5 Myths About Jaywalking Pedestrians Who Cause Congestion by Walking Distracted

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CC BY 2.0. Useless vision zero initiative in Toronto/ Lloyd Alter

Studies prove these myths aren't true but nobody is listening.

Where I live in Toronto, Canada, they are finally getting serious about Vision Zero. They are putting up "your speed" indicators one pole away from a stop sign on the other side of the intersection, so that the drivers who blow through the stop sign know that they are going too fast, but otherwise are going to be completely useless.

Oh, and they are also going to make sure that pedestrians don't look at their phones. That's apparently part of the new Vision Zero here, and one of five myths about the deaths and injuries of people who walk in the city that Ben Spurr of the Toronto Star questions, the first of course being:

Myth: Smartphones are a leading cause of pedestrian injuries.

Spurr notes that a University of British Columbia studied 1800 serious or fatal collisions and found only 20 percent involved "inattentive" pedestrians, and "that figure includes different forms of distraction, and isn’t specific to phone use." He just missed the new report from New York City, which Gersh Kuntzman of Streetsblog notes found only 0.2 percent of pedestrian fatality reports blamed “electronic distraction.”

“Cell phone use by pedestrians does not appear to be disproportionately contributing to fatal pedestrian crashes,” the report stated. “In short, despite growing concerns, DOT found little concrete evidence that device-induced distracted walking contributes significantly to pedestrian fatalities and injuries.”

The DOT concluded that "drivers are to blame, and roadways must be made safe so that their errors and speeding do not result in death."

And in Toronto, half of the people killed are over 65, not a group known for tiktoking.

Myth: Jaywalking is always illegal.

It's not. If there is a marked crossing you are supposed to use it, and the police use 100 feet away as a rule of thumb. But any further than that and you are allowed to cross, and drivers have to watch out for you. Meanwhile, after a woman was killed by a hit and run driver last week while crossing mid-block to get to a bus stop (the crosswalks with lights are half a mile apart), the local politician asked for the bus stop to be removed.

Senior Safety Zone

© Sean Marshall/ The Toronto response to people getting killed: add signs

Myth: Pedestrians are usually at fault if they get hurt.

Not so, according to Spurr.

In a 2015 study, Toronto Public Health analyzed police collision reports between 2008 and 2012, and found that in 67 per cent of crashes involving pedestrian injuries and fatalities, pedestrians had the right of way. In about 19 per cent of cases, pedestrians didn’t have the right of way, and in 14 per cent the right of way wasn’t determined.

Serious collisions happen during bad driving conditions.

Spurr finds that the opposite is true. "Police statistics show three-quarters of serious pedestrian collisions between 2007 and 2018 happened when the road conditions were dry, and more than half, or 54 per cent, occurred during daylight hours." People actually drive more carefully when conditions are bad.

Reducing traffic congestion improves road safety.

This is the most pernicious one, the idea that if cars move more quickly, pedestrians will be safer. The Mayor of Toronto says, “I think the congestion we have in this city makes people often drive in a way that is unsafe, because they quickly try to pull around traffic when somebody pulls over just to get a coffee." He then puts cops and traffic wardens at major intersections, but they are there to clear the pedestrians to make the traffic move, not to protect them from getting hit. But as Spurr and every true Vision Zero advocate knows, slower traffic means fewer deaths of people walking and cycling.

And facts don't matter anyway; New York politicians rejected the DOT study on distraced walking and said the DOT should embark on "an aggressive campaign addressing the importance of pedestrians not being distracted." All the commenters on every Toronto article and all over Twitter say that, of course, it is the pedestrians' fault, they are all looking at their phones. This won't change, because nobody wants to believe it. Life in the North American city.