Sunday, January 26, 2014

It's An Issue Of Safety

On Friday, (01/24/2014) the Winnipeg Police Board agreed to study a proposal by city councillor Ross Eadie (Mynarski ward) to install red light cameras at crosswalks. He says that over the years, there has been a growing number of incidents - near misses, accidents and fatalities at crosswalks in the city. Eadie (who is completely blind) says he has nearly been hit three times in recent years. (Click the hyperlinks to see news stories from CBC CTV and The Winnipeg Free Press )

Opponents to red light cameras claim that one of the biggest flaws in the red light camera system is that the ticket is sent to the registered owner of the vehicle rather than the person driving it at the time of the infraction.

Point noted. However, being the registered owner of a vehicle implies that you are accountable/responsible for said vehicle and what happens with/to it. That also means making responsible choices in whom you allow to drive that vehicle and keeping track of who is behind the wheel at any given time.

Drivers are loudly crying foul to this new red light camera idea and claiming it is just another tax grab for the city. In their minds, many drivers feel that the onus is on the pedestrians to make sure the coast is clear before stepping off the curb.

To a degree drivers are right. However, just as we cannot label all drivers as bad, we cannot label all pedestrians as careless in their attempts to safely cross the street. Then again, IF everyone were to obey the laws, then there wouldn't be a need for red light cameras at all!

This post isn't about how much it could cost the city to install these cameras or how much money this could make. 

This post is about overall safety and respect for both drivers and pedestrians.

I suspect many drivers will dismiss my views as naive or out of touch with the realities of being behind the wheel - but I'd ask them to at least pause and consider another point of view.

In full disclosure, I have never driven a vehicle. I am in my mid fifties, have always had low vision and been legally blind since 1990. I have lived in various areas of the city since 1980 and rely on public transit for most of my travels. Like Mr. Eadie, I too have had a few close calls at crosswalks (and some intersections).

Frankly, I hate crosswalks. I avoid them like the plague! IF I have the time and sidewalks are good, I'll walk a couple extra blocks to a controlled intersection rather than using crosswalks. In my experience, drivers tend to treat crosswalks as an annoying slow down. Unfortunately, not all pedestrians can walk that extra distance to a safer intersection to cross, so are at the mercy of respectful drivers.

I know how to use a crosswalk. I know how to activate the blinking lights above the signs so that drivers know I want to cross. I wait for vehicles to stop before I attempt to cross. That can mean waiting several seconds and having to stop at the meridian to press another button and waiting before crossing.

There are thousands of citizens who rely on these crosswalks to get them safely across a busy street on a daily basis. Granted, not all pedestrians are as responsible or cautious as I am while using one. There are those who don't bother to push the button or to take the extra seconds to ensure traffic has fully stopped.

That being said, drivers also have to take responsibility here.

Driving is a privilege - NOT a right. You have to have a valid licence to operate a motor vehicle. That means that you have supposedly passed a written test and driving exam that ensures you are knowledgeable in how to safely operate a vehicle and that you understand the laws. By signing you licence you are agreeing to respect and obey the laws set out by local governments. 

There are of course many good drivers in this city who respect both the power of the vehicle and the rights of other citizens in vehicles and on foot that they may cross paths with.

There are many drivers who tend to think that the laws don't apply to them or that they can skirt the laws if the coast is clear.

There are also some drivers for whom getting behind the wheel is like playing a time management video game. The object is to drive from point A to point B in the shortest time possible while completing as many tasks as possible such as eating food, drinking a beverage, listening to loud music, changing the radio station, texting, talking on the phone and personal grooming - all while encountering obstacles such as red lights, cross walks, flashing lights on school buses and of course the lowly pedestrian!

Distracted drivers are a menace to everyone on the roads - including themselves.

Drivers tend to forget what it is like to be a pedestrian. They've gotten so used to parking a vehicle and walking into their home or across a parking lot to a business that they just don't get the possible issues that can arise for a pedestrian.

Just as all drivers are not created equal - neither are pedestrians. Pedestrians come in all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. FYI - we aren't all jaywalkers, texting, talking on cells or listening to an IPod.

There are people with mobility issues who take a bit longer to cross. Some are hearing impaired, use canes, crutches, walkers or wheelchairs.

For those of us who are visually impaired, we wait for audio cues that vehicles have stopped before we can safely step off the curb. BTW, some of those new vehicles are SO quiet we can't hear them coming which is a whole other danger!

For those of us with a disability, we take our lives in our own hands every time we step off a curb - regardless of whether it is a crosswalk or a fully lighted intersection! Now that is scary!

I believe that drivers who do break the laws at crosswalks and intersections need to stop and think how they would feel if their actions had caused injury or death to someone they loved.

They should also be given a reality check from the pedestrian point of view.

Suit them up with various disabilities to simulate what crossing a street is like for those of us who do it. Put them somewhere on Portage, Pembina, Henderson, Main or any other busy street in the city and let them get a real taste for the challenge! Better yet, have them do it in rush hour and/or mid winter when they have to navigate the snowbanks at crosswalks and intersections!

Years ago, I went through volunteer training at the CNIB. That involved being blindfolded and completing various tasks (indoors and outdoors) to better understand what blind people go through. Even though I was already legally blind at the time, I found the blindfolds and some of the tasks unnerving! Other organizations offer similar simulations to understand the effects of deafness, using a wheelchair, crutches, cane, walker and general aging.

After being immersed in a few of those circumstances, I suspect that most drivers would come away with a new perspective and a more respectful view of pedestrians. If that didn't give them a wakeup call then I fear only severe injury or the senseless loss of a loved one would!

Would red light cameras make a difference at crosswalks? It couldn't hurt to try! It also wouldn't hurt to re-educate drivers and pedestrians about safety issues in using crosswalks and intersections.

Like drivers, we pedestrians are just trying to safely get from Point A to Point B.

We need to find a way to be mutually responsible and respectful to each other's rights and ability to share the city streets, intersections and corridors.


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