Durocher, offered up this revealing, yet distasteful metaphor: “Road safety is like a food chain, and pedestrians are at the bottom of the food chain.”
Surely individuals who choose to walk rather than operate a multi-purpose, gas-powered vehicle deserve greater consideration than being placed “at the bottom of the food chain.” Many drivers need to be reminded that each and everyone who habitually choose to get about on foot are helping the overall community in so many ways, and that it should not be taken for granted.
By not adding additional noise, congestion, pollution and danger to the city’s roads and highways, pedestrians should be treasured, and not relegated to the bottom of some collective pecking order.
Below, Mexico City’s ‘Peatonito’ at work on that town’s streets