Faux roadblocks are the latest craze in crosswalk safety. This is from China, but the technique has made its way around the world. No word on whether HRM will ever paint one. (Rainbow baby steps, I guess!) From WebUrbanist

If you’re reading this on November 15, 2016, then a very happy Crosswalk Safety Awareness Day to you.

In celebration, the city has launched another round of Heads Up Halifax, its campaign to “help raise awareness about the responsibility shared by drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians when it comes to crossing the street safely.”

As a mandate for a safety campaign, it’s a poor one.

Instead of focussing on reducing causes of injuries or fatalities, it aims to help us see a “shared responsibility” for what happens on our streets.

“Shared responsibility” is not only a red herring, but it actually has the potential to reduce our safety.

The term seems reasonable. There are people walking, there are people driving, there are people skateboarding and wheelchair-ing and now Segway-ing. All these people are prone to screw up once in a while, therefore they are all responsible for what goes wrong on our streets. Sharing is always good, right?

But this concept of “shared responsibility” creates an over-simplified impression that there is one type of responsibility, and it’s carved up equally by everyone on the street.

We are each, of course, responsible for ourselves. That’s not really up for debate. When I leave the house in my car, my bike, in a wheelchair or on foot, I am responsible for doing what’s reasonable to ensure my own safety. I’m responsible for myself.

But I’m also responsible to others.

In addition to my responsibility for myself on the street, I am responsible for the safety of everyone I put in harm’s way as I go about my business.

This is where the measure of responsibility between drivers and pedestrians starts to diverge.

Everyone wants it to be equal (sharing is good!), but responsibility for others is not equally shared, because different modes of transportation bring different levels of risk to our public streets.

When I leave my house on foot, I’m not really taking on any responsibility for the safety of others, because I’m not really posing any danger.

When I leave my house on my bike, I take on responsibility for my own safety, plus the responsibility for the safety of the pedestrians whose paths I cross. A bike at a high speed, though generally not lethal, can still do damage to a pedestrian. So people on bikes are responsible for not doing this damage.

When I leave the house in my car, I’m responsible for my own safety AND the safety of those people whose paths I cross, be they on bike, in wheelchair, or on foot.

Sure, we’re all responsible for ourselves, but we’re also responsible for each other, and with the choices we make, we take on more or less of that responsibility.

Now, a mom talking to her kid might say something like, “Don’t trust anyone. Don’t assume anyone sees you. Assume that noone is responsible for your safety but you.” It’s not terrible advice for a kid walking to school. It is terrible advice for a city full of people driving cars.

Heads Up Halifax is a safety campaign that essentially embodies the voice of that mom talking to her kid. It’s every man for himself out there, whether you’re a pedestrian or a driver. That’s the message of “shared responsibility.” And it’s not even so harmful for the message it sends to pedestrians (though some would argue it discourages the very healthy and normal act of walking around). It’s harmful for the message it sends to drivers, which is, it’s not all on you.

Well that’s simply not true.

The scariest thing I did after I was hit by a car last fall was get behind the wheel of my own car. Suddenly I realized that my every move had the potential to do to someone else what an inattentive driver had done to me.

Drivers are the most responsible for the injuries and fatalities on our streets. It’s not only common sense, it’s supported by our own statistics. There were 41 tickets issued to drivers from January to September 2016. There were three issued to pedestrians.

Driving is a huge responsibility, much, much larger than walking around, and our safety campaigns should be hammering that message, not subverting it.

It’s not just our city officials. Our provincial government drank the “shared responsibility” Kool Aid, and that’s why they decided to “level the playing field” on fines for pedestrian and driver infractions. They decided that our responsibility for each other is shared equally, totally disregarding the extra responsibility taken on by people driving cars.

Of course, the other problem with “shared responsibility” is that it ultimately leaves out what is arguably the biggest factor in how safe our streets are: engineering.

Our intersections, sidewalks, traffic lights, and crosswalks are painstakingly crafted by city engineers. Unfortunately for Haligonians, our engineers are working from a rule book that reflects the values of a bygone era, when the car was king, and we decided it needed to move freely, everywhere, at all costs. This rule book is currently undergoing “review” by at least one city staffer, but noone is able to say what’s up for review, how long it will take, or what values will be at play in revising it.

In the meantime, let’s hope that the message of shared responsibility doesn’t embolden those drivers out there with a poor understanding of their actual responsibilities on our city streets, such as they are.

