A broken bike helmet, a wedding ring, a teen’s knapsack retrieved from a road. Possessions left behind, grieving family members knew, that could serve as powerful warnings for motorists.
“We knew our stories were impactful. We knew we had closets full, and boxes full, of artifacts that show the impact of what happened to us,” said Kasia Briegmann-Samson whose 35-year-old husband Tom — a dad, Grade 2 teacher and cyclist — was hit and killed by a driver in 2012.
“We had discussions — what do we do with this stuff, what do we do with these stories? When the city came to us, it was a great vehicle for us to be able to share our stories and our artifacts.”
The City of Toronto unveiled Monday, as part of its “Vision Zero” plan, a public education campaign featuring stories of pedestrians and cyclists struck on streets and sidewalks, with representations of mementoes offered by members of Friends and Families for Safe Streets.
Briegmann-Samson, a co-founder of the advocacy group, offered “the paper bag containing Tom’s wallet, keys and wedding band that were given to me by police the day that he was killed.”
Depictions of the items will be in a print ad, she said at a news conference Tuesday. She stood in front of a shelter near King St. and Spadina Ave. that includes a splintered bike helmet and the story of Edouard Le Blanc, a 62-year-old cyclist who was struck so hard by a Scarborough driver that his organs were unfit for donation.
Briegmann-Samson told reporters she believes five such displays, along with radio, TV, print and social media ads to run until mid-December, will send motorists the message they need to keep their eyes on the road and the vulnerable people they can so easily kill.
“I am hopeful that this will … raise the conversation to the next level,” and render distracted driving socially unacceptable, she said. “The same thing had to happen with drinking and driving and that took many decades to get to the point where legislation was changed and stronger deterrents were put in place.”
At least 38 pedestrians and five cyclists have died this year in Toronto after being struck by drivers, according to figures kept by the Star’s Ben Spurr. The tally does not include victims of the April van attack in Willowdale, and is on pace to exceed 2017’s terrible toll.
Barbara Gray, Toronto’s transportation head, said education campaigns are a critical part of Vision Zero, the $109-million, five-year effort to eliminate “vulnerable road user” deaths first approved by city council in 2016. “It’s absolutely possible to move the needle,” Gray told reporters.
Safety advocates pushing the city to try harder note that the main effort of Vision Zero, a Sweden-pioneered plan, is changing roadways themselves with protected bike lanes, safer crossings for pedestrians and physical features to slow vehicles. Toronto lags some other cities in building cycling infrastructure in particular.
Cyclist advocate Jared Kolb says Toronto’s new city council must understand everyone makes mistakes on the road and “what Vision Zero is really about is redesigning the roadway so that those mistakes don’t lead to deadly consequences … It’s about taking the risk out of the roadway and that’s a massive undertaking.”
Another reality is that most of the drivers who killed people featured in “The Art of Distraction” campaign escaped with minor fines for traffic offences, or no punishment at all. William P. Laurie, who struck and killed Le Blanc in 2014, was fined $700 and given six demerit points.
Briegmann-Samson and Kolb said safety advocates are talking to officials in Premier Doug Ford’s new government as well as opposition parties, lobbying for legislation that would force drivers who kill to appear in court, rather than send a legal representative, and face meaningful penalties.
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider