A pedestrian safety event where seniors were outfitted with fluorescent arm bands to protect them from being hit by cars has sparked criticism from safe-streets advocates, who say it’s victim blaming.
But the councillor who helped police hand out the arm bands insists road safety is everyone’s responsibility.
Hundreds attended the event at Woodside Square Mall in Scarborough, Saturday, where officers also shared safety tips, said Scarborough North Councillor Cynthia Lai.
The idea came out of a Chinese community liaison meeting with police, as a way to help protect vulnerable people in an area where many pedestrians have been killed, Lai said. “They loved it,” she said of the crowd, “it’s one way to prevent them from getting hurt.”
She added it was about being “proactive,” and she’d “do it again in a heartbeat.”
Pedestrians were also told “you need to have eye contact with the drivers,” according to Lai. Drivers need to be more careful, and the city needs to do its part, she said. But “everybody has the responsibility” and should “try their best” to “act in their own best interest.”
Footage of bands being strapped on seniors drew harsh words from road safety advocates on social media.
Advocate Jessica Spieker called it “textbook victim blaming” that contributes to “misinformation” that pedestrians somehow contribute to their on deaths, when the “vast majority” of the time drivers and infrastructure are at fault.
“We can wear what we want and the colour is irrelevant,” she told the Star.
“To distribute arm bands to seniors flagrantly flies in the face of all of the evidence about road safety,” added Spieker, a spokesperson for advocacy groups Friends and Families for Safe Streets.
“Why the police would be wasting their time and resources doing something that their own evidence shows them will have no impact is beyond me.”
It’s personal for Spieker, who was T-boned by a driver turning left while riding her bike home from work in 2015. She suffered life-threatening injuries, including a broken spine and traumatic brain injury.
“When you have the police doing this kind of arm-band nonsense, it really is salt in the wounds of every victim,” she added.
The “agonizingly slow” progress on making streets safer is “getting ridiculous,” she said, and that’s what advocates should focus on.
Lai was “appalled” to hear the victim-blaming criticism. “I don’t think we should blame anybody,” she said. “We have to work together instead of blaming each other.”
By the Star’s count, 34 pedestrians have been killed on Toronto’s streets this year, many of them seniors and many of them in Scarborough. Just the day before the event, two seniors were struck by cars and sent to hospital with life-threatening injuries.
Last week, Toronto Police chief Mark Saunders confirmed in a report to the Police Services Board that there’s been a dramatic reduction in traffic enforcement (no dedicated officers since 2013). At the same time, crashes have spiked. The board approved the reinstatement of a new traffic squad on Thursday.
Police Deputy Chief Peter Yuen also defended the arm-band event, saying Sunday it was planned as part of Pedestrian Safety Month for seniors, because they are often the ones who get hit.
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“Visibility is a key contributing factor in many pedestrian, road and traffic incidents,” he wrote in an email.“We’ll continue to do all we can to protect our communities and eliminate deaths and injuries on our roads.”
Mayor John Tory’s office chimed in over the weekend with a statement that outlined some of what the city is doing to step up Vision Zero efforts, including adding more red light cameras and reducing speed limits.
This summer council approved a beefed-up version 2.0. The mayor “wants to see any and all effective measures taken to eliminate preventable deaths and injuries on our roadways,” spokesperson Don Peat said in an email. He “has repeatedly stressed that everyone must do their part to stop these preventable deaths and injuries but that the primary onus rests with drivers in powerful steel vehicles.”