The Pedestrian’s Manifesto

A spectre is haunting St. John’s—the spectre of pedestrianism. Powers have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: poor city planning, snow-covered sidewalks and aggressive, careless driving practices.

It is high time that Pedestrians should openly, in the face of the whole City of St. John’s, publish their views, their aims, their tendancies and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Pedestrianism with a manifesto.

{Thanks to
Kevin Hehir
Pablo Navarro
Malin Enström
Costa Kasimos
John McConnell
Joan Scott
Michelle Butler Hallett

Compiled and edited by Sarah Smellie and Elling Lien}

It could have been the car that struck an eight-year-old boy on February 3rd and then promptly drove away…

Or it could have been the car that smacked a 20-year-old woman and then fled on March 8th…

There are hundreds of reasons to assemble a group of concerned citizens—from wheelchair users to marathon runners—and assemble this Pedestrian’s Manifesto.

Here we are.

Why we are angry.

Because we have been nearly hit, and because we have been hit.

Because we are required to walk where it is not safe.

Take, for example, the winter’s snow-covered, icy sidewalks, which confine any of us with mobility issues to our houses for the winter and push vulnerable pedestrians out onto the road.

Then there are the mounds of street snow piled at intersections, blocking the button for the walk signal, and forcing those crossing on foot to dart out into traffic during what small breaks can be found in the lines of fast-moving vehicles navigating slippery roads.

We are the children on their way to school, forced onto Thorburn Road by the icy snowdrfits on the sidewalks.

We are the woman with a baby strapped to her chest dancing over icy walkways with two hands full of groceries.

We are the person with forearm crutches trying to get to the bank machine on an unshoveled sidewalk downtown.

Have you ever tried to push a stroller or steer a wheelchair outside in winter? There’s only one street from Duckworth to Water that doesn’t have a flight of stairs, and its sidewalk is steep and narrow, and covered in snow for half the year. That means that any of us using a wheelchair or scooter has to book a ride with Wheelway just to go have a coffee at Atlantic Place—downtown’s only accessible retail spot.

We can even forget about a casual, summer trip to the mall or even down Monkstown Road. Those sidewalks are far too slanted, crooked and potholed to support a wheelchair.

If we had a dime for every time we heard a newcomer say that the drivers were “really crazy here,” we’d have a lot of dimes. Take the intersection at Empire and King’s Bridge Road, by Memorial Market Dominion, for example, where drivers whip blindly around onto Lake Avenue as if there’s a food shortage.

Coffee-sucking zombies nearly mowing down entire families as they careen into one of the city’s drive-thrus get special mention.

As do all those asleep, or texting, or phoning, at the wheel anywhere across the North-East Avalon Peninsula.

Yes, we acknowledge that sidewalk snow-clearing efforts have been steadily improving. We are grateful that funds for the Traffic Calming Study were found.

But as city council repeatedly congratulated themselves for being at the helm of a city that was selected by the Conference Board of Canada as one of the best six Canadian cities for migrants to settle in, we couldn’t help but shake our heads.

Most of the newcomers we spoke with were apalled by the snowy, dangerous sidewalks and the crappy public transit system.

And most of them had plans to move to another city.

Who we are.

This document and this movement takes “Pedestrian” to include everyone who, theoretically, would be using the sidewalks. We Pedestrians are people on foot, people using walkers, people using wheel-chairs, people using crutches, people using scooters, people pushing strollers, people carrying babies, people pushing strollers and carrying babies. Many Pedestrians are also drivers, so Pedestrians are not all anti-car. But we are all pro-Pedestrian.

Whether you like it or not, you are a Pedestrian. Even if you drive everywhere, in that place between stepping out of your car and stepping into the place you’ve driven to, you’re a Pedestrian.

Pedestrians are not too poor to afford a car, nor are we stupid or useless.

We are not obligated to walk on slippery, treacherous sidewalks when the road is much safer.

We do not relinquish our rights to not be struck by a car if we cross where there isn’t a crosswalk.

We are not blocking your road.

Like drivers, Pedestrians are people going to work or school or the grocery store, or we’re going to pick up our kids or our paycheques or a package. Or maybe we’re simply enjoying a nice day. We’re bringing life to the streets, and we’re initiating conversations and connections between one another that wouldn’t be initiated if we were all tucked away in our own individual cars.

According to urban philosophers like Jane Jacobs, we are essential to healthy cities.

Pedestrians are voters. We may even have elected you, and we probably expected more of you. We may not elect you again.

Most importantly, Pedestrians, like drivers, are commuters. Our destinations and our right to arrive at them in a timely fashion, and in one piece, are just as important as those of the drivers.

Our demands are as follows.

