A lot of Torontonian’s would agree to the notion that newly elected Mayor Rob Ford rode a wave of discontent in to office, by stirring up public contempt and dissatisfaction against big easy targets like overspending and waste. Among the many populist positions he took to ride such waves of public opinion was the greatly trumped up “War on Cars”, and the enormous frustrations that most people in Toronto feel about our now infamously long commute times, and notoriously noxious and congested roadways. But aside from the fact that the downtown core was never laid out and designed to carry this much surface, much less subterranean, traffic…Why should we get bogged down in these wars of words and rhetoric, where motorists, and cyclists and perhaps someday even pedestrians get turned against each other…Often to just serve short term political ends.
It might seem obvious to take a more collective approach to solving traffic related issues, but before taking a slide down that slippery slope of self-interests, perhaps we could at least declare a truce in the War on Cars. Not with some egotistical remark from some individual politician or lowly blogger, but with just one more example of how truly ridiculous the entire notion (and election platform pillar) really is.
Representatives from The Toronto Police and Traffic Services have had to step up public awareness of basic safety issues after 16 pedestrians have been injured in only 2 days. The most regrettable accidents are the ones that could easily have been avoided, and this particular rash of incidents points to many small factors that are entirely within the control of Pedestrians. So once again, we need to look at a problem from the point of view of personal responsibility, before we can start to fine tune the external factors that would help alleviate traffic and safety issues for everyone…
During this Summers never-ending scourge of ‘Economic Stimulus” roadwork, it’s been satisfying to at least see some new signs of social-awareness springing up on our ravaged road-spaces. Out of all the surprisingly positive side effects to the chaos that surrounds us all on our roads, one of the most thought-provoking examples is a temporary pilot project that was run in Vancouver BC. This ‘Social Science’ experiment took visual communications, driver awareness, and personal responsibility to a whole new level by creating 3D optical illusions that tapped into people’s involuntary reflexes, and primal responses to try and curb traffic safety issues. In what promises to be a useful study in developing new traffic safety methods, this homegrown project is definitely a first here in Canada, and could possibly lead to new methods for the rest of the entire world to emulate as well!
But why all the newfound interest in using pavement surfaces for visual communications? After all the recent infrastructure projects (water, gas, etc) that seem to leave the final re-paving as nothing more than a token gesture, or delayed afterthought, have effectively riddled our roads with countless deeply sagging pavement patches, or jarring bumps and humps that are literally accidents waiting to happen. So, maybe it’s just our basic instincts kicking in here and compelling us to warn each other of dangerous road conditions, as an act of collective self-preservation…Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before our roads become cluttered with too much information as well?
So, for whatever the reasons, people are giving some serious thought to their cityscape and personal safety. Giving rise to all sorts of notable examples of people reclaiming their city streets with peaceful, beautiful, and socially aware acts of vandalism.
This one project in particular though is actually enjoying official sanction by the government, and stands head and shoulders above he rest for it’s 3-dimensional artistic merit, and strong messages of road safety and social responsibility. Some images just speak for themselves, and this one is brought you by the British Columbia Automobile Association’s BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation and Preventable.ca and can be seen on 22nd street in West Vancouver, north of Inglewood Avenue.
To learn what this experimental pilot project is saying about Driver’s behavior…
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It seems that the Toronto Police were going after some low hanging fruit this week, in a bid to write more tickets, and “raise awareness” for regulations that govern Cycling and Pedestrians on our streets. Since the Media would not likely be interested in a straight informational press release on such things, the added interest of cops going on a “zero-tolerance” blitz, was enough to get this issue into the papers where it belongs. Unfortunately some papers took this as another opportunity to stir up abit more rancor between Motorists and Cyclists…
Most people are pretty good at thinking on their feet, but nobody’s arguing that we couldn’t use better set protocols to fall back on as well…Especially when trying to avoid dangerous urban traffic snags, or at least unsnarling any incidents with an added measure of basic diplomacy. But how do we optimize the flow, and smooth the social bumps, without conceding our freedom and Autonomy to some vision of greater “efficiency”. Some pre-Orwellian version Central Traffic Control that safely auto-pilots us around within rails and fences like well-tempered livestock…
Deep down, most people might prefer being enabled with better social protocols available to them when it comes to negotiating their way through traffic. Systems that don’t dictate, but rather relate conditions (such as who arrived first at an intersection!) in a more universally effective fashion without needing to rely on systems that need to change the world around us first.
Unfortunately, popularised use of public CB Radio never made it past the 70’s, so the only usable ‘public broadcast’ tools that we have on the road are a handful of visual signals, and our crude but effectively alarming horns and bells. Nevertheless, since Cyclists still have the most safety to lose in any traffic mêlées, let’s pause to consider a communications experiment that involves our existing but oddly underused bike bells…Rather than just ringing them willy-nilly without rhythm or good reason.
Anybody who’s been anywhere near a moving electric car has probably been astounded by the stealth of it’s silent approach, but this became a safety concern for some special interest groups, who felt that industry standards were needed for everyone’s greater safety. The question isn’t so much ‘why’, as much as it is ‘how’ this noise will be made, and ‘what’ will it sound like? So, back in 2008, the experts at the Geneva-based United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the body responsible for harmonizing global vehicle regulations, started working on a set of minimum noise standards designed to prevent the uber-quiet Electric Vehicles (EV’s) from becoming a safety risk to Pedestrians – particularly young children and the blind. The results of this initiative are the Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians (VSP) standards, which we can already see (uhm ‘hear’) demonstrated in the new Nissan Leaf.
In a Perfect World ?!?
From the very outset, let’s be perfectly clear… Pedestrians on our city streets are assured the inalienable and basic human right to safe and secure access to our public spaces…Except when this access encroaches upon the open roadways, and contrary to traffic laws of course. The key issue here is the assurance of the Personal Responsibility required from all road users in assuring the protection of each other and ourselves. So if everyone is keeping public safety first in mind, then many other issues can more easily fall into place by default…Especially if we could evolve some of our traffic flow protocols along the way, once we can assure that the basics are being properly respected!
So what we’d like to consider here are not ways to limit the free reign that Pedestrians enjoy at Green lights (and sometimes abuse, just like any others on the road), but rather how Pedestrians can be more aware and participative in contributing to the smooth flow of traffic when things get abit tricky. Thus making our streets safer for everyone.
Of course we’ll be looking at this from the Cyclists point of view, and focusing on the one tool that we have to communicate danger to Pedestrians by learning to use our bike bells in a way that Pedestrians can appreciate, and respond more positively to…Perhaps from there maybe even considering a few basic signals as well