The “Heads Up” crosswalk safety campaign is back.
Though the creators claim that it’s aimed at both drivers and pedestrians who are distracted by their phones, Heads Up sure sounds to me like it’s squarely focussed on pedestrians.
Maybe it’s because “heads up!” seems like absurdly little to ask of someone operating a motor vehicle. I mean, a driver’s head should always, at a minimum, be up. Whereas pedestrians can walk great stretches of sidewalk safely while staring at a book or a phone or the gum on the sidewalk, so that when they come to an intersection, it’s logical to think “heads up!”
Sure, it’s unstated, but it’s clear to me: the Heads Up message targets pedestrians.
Halifax staffers can say that this campaign is about reducing distracted driving and walking, and there are ads that include drivers. But the effective reality is it sounds like it’s about reducing distracted walking. And in the process, it’s adding to the misconception that pedestrians are the main cause of their own deaths and injuries.
It’s almost as if Halifax has made a conscious decision to ignore the data when designing their campaign. We have hard numbers on pedestrian safety. Check out these vehicle-pedestrian collision statistics tracked by the police.
|Total reported collisions||208||169||262||208|
|% in crosswalk||66.8%||56.3%||59.5%||58.7%|
|SOTs issued to drivers||n/a||n/a||105||81|
|SOTs issued to pedestrians||n/a||n/a||16||6|
There’s a striking difference in the numbers of tickets issued to pedestrians and drivers for the past two years (previous data was not reported). Curiously, the breakdown of SOTs issued to drivers and pedestrians showing this huge gap is NOT included in a similar table on Halifax’s crosswalk safety facts webpage.
This data is telling us something: We have a problem with drivers not following the rules.
And in some cases, it seems, it’s because drivers don’t even know the rules.
To help justify the Heads Up campaign, the city contracted Corporate Research Associates to give online surveys to 402 people about their perception of safety on our streets. For the most part, these public perception stats seem rather useless. The slight differences between pre-campaign and post-campaign surveys could be more than accounted for by the unknown margin of error in the online survey stats.
That said, the results of one question jump out from the pre-campaign survey. Straying from the “personal perceptions of safety” theme of the survey, one question was actually a knowledge test.
When asked, “As far as you know, where do pedestrians have the right of way?”, only 43 per cent of the people surveyed answered in an unmarked crosswalk.
Unfortunately, the same question seems to have been dropped from the post-campaign survey. And since I haven’t seen any Heads Up ads aimed at clearing up the mystery around what constitutes a crosswalk, I’m guessing that ignorance still prevails on this topic.
Last week I attended an open house for Share the Road NS, a project of the Dalhousie Transportation Collaboratory (DalTRAC). In 2013, after researching more than 70 share-the-road campaigns across the world, and after rounds of community consultations across Nova Scotia, they came up with the Thumbs Up campaign.
The Thumbs Up campaign is “open source,” meaning materials are available across Nova Scotia and beyond, and are able to be customized. The region of Waterloo has adopted a version of Thumbs Up strictly geared towards drivers and cyclists getting along.
Thumbs Up is a positive, practical education campaign. It reminds us of some key points about how streets should legally function, and it encourages communication and friendliness among road users.
It’s a shame that Halifax, when presented with the opportunity to put some of their marketing budget behind Thumbs Up, opted for the more divisive, less helpful Heads Up instead.
Of course, education campaigns like Heads Up and Thumbs Up both seem a little lacklustre when compared to the public education components of New York City’s Vision Zero program.
Vision Zero began in Sweden in 1997, when the goal of zero deaths and serious injuries from traffic accidents became national policy. In New York City, pedestrian deaths have been reduced dramatically in the two years since it was adopted.
NYC Vision Zero ads focus on specific and common situations where people can get killed or injured. Not surprisingly, that means the focus is on driver behaviour far more than pedestrian.
They’ve also produced gripping video ads:
But these ads are a drop in the bucket of what New York’s Vision Zero is about. Instead of just asking people to make fewer mistakes (because let’s face it, even the most egregious distracted driving isn’t meant to hurt someone) Vision Zero espouses the idea that we need to design and build streets to be safer for humans.
Here’s just a few of the things New York has done since 2013:
- redesigned crosswalks and intersections for shorter cross times
- reduced the city-wide speed limit from roughly 50 kph to 40 kph
- increased enforcement for violations known to contribute to traffic fatalities (285 per cent more tickets for texting while driving)
- removed corner parking spots for increased visibility at intersections
- installed leading pedestrian interval (LPI) lights, so that pedestrians get a head start on vehicular traffic at intersections
- installed speed cameras in school zones
Read more about the long list of initiatives in NYC’s year two report.
Meanwhile, in Nova Scotia:
Our provincial government is in the process of hiking pedestrian fines in an effort to “level the playing field between drivers and pedestrians.” (I mean really, how do you do that without putting all the pedestrians in cars, or getting all the drivers out of cars?)
Our municipal government is continuing with a campaign that perpetuates the incorrect idea that pedestrian behaviour is the biggest problems on our streets.
While other jurisdictions actually take a stab at saving lives, it seems Halifax and Nova Scotia are focussed on not offending the 78 per cent of Nova Scotians who say their primary transportation mode is driving. Campaigns like Heads Up are a way that our bureaucrats and politicians can appear to be doing something about traffic deaths and injuries, while not stirring up the ire of the drivers out there who might feel threatened by a realistic campaign.
While it may be true that “Crosswalk safety is everyone’s duty,” it is not true that everyone is equally responsible for traffic deaths and injuries in Halifax. And continuing to reinforce this false message will undoubtably end up costing more injuries and lives.