Fined For Walking?

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First there was a letter to the LFP editor (‘Too Lazy to Use Sidewalk’; ‘jeff’; 2008/03/09) from one of those dull pencils who think that nothing should be allowed to inconvenience automobile drivers and that pedestrians are some kind of 2nd class lifeform: “I looked in the opposite lanes to see a person walking, head down up the road…because they were too lazy to break a trail down the sidewalk.”

It must be time for a new sharpener, because that was quickly followed by this response: “If your to lazy to blaze your own trail through a little snow, on a sidewalk then call a cab. Stay off the roads!”

I don’t think so! Here’s the rebuttal that I posted:

Pedestrian Mobility Rights
Greg Fowler

Walking is a natural right, like breathing. Driving is only a privilege, and a responsibility. If the roads were passable (the city did a good job keeping them pretty clear) and the sidewalks were not (they weren’t… the snow was up to my knees), then I say that pedestrians have more right to use the roads than vehicles do. By your own admission, the light had been red. Which means that responsible drivers would have been aware of the pedestrian and taken precautions instead of having to “brake” or “dodge.” Not to mention that, given the weather, responsible drivers would have been exersizing extra caution anyways. Or not driving in the first place.

And now we’re told that “a 62-year-old Sarnia woman hit by a pickup truck…has been charged with walking on the wrong side of the road…The infraction carries a $50 fine, plus a $15 victim surcharge.” 01

This may come as a surprise to some, but I’m not going to argue about that. As long as the rules are clearly defined, and as long as the restrictions on our natural rights are limited and reasonable, I’m prepared to entertain them. What bothers me is that, while the police and some others are quick to point out what pedestrians can’t do, there’s hardly ever a word about what they can do.

That’s what I found most interesting about this story. LFP reporter Joe Belanger points out that “the law requires pedestrians, when walking on a highway, walk on the left side of the road facing traffic.” Put another way, pedestrians are legally entitled to walk on the roadway so long as they do it facing the traffic. And Mr. Belanger quotes regional police as saying that “pedestrians [should] walk facing traffic if they’re unable to walk on ice- and snow-covered sidewalks.”

When’s the last time that you heard/read London Police Sgt. Tom O’Brien make even that much of an admission?

And just because a pedestrian may be engaged in a behaviour that is considered to be unlawful, does that necessarily mean that the driver is not at fault? Last time I looked, the operator of an automobile is required to have full control of that vehicle at all times. A pedestrian’s behaviour is NOT a license to run them down. But how often do we see drivers charged in vehicle/pedestrian incidents? Not often. And I suspect, not nearly often enough.

There’s something else that I find interesting about this story, although I doubt you’ll see it given much play in the media: “Police say it isn’t known why the woman was walking the wrong way on the street, but a neighbour said the sidewalk hadn’t been cleared all winter…City sidewalks have also proved hazardous for local letter carriers, with Canada Post reporting more than 30 slip and falls so far this winter.” 02 My position is pretty clearly expressed in this post.

It’s way past time that pedestrians had a voice. It’s past time that there was some clarity about pedestrian rights, and how vehicle/pedestrian incidents ought to be investigated, accurate and timely stats, etc. And the best way to ensure that, is for London’s City Council to revisit my proposal for a Pedestrian Committee.

Sources:
01. 2008/03/12 – LFP: Pedestrian charged after hit by pickup
02. 2008/03/12 – Toronto Star: Hit by car on street, woman charged

Other Links:
2008/03/12 – London Commons: Vehiculous

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One Response to “Fined For Walking?”

  1. Phronk Says:

    I can see both sides of this issue. Sometimes pedestrians act stupid – e.g., two of them jogging side by side down the right-hand side of the road when the sidewalks are clear. But drivers can be equally stupid, failing to accommodate people on foot who have no choice but to be on the road. But seeing as how it’s a heavy chunk of metal versus a squishy little person, drivers should be the ones that are extra cautious.

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