Better snow clearing and winter city planning. Expand the streets that the city’s snow clearing bylaw covers and enforce it. Expand the city’s sidewalk snow clearing routes. Clear the snow sooner after storms, and on weekends. Stop piling street snow on sidewalks and at corners. Learn from cities like Helsinki, or organizations like the Winter Cities Institute, and embrace the fact that St. John’s is a winter city. Imagine it as if the tourist season occured from November to March.

Put as much effort into sidewalks and walkways as you do the roads. Fix and/or replace old, potholed, slanted sidewalks; put ramps at either ends of crosswalks instead of blunt curbs; repaint the crosswalk lines on the road each year so that cars can see where to stop; cut back the trees than hang in front of crosswalk signs so that motorists can see them clearly.

We intend to make our plight known. To this end, and with this document, we officially challenge every member of city council to leave their cars at home for one full week. In the meantime, we will write letters and plan demonstrations. We will stop shrugging our shoulders and sighing. We will demand more from city council, and we will make Pedestrian issues election issues.

Invest in clear, visible signs at confusing intersections. Rawlin’s Cross, for example, is a nightmare when it’s full of tourists in rental cars.

Require accessibility. Demand that all new buildings be accessible. Demand that all public spaces and buildings, no matter how historic, be accessible. Have a wheelchair user determine whether or not that demand was met. Create more accessible roads and sidewalks to the downtown area, even if it means getting rid of stairs or building extra ramps. Show that you consider wheelchair and scooter users, and all persons with mobility issues, to be equal citizens.

Stop the ongoing sprawl in the city. Put a moratorium on further box-store development and promote the establishment of more resident-friendly stores in the city centre. Promote a walkable city so that there are more of us walking and talking and bringing life to the city.

What we will do.

We will be more aggressive towards careless drivers.

We will take note of license plate numbers and report them to the police.

We will start a a web forum where we post your plate numbers.

We will scream and cause a scene in the middle of intersections.

Rocks?

We will hang up on people who call us while driving.

We will take our space and cross the street and expect drivers to stop, instead of huddling at the corners, waiting for someone to let us cross.

And we will stop waving in thanks to those who do. As Pedestrians, we have the right of way at all times.

You are required to stop.

To drivers.

Make room for us. Expect us to be on the roads in the winter. After all, the city only plows about 100 kilometers of sidewalk. Drive slower. If you don’t like us on the roads, phone your city councillor and ask them to do a better job at making the sidewalks safe for Pedestrians. Or leave your car at home for a day and join us.

Look for crosswalks and slow down before them, whether there is a Pedestrian there or not. Stop, every time, if a Pedestrian is there.

Put down your cell phones, your iPods, your handheld whatevers. Gaze up from your GPS screens. Pay attention.

Be better drivers. Get out of your climate-controlled space bubble and take stock of reality: All of us are stupid human beings. Drivers are in control of a multi-ton hunk of steel, travelling faster than your brain. Drive with Pedestrians in mind,

And if you do kill one of us, you will have that on your conscience.

22 comments

StitchUp for Friday, April 26, 2013

Classic style in the grocery store.

26 April 2013

  1. Suggestion · April 26, 2013

    As someone who walks and drives around in almost equal measures (depending on destination), I experience the problems and frustrations from both sides. The driving here is undoubtedly poor in a lot of cases and I have to agree with much of what is said here to improve safety for pedestrians. I often have to be on my toes to avoid being hit whilst walking home from work.

    However, I have to suggest that some of this is toned down bearing in mind that there are bad pedestrians too. Some of the stuff here is only going to alienate the sensible drivers who sympathise with the plight of the pedestrian. For example, when I’m driving, I am well aware of “reality”. And what is with the “rocks?” comment? It’s clearly unacceptable to throw rocks at cars if we’re going to have a sensible discussion on solving the problems….if that is the suggestion….

    Furthermore, the pedestrian does not always have the right of way. Read the Newfoundland Highway Traffic Act, section 126 here – http://www.assembly.nl.ca/legislation/sr/statutes/h03.htm#126_
    “126. Where a pedestrian is crossing a roadway at a point other than within a crosswalk, the pedestrian shall yield the right-of-way to an approaching vehicle. ”

    I always stop for a pedestrian on a crosswalk (because it’s the law!) but when I’m driving, it is just as frustrating to have the shit scared out of me when someone steps out in front of me on a regular stretch of road without any regard for their own safety. Yes, a driver is required to stop or avoid collision in these cases but the main point of this whole comment is that there has to be a bit of give and take to make improvements work. My own opinion is that both sets of people need better education for happier travels – drivers and pedestrians.

    Otherwise and as I said, I agree with the principle of what’s being said here.

  2. Peartree · April 26, 2013

    Im glad I live in Mount Pearl where the streets are paved with gold and the sidewalks near any school are always clear!

