The inattentive pedestrian—righteous, or foolhardy?


Yesterday was Crosswalk Safety Awareness Day. Halifax marked the occasion with a campaign called Heads Up Halifax, urging motorists and pedestrians to stop and lock eyes with each other before proceeding.

Predictably, this produced a column* by Halifax Examiner transportation critic Erica Butler decrying the proposition that motorists and pedestrians share responsibility for crosswalk safety.

The crusade among young Halifax pedestrians and cyclists to persuade each other they bear little or no responsibility for their own safety when crossing a street is murderously reckless. Butler, who continually encourages this utopian fantasy, ought to knock it off before she gets someone killed.

The typical passenger vehicle weighs between 1,000 and 2,000 kg, a typical street-crosser less than 100. It’s a matter of simple physics that the pedestrian will fare worse in a collision between the two. As an engineer friend puts it, “‘She had the right-of-way’ will make a sad epitaph.

Motorists and pedestrians do share responsibility for avoiding collisions, but pedestrians bear the overwhelming burden of their consequences. This doesn’t make them morally superior; it makes them injured or dead. Intersections are dangerous. Everyone should approach them with caution, not least those at greatest risk. Outcomes matter. Moralizing gets in the way.

I suspect the greatest impact on crosswalk safety will be found in design improvements. Butler links to a Weburbanist piece about some interesting trompe l’oeil crosswalks like the one in Philadelphia pictured below.


* Butler’s article is behind the Examiner’s paywall. If you live in Nova Scotia, you really should subscribe. I disagree with the Examiner at least as often as I agree with it, but doing journalism costs money. Editor-publisher Tim Bousquet covers a huge range of issues and stories other local media miss, and stimulates discussions that need to be had.