Edmonton Traffic Safety PSAs Blame Jaywalkers, But Stats Tell a Different Story

A chart showing who -- and what -- Edmonton motorists strike when they crash their cars quickly dispels any rationale for blaming victims.

Can you find the jaywalkers? Image: Chris Nelson/Twitter
Can you find the jaywalkers? Image: Chris Nelson/Twitter

As in many cities, officials in Edmonton, Alberta, have a track record of responding to traffic fatalities with victim-blaming “public education” campaigns.

This tactic — shifting responsibility to the people most vulnerable to traffic and away from the people piloting multi-ton, high-speed vehicles, in the process absolving governments that design dangerous roads — doesn’t sit well with many Edmonton residents concerned about traffic safety.

That includes Chris Nelson, who commutes to work by walking and bicycling. He used the city’s own motor vehicle collision data to make a chart showing who — or, more often, what — is on the receiving end when Edmonton motorists crash their cars. It quickly dispels any rationale for focusing on jaywalking.

Of the more than 27,000 crashes recorded in Edmonton last year, 91 percent involved another motor vehicle. Of crashes that didn’t involve other cars or trucks, three-quarters were with things that do not move, like signs, poles, barriers, trees, fences and buildings. Of the 478 collisions in which a driver struck a cyclist or pedestrian, just 51 involved people crossing without the right of way. And of the city’s 10 pedestrian fatalities last year, just one was crossing without the right of way.

Despite these facts, the city and province have focused heavily on blaming jaywalkers for traffic fatalities.

Last year, the city released a “Vision Zero” ad that featured a stick-figure pedestrian wearing reflective bands on its arms, wrists, and ankles. “Heads Up. See Me,” it warned.

The city also installed a sign telling pedestrians to “never jaywalk” and “always use crosswalks” — just feet from where two pedestrians were killed in the crosswalk in separate crashes, one by a turning driver and another by a driver running a red light.

“It feels like a punch in the face from the city,” one of the victims’ friends told the Edmonton Journal.

Then, months later, the province released an ad showing a driver striking a cartoon crash test dummy in a crosswalk, while the pedestrian dummy wore headphones, consumed alcohol, and looked at a mobile phone.

“It was meant to remind pedestrians that, though they may have the right of way, driver behavior cannot be guaranteed and pedestrians can stay safe by being alert and paying attention to their surroundings,” a spokesperson for the provincial transportation department told Metro. The province withdrew the ad after people complained about it.

Blaming pedestrians for causing traffic fatalities makes about as much sense as this ad. Image: Chris Nelson/Twitter
Blaming pedestrians for causing traffic fatalities makes about as much sense as this ad. Image: Chris Nelson/Twitter

Lately, it seems Edmonton’s city government is getting the message. “We need to start by recognizing that some users are more vulnerable than others,” Mayor Don Iveson said in March, according to Metro, “and the more we draw people out into our streets and public spaces, the more we need to do to ensure they have a safe and inviting experience.”

Nelson, who also created a series of ads mocking Edmonton’s anti-pedestrian PSAs, hopes Edmonton can reverse its anti-pedestrian approach to Vision Zero.

“It gets frustrating to see the government PSAs which are always blaming people who walk or bike, and doing everything to encourage driving,” Nelson told Streetsblog. “I think the most promising thing is that in the last few months the City and Province have both had to walk-back victim-blaming PSAs, because of pushback on social media.”

  • Joe Linton

    This stuff is brilliant!

  • Andrew

    This tactic — shifting responsibility to the people most vulnerable to traffic and away from the people piloting multi-ton, high-speed vehicles, in the process absolving governments that design dangerous roads — doesn’t sit well with many Edmonton residents concerned about traffic safety.

    This tactic is naturally the one that arises if the people responsible for developing the message themselves generally get around by car. If they instead came up with a message to motorists, they might have to admit that they sometimes take safety shortcuts. So instead they treat their own behavior as a given and place the entire burden onto people who don’t get around by car. This is plainly evident in the spokesman’s statement that “driver behavior cannot be guaranteed and pedestrians can stay safe by being alert and paying attention to their surroundings” – as if driver behavior is immutable and only pedestrian behavior can possibly be altered.

    That includes Chris Nelson, who commutes to work by walking and bicycling. He used the city’s own motor vehicle collision data to make a chart showing who — or, more often, what — is on the receiving end when Edmonton motorists crash their cars. It quickly dispels any rationale for focusing on jaywalking.

    Chris, we need one of these in New York!

  • Martin Kent

    Kids, please stop super-soaking jaywalkers in the crotch, this is wrong. People think that they have urinated on themselves and will not let them in stores, taxis and buses. Your well intentioned idea worked well with stopping bigotry, (Super-soak the Bigots Crotches Campaign, 2016,) but this is different. Many of these feeble-minded adults are unable to manage the law. Instead of super-soaking their crotches, help them cross the street legally. Take them by the hand and walk them to the corner and when appropriate, march across the street. Then tell them how much you care about them. OK?

  • Martin Kent

    Traffic safety depends on law-abiding streets and adults. Imagine law-abiding streets and adults in Edmonton. Imagine!

  • Martin Kent

    A capital city government without a vision of law-abiding adults. The current freewheeling family phenomenon on Mother’s Day is appalling. What do you think?

  • tommy t

    Something common in California is police and the media claiming someone was “jaywalking” when actually, we have the ROW where any two streets meet and it’s also legal to cross mid-block on most streets, except where prohibited.
    Not sure of the law in Edmonton but I wonder how many of the 51 victims were actually categorized correctly.

  • John SFO

    Our streets are no more dangerous now than they were when I was a kid in the 1970’s. Using crosswalks, crossing with proper signal indication AND… looking all ways for errant cyclists and motorists minimizes the chance of a collision. It is becoming clear that Streetsblog is blaming every automobile vs. bicycle and pedestrian on the government and motorists, and I can’t say I’m sorry that a significant number of auto vs. bike or pedestrian mishaps are the fault of the cyclist or pedestrian. Motorists are not infrequently at fault, but I’m for objectivity, and I’m not falling for Streetsblog’s anti-automobile position.

  • John SFO

    Actually, ROW at intersections is not absolute; it is general in that you (the pedestrian) must give cyclist & motorists the chance to give way to you. It is unlawful to enter a crosswalk or otherwise leave the kerb or other place of safety and place yourself into the path of a vehicle (which includes bicycles) when that vehicle is on such close approach as to constitute an immediate hazard–that is, physics makes it difficult or impossible to stop and avoid striking you. At signal-controlled intersections, pedestrians are required to obey the pedestrian signal’s indication. Between intersections, pedestrians do not have ROW; motorists & cyclists do.

  • tommy t

    Yes, true

  • tommy t

    What matters is that in the early- to mid-20th century in most of North America, laws were dramatically changed to hand streets over to cars only, allow them to drive recklessly fast, and build new streets or redesign existing ones to accommodate even higher speeds than the chosen “speed limits”. Yes the resultant numerous problems with this are the fault of governments, and it’s time we do something about it.

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