Editor’s note: This was written in response to an essay on pedestrian safety by Michael Enright, host of CBC’s Sunday Edition. It aired on January 18, 2020. The following Sunday, Enright read my letter 0n air. You can find original essay here.
Re: The Sunday Edition, January 18.
Michael’s essay, “The war on pedestrians,” touched a raw nerve for my wife and I. Our 27-year-old son, David, was Edmonton’s first pedestrian death of 2014. We mark that grim anniversary next Monday (January 27th.)
Our David was a university student and musician. He lived, worked and often performed near the city’s Whyte Avenue entertainment district. He was crossing the avenue just after noon that day in a marked intersection with a green light. A young woman making a left-hand turn didn’t see him. She crushed him to death with her yellow compact car. It was three hours before two police officers knocked on our door to deliver the news no parent wants to hear.
David’s death, and the young driver’s trial a year later, received more than the usual attention given to the stories of those who die on our roads.
My wife and I both felt it was important to tell David’s story. He would not be just another nameless victim of the mayhem on our streets. We have continued to speak up in the media, online and at city hall to advocate for the rights of those who venture onto the street without the protection of a tonne of steel and six airbags. Often it feels that we are wasting our time.
Edmonton was the first city in Canada to adopt a Vision Zero campaign. It’s aimed at reducing the death and injuries that are the collateral damage of our car-centric society. But four years into the program it’s still one of Edmonton’s best kept secrets. Bureaucracy creeps at a glacial pace and politicians feel they must satisfy the masses, many of whom decry speed limits and enforcement as an attack on their right to drive. That does not lead to the kind of quantum shift that is needed to tame the danger of aggressive and distracted drivers.
There are some signs of optimism. There is a growing chorus of citizens who are tired of big pickup trucks and hulking SUVs barrelling down their residential streets. Next month Edmonton City Council will consider reducing speed limits in many areas to 40 k/hr and in some cases even lower. It remains to be seen if the early support from the politicians will hold firm or crumble under the pressure.
But as a former member of the media, I think my colleagues have an important role to play here too.
Right now, when someone dies or is seriously injured on the streets, it rarely rates more than a mention in the local traffic report. Motorists are told to avoid that intersection so they won’t lose precious time on their commute. Victims have no names, no faces, no stories. If not for the efforts of my wife and I, our son’s death would also have been similarly invisible.
If people do not know the cost of their bad habits, how can we expect them to change. Let’s tell the stories of those whose lives are forever changed by the carnage on our roadways. Let’s hear from their parents, siblings, partners and friends. Let’s talk to the first responders and emergency physicians who must deal with this death and destruction on a daily basis. Let’s hear the stories of those who are lucky enough to emerge from a brush with death only to spend months or years repairing their mangled bodies and lives.
Let’s tell motorists the ugly truth. That without some fundamental shift in their behaviour, their families too could be touched by the kind of tragedy that happens in a blink of an eye and leaves unspeakable pain and suffering.
Our family is forever broken because of a careless driver. It doesn’t just happen to someone else.
Steve Finkelman, Edmonton, Alberta.
Final note: Michael Enright has been an outspoken advocate pushing for safer streets. We want to thank him for his advocacy. You can listen to Enright read this letter here.