Winnipeg pedestrians making the streets unsafe?

Jaywalkers unaware they’re being unsafe, some say

Pedestrians ignoring traffic laws are causing problems on downtown streets, some say. Cindy Titus

With several reports of pedestrians being struck by vehicles in Winnipeg lately, some are wondering if Winnipeg is too relaxed on pedestrian street laws.

According to Section 88 of the Manitoba Highway Traffic Act, no pedestrian can leave the curb when it is deemed unsafe. This can mean anything from leaving the curb when the red hand is flashing to crossing an intersection on a red light, which is considered jaywalking.

The problem is that these laws are not being taken seriously.

“People’s lives have become so busy,” said Constable Natalie Aiken of the Winnipeg Police Service. “They aren’t aware that they aren’t being safe.”

Aiken said that people are distracted by checking their phone messages or getting to meetings and aren’t paying attention to their personal safety.

Toronto police manned one busy corner and handed out $50 tickets to anybody who was either jaywalking or leaving the curb when it was unsafe, the Toronto Star reported this past January.

Aiken said something like this may work for Winnipeg. She feels that any educational tactic where people are made aware can help deter dangerous behaviour.

In Winnipeg, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ patrols often act as eyes and ears for the police.

However, jaywalking is not on their radar.

“It isn’t something we are responsible for,” said Rick Joyal, manager of safety and development for Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and a former police officer.

Joyal said all the BIZ can do is set a good example themselves and adhere to the rules of the road.

“Maybe if it were a kid we could tell them not to do it, but tell an adult what to do and they’ll turn around and tell you what to do right back,” he said.

People’s lives have become so busy. They aren’t aware that they aren’t being safe.

Constable Natalie Aiken, Winnipeg Police Service.

Part of the prevention that the BIZ Outreach Unit does help with is getting publicly intoxicated people off the streets, especially late at night where a driver may not see them on the road.

However, for many downtown drivers the problem is not intoxicated people at night, but students and business people during the day.

Graham Avenue at Vaughan Street, a particularly problematic intersection, has recently seen a number of traffic accidents involving pedestrians. Just last month, an elderly man was struck by a Winnipeg Transit bus at the corner that is a hub for bus routes.

Kiera Sigurdson, a third-year University of Winnipeg student, takes the bus to school and has to cross the busy intersection every day.

“I try to pay attention, look both ways and wait for the lights to change – but if there’s no traffic then I’ll just go,” she said.

Some believe that to help create a safer community people will have to change their behaviour to set a better example.

“They have to want to do it,” Harold Tabin, owner and instructor of A-Confidence Driving School, said.

Tabin has to deal with unruly pedestrians every day. As someone who is teaching new drivers, he not only worries about his own potential accidents but his students’ as well.

He believes that as long as either the driver or the pedestrian are paying attention, accidents can always be avoided.

“The onus is placed on each individual to act smartly, safely and courteously,” he said.

Published in Volume 65, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 16, 2010)

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