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  1. Thanks Colin May for placing a name on those life-enhancing orange flags! I listened to a NORM COLLINS interview at least two years ago in which he explained his orange flag initiative was illegal, according to the Traffic Authority. Oddly enough, they were eye catchers in Kings County at the time. Norm Collins is responsible for the best crosswalk safety measures implemented to date in Bold Halifax.

  2. “Heads Up Halifax” sounds nifty. The “Be Bold Halifax” slogan’s catchy too. Smart little phrases pretend something cool is happening when, in fact, NOTHING is in the works. Halifax has had ample time to deliver action regarding pedestrian safety, especially in crosswalks, and here we are still with just a slogan.

  3. A poor job has been done of teaching drivers and pedestrians the laws concerning crosswalks. Every intersection has marked and/or UNMARKED crosswalks. Drivers often ignore unmarked crosswalks and pedestrians are reluctant to assert their right to cross.

  4. I walk every day and I’ve had many near run ins with cars. I went through a period of being very angry much of the time. Now I’m doing much better; I’m less angry because I’ve given up expecting improvement and am sometimes pitifully grateful when people wave me on except….I’m getting angry again…what are you wavers saying? It seems like you’re saying: “Come on! Get going!” On the positive side, I’m grateful you saw me.

    Well, I’m a walker and you’re a car, so to speak. I’m 74 and have a sore hip sometimes. What’s your rush? Oh, you’re rushing because you can. I remember feeling like everything I had to do and everywhere I had to go was terribly important. Unfortunately, a percentage of my near run ins have included older drivers. So, perhaps it’s the driver/car relationship and that beats my walker/sidewalk relationship. I see. Like a new suit or a new hat, the car puffs you up a bit. On the positive side, I’m due for a new winter coat. Maybe that will puff me up too.

    I’ve actually written the police department and had a nice response. Soon after, I saw a patrol car near where I walk (I had told them where I live and all my lights and crosswalks, etc.). But with lack of decision-making…oh, this is tiring. On the positive side, I’m free to nap whenever I feel like it.

    So, (isn’t it cool to start a sentence with “so” and everybody is doing it)…those buttons at the lights: nuts! I so often walk up to one and just miss the seconds allowed to press it and stand there and wait for the next sequence. On the positive side, it’s a great time to feel grateful for not being a Type A person.

    Walkers: wouldn’t it be fun to come to a crossing and have every car in every direction come to a stop? No right hand turns, no flashing greens…maybe our anxiety would disappear. Nah; there I go feeling optimistic again.


  5. I’m a pedestrian every day commuting to work, and I’m very alert and try to take responsibility for my own safety, but still I have frequent close calls. I’ve had drivers almost hit me that were more than half a block away when I entered the intersection, and others that were stopped at a stop sign when I started to cross. Eye contact isn’t always possible. Unless the rule is don’t cross the street when there are any cars in the vicinity I’m not sure what more I can do.

    The biggest issue is that drivers simply aren’t looking for pedestrians. Most will stop if they see you, but many regularly drive through crosswalks without looking. The worst scenario is a driver turning right with their head turned left to look for a gap in traffic, and driving through two crosswalks without any thought that a pedestrian might be there. “Look both ways” applies to drivers as well. When I’m driving I try to treat every intersection as if it has a pedestrian in it until I’ve checked to make sure it doesn’t

    The city’s new “stop and lock” furthers this problem by again putting the emphasis on the pedestrian (I don’t think drivers are being told to stop at every crosswalk). We need increased education and enforcement for drivers. A cop walking the streets for an hour each rush hour could hand out plenty of tickets, but from what I’ve seen tickets are only issued if there’s a collision. Laws around unmarked crosswalks need to be publicized better as well.

  6. I agree in regards to shared responsibility but I’d like to note that I’ve noticed an erosion in pedestrian rights at traffic lights. Now that engineers can program lights they seem to have set them to encourage traffic flow at the expense of the right to cross. I’ve often seen and experienced crossing lights at intersections that don’t change unless ‘you press the button’. What happened to just letting the ‘little white man’ come on when the right to cross exists. Looks to me like over engineering because we can. Just letting the light change could reduce the costs of buttons, programming, maintenance, wasted brain power, etc…

  7. Discussing who is more responsible for crosswalk safely tends to distract from the reality that driver-pedestrian collisions are only a small fraction of car crashes. Drivers also crash into signs, buildings, trees, railings, and each other. When it comes to deaths and serious injuries from car crashes, 15% are pedestrians, 70% are drivers and passengers. A crosswalk safety campaign that emphasized better driving might have benefits beyond crosswalks.

