2013 Villain: Spiking Pedestrian and Cycling Fatalities
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2013 Villain: Spiking Pedestrian and Cycling Fatalities

Nominated for: predictable, avoidable tragedies.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 2 p.m. on January 1. At 4 p.m. we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

villain pedestrian cycling fatalities jeremy kai

2013 saw an abrupt spike in cyclists and pedestrians casualties: a combined affront of negligence and collective self-absorption, created by avoidable problems with stupidly simple solutions.

There was Violet Jia Liang, a 10th grade honours student who was struck while walking by a construction truck near the corner of Sentinel and Lamberton. Carla Maria Warrilow, cycling north on Spadina in October, was pinned and dragged nearly a block. Nearly a month later, a 24-year-old cyclist—Adrian Dudzicki, an up-and-coming squash player—was killed after a car sailed into him on Sheppard Avenue, near the crossing of Yukon Lane. In early November the Toronto Sun reported that 31 pedestrians and three cyclists had been killed in 2013 so far, along with 16 motorists—a five-year high.

The temptation is to point fingers at the usual suspects: weather, lighting conditions, infrastructure and its lack. But it’s also essential to look at the people making choices about how to use the streets, millions of us inhabiting and navigating the same urban island.

The other week a student crossing a major Junction intersection ignored many of my own loud, frantically waved warnings and crossed against a light on foot, vehicles steadily bearing down. Happily, he made it across, but that outcome wasn’t self-evident. A car can create an even more impenetrable bubble. For many they’re extensions of home: safe havens on wheels, lending their operators a sense of sanctuary at best, invulnerability at worst. Far too easily, lapses occur—moments of inattentiveness that can turn deadly. And those of us on two wheels aren’t free from culpability, either. How frequently does the with-us-or-against-us mentality compel cyclists to all but race cars, or to assume that a rolling stop can be safely performed at a busy downtown red light? How often does our screaming need to get there, to simply get around that hulking beast of a 25 Don Mills bus, bring us up on the sidewalk?

Ontario’s chief coroner found last year that 100 per cent of the cycling deaths that occurred between January 1, 2006, and December 31, 2010 had been avoidable. We’d go a little further, even, and say that all the deaths on our streets, whether behind the wheel, on a bike, or on foot, could be avoided.

But before these accidents can become a thing of the past, we’ll have to learn to navigate those streets better, and talk more inclusively about how to build them better, too. And we will have to acknowledge that we share a city, and that none of us is an island.