    Regarding 30 km speed limits – the safely of lower speeds is obvious. There is more time to see hazards, more time to react, shorter braking distances, and collisions are less serious. The physics of crashes are such that a small reduction in speed has a large reduction in crash forces. The downside is minimal. Lowering the maximum in town speed has very little effect on the average speed or traveling time, due to stops at lights, stop signs, traffic, and so on. More information about the costs and benefits of lower speed limits is available here:

  8. I, too, love the flags – they stand out, people can wave them, and they seem a relatively low cost and low tech solution to some crosswalk issues.
    But it’s the engineering of the roads that is really at fault. I’ve lived here for years and still can’t figure out how to negotiate some of the roads – lanes vanish; you are encouraged by signs to choose one lane only to find out it has transmogrified into a turn lane and you have to make a swift lane change; and on one corner down by the waterfront there are three roads merging into one, each with a different requirement for pedestrian behaviour. I nearly got hit by a bus there, trying to follow what I thought were the rules. Needlessly complex and dangerous.
    God forbid you have a mobility issue. Lights change as soon as you put a foot on the crosswalk, there are no centre islands, and often the curb cuts are nowhere near the crosswalk.
    I think we should cut back on the rum ration for the traffic planners and sit them down with some decaf coffee and a big map.

  9. The bright flags showing up at crosswalks are interesting because they are so visitble, even when they’re not use. It makes sense because they’re stored at a height where drivers naturally look for trouble, as opposed to yellow lights 20 feet in the air ot black and white signs at 12 feet or so. It makes you wonder if crosswalk lights would be more effective if they were in the same position as those flags.

    1. Norm Collins deserves recognition for 2 years of banging his head against the HRM wall in an effort to convince police,councillors, the inept ‘traffic engineer’ and others who threw every block in front of his sensible,low cost aid to pedestrian safety. Amazing that it took all that time, effort and numerous presentations by one person, yet several multi coloured crosswalks in high profile locations suddenly appeared out of thin air.

    2. I agree Bill, particularly after dark when there’s a breeze. The fluttering flags caught my attention on Victoria Road before I spotted a young person in dark clothing approaching the crosswalk.

  10. I would just add that there needs to be a concerted effort by police to enforce existing laws. Drivers regularly turn right at red lights and stop signs without stopping before they turn. They quickly look left for oncoming cars and if there at none, they turn and god help the pedestrian who may be using the cross walk legally. This would explain the inordinate number of “car pedestrian collisions” at intersections.

    The best example of how enforcement serves to educate drivers occurs at the plaza on the Dartmouth side of the McKay Bridge. On the way down the hill to the bridge there is a posted speed limit of 50km per hour. Drivers regularly slow down to no more than 55km and that is simply because when people get speeding tickets they warn friends, neighbours and coworkers not to speed in that location. Over time, I have noticed that drivers start to come down faster than the limit and that’s when the radar guns come out and of course, traffic starts to go back close to the posted limit.

    I believe that many drivers don’t actually know that they have to stop before turning right on red or at a stop sign. This belief stems from a confrontation I had with a motorist near the Metro Centre. After almost hitting me and hearing my hand slap the side of his mini-van – I know I shouldn’t have – he slammed on his breaks and came back to confront me. When I explained that he almost hit me and that he is supposed to stop, he informed me that he didn’t have to stop because he was turning right. Obviously he has never had the benefit of a quick tutorial on traffic law in the form of a $ 200 + traffic ticket.

    1. That’s a good example Trevor. Approaching the McKay has slowed down a lot over the years. I wonder how much the signs showing your speed has to do with it too.

  11. I love the new campaign. The bus boards have what appears to be an MMA confrontation motif that uses a catch phrase of a psychopathic would be assassin from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. That screams shared responsibility to me.

    I love it when clever ad boys and girls use the familiar totally out of context. It makes me smile at their ignorance and stupidity.

    “You looking at me” indeed.

  12. Yes driver inattention is a crime; but pedestrian inattention is just plain stupid. You are right, as pedestrians, we control whether we step into harms way on any roadway… full stop. I am not defending bad drivers; but I am certainly not going to let stupid or lazy pedestrians of the hook… there are no pedestrian/vehicle accidents… these are incidents of stupidity that are in almost every case imaginable, a preventable incident if the pedestrian paid attention like their life depended on it… which in fact it does. So punish bad drivers, that is a given; but demand that pedestrians MUST look out for themselves first and foremost… to not do so is just plain stupid… and this stupidity can cause a loss of life that was and is in most cases preventable by every pedestrian.

  13. Reducing speed limits to 30 km/h, at least in residential neighbourhoods and shopping districts frequented by pedestrians, would serve best to reduce pedestrian fatalities and injuries. It also would lower air pollution and noise levels, having a generally calming effect in areas where instituted.

      1. Reducing speeds to unrealistic levels generally makes highways less safe. Most drivers won’t observe them. Some will. This increases the range and predicability of speeds on the roadway, causing more harm than good. The goal of such campaigns is not safer outcomes sop much as the warm feeling of superiority they induce among the proponents.

        1. A speed limit of 30 km/h on the street on which my house is located is not an ‘unrealistic level’, and I don’t think that it is for most residential side-streets in Nova Scotia. Also, if you enforce the speed limit, people will slow down. Or, there are always traffic ‘calming’ measures that can be taken, and in parts of the peninsula I would be strongly in favour of such measures (on cut-through streets like Oak, Allan, Harvard, Pepperell, Vernon, MacDonald, etc.), and this is also true of similar streets in Dartmouth, Spryfield, Clayton Park, Bedford, etc. If a driver is really in a hurry and throws caution to the wind, I would like it made extremely difficult for that driver to speed through residential neighbourhoods when using them as short-cuts. Also, simply stating that the reduction of the speed limit on residential streets to 30 is an unreasonable or unrealistic act that would make such ‘highways’ less safe, seems dubious to me, like the notion that mandating seat belt use would make driving potentially more dangerous by trapping people in the car after an accident, or that legislating behaviour would result in flagrant violations of the new law. Sure there are a few folks who do not use seat belts, but the law has been around for ages and the vast majority of us comply with it. There are places in the world I have visited where speed limits on residential side streets are 30, and where photo radar helps to insure that speeding on such streets results in a fine; I did not feel any sense of moral superiority on the part of residents in those places, but maybe I am just insensitive.

        2. Parker Barss Donham obviously didn’t take the time to read up on posted speed signage and it’s affect on saving lives and reducing accidents when the limit is lowered. I’m at a loss to understand his statements without any supporting facts as he is not a civil engineer or mathematician according to his bio.

          I’m just guessing he feels superior and enjoys that warm feeling by making sweeping statements about something he certainly is not qualified to make.

          Mind you neither am I in position to make such statements but I did find the time to read what qualified individuals do say and learned something.

      2. Go to google scholar and search “lower speed limits safety” and you’ll see a whole pile of peer-reviewed research showing that lower speeds mean fewer collisions, fewer injuries, and fewer deaths.

        1. I am more interested in the claim regarding ‘ less pollution and less noise’.
          In Nova Scotia a death on a highway may be ‘ suicide-by-car ‘ and is not recorded. As we don’t have inquests the public is in the dark on the probable cause of death.

  14. I agree with everything you’ve said! But…

    I’m going to be a grammar nazi now…

    There’s people walking [ no, there are people walking, not there is people walking], there’s people driving [no there are people driving, not is people driving], there’s people skateboarding [there are people skateboarding, not is skateboarding].

    One of my pet peeves is the degradation of language. I understand that language evolves, grows and shrinks. But as a journalist, I think clarity is paramount. As I said, a bit of a grammar nazi!


    1. I’m the editor here… and I saw this and paused. But I left the “there’s” because it’s colloquial, serving to make a point. I realize it’s not grammatically correct, but it IS rhetorically correct, so I let it stand.

  15. 1. the first traffic codes predate the automobile, and give right of way to horses.
    2. Maritime law gives right of way to the least maneuverable vessel. the smaller you are the more things you need to stay out of the way of.
    3. the idea that anyone else is responsible in any way for keeping me safe is wrong, and goes against every occupational health and safety principle taught.

    Drivers in this city are atrocious, and have a dubious understanding of the rules of the road. this isn’t helped by inconsistent lane markings and signage. engineering and driver education need to be fixed. I don’t walk or drive into the roadway unless its abundantly clear what the other drivers intentions are.I don’t trust them to keep me safe.

    1. Not sure how you square #3 with the existence of and legal requirement for public liability insurance. Or the prosecution of employers for negligence in ensuring a safe environment for their workers.