    Peartree

  3. HBeez · April 26, 2013

    I think it’s time for the city to bring in a bylaw that makes homeowners responsible for clearing the sidewalk in front of their property. These types of bylaws are in place in most municipalities in Canada, why not here?

  4. Bryh · April 26, 2013

    A major problem is parking is permitted too close to the crosswalks. Drivers can’t see pedestrians until they’ve stepped out past the parked cars, and likewise pedestrians have to walk out and peek past the parked car to see whether it’s safe. The crosswalk at Mcurdo’s Lane (Duke) and Duckworth Street is particularly bad. I hate driving by here, and I hate walking it even more. It would be interesting to know what the stats for accidents are here.

  5. Visitor · April 26, 2013

    Being a visitor from the other side of the Atlantic, I want to make clear that my intent is not to patronize or be disrespectful. But I feel that it is my obligation to join this manifest because I sympatize so much with those who live here and are pedestrians daily (aren’t everyone that?!). There is countless benefits of a community where people are less car dependent and instead walk to the store/school/work etc. I know that the weather is special here, but trust me it is done well in other places with similar weather!

    Here are my list of very doable suggestions:

    – Clear the sidewalks

    – Add bus schedules to every bus stop to make it easier. They can be small and doesn’t have to cost much at all!

    – Clean the bus windows to make the rides more enjoyable and less depressing. This is an important factor for getting people to take the bus voluntarily.

    – Add more sidewalks, and consider adding new walk trails between key areas

    More costly actions:

    – Buy modern buses that are comfortable.

    – Add more bus lines, especially to downtown.

    – Tunnels or slightly elevated pedestrian crossings; it’s too hard to cross the big roads.

    – Target the university. I can’t believe all those filled parking lots at MUN. Make the semester passes even cheaper for students, and PROMOTE. Hey, Engineers without borders; why don’t you press more on this issue?

    Just my two (euro) cents…

  6. sinjan · April 26, 2013

    The toned-down version of this protest has been going on for years and largely to no effect. The grievances are the same as they were ten years ago. If you’re writing “I often have to be on my toes to avoid being hit whilst walking home from work”, then there’s a serious, unacceptable problem, period.

    Most of the “sensible” drivers that I know (I would like to count myself as one of them), have hardly, if ever, come across a “bad pedestrian” like the one you describe, other than on roads that are traditionally jaywalked, like Water or Duckworth Streets, or stretches next to schools. I cede the road, no big deal.

    Rather, it’s been my experience that many drivers direct their frustration of having to share the road at the pedestrians themselves. They start thinking that it’s bad behaviour just to walk along busy thoroughfares in winter. Some pedestrians, myself included, sometimes walk further out from the curb specifically to be more visible around curves, not to get splashed and generally to force vehicles to slow down. There’s nothing bad about being a defencive pedestrian.

    The quality of driving in this city has gotten worse: more cars on the road, hence more traffic, with faster driving and an epidemic of drivers using hand-held devices (really, ask the RNC). To say that this is a “both sides need to compromise” situation just doesn’t seem reasonable.

  7. punkprincessphd · April 26, 2013

    I have walked St. John’s with my infant daughter in a sling, and in a stroller, and there are no words for how frustrating – and frightening – it can be to navigate icy, obstructed, or absent sidewalks. I particularly recall one day earlier this winter, when we had to scale a 3-foot drift of ice and detritus in order to reach the bus-stop. I agree that everyone is, at some point, a pedestrian, but in such conditions it is those who already have reduced mobility who are affected the most. I applaud the Manifesto for highlighting just how much walking conditions (or lack thereof) can impact the quality of life in our city.

  8. Frank · April 26, 2013

    Because we get roughly ten times the amount of snow than municipalities that do. That’s why.

  9. damian · April 26, 2013

    that would be insane…i have a hard enough time shovelling my driveway, let alone the packed ice on the sidewalk….not everyone has snowblowers….

  10. jennifer · April 26, 2013

    Worth pointing out that in many other Canadian cities where sidewalk shovelling is required, there are boulevards, or strips of grass between the road and sidewalk. This makes it possible for both homeowner and snowplow to move snow without getting into each others’ ways. I can’t even imagine keeping up with my sidewalks, given the enthusiasm with which the snowplow piles snow onto it. It’s often 4 feet deep there and impossible to get through with a shovel (which is what I’ve got).

  11. Wow · April 26, 2013

    There are bad drivers and bad pedestrians. Out in Mount Pearl if you go through the Ruth Ave and Old Placentia Road intersection any day around noon you will have kids and teens running around in traffic like it’s a game! The light turns green, and you can be sure there’s one going to dart out in front of your vehicle.

    It also bothers me that in the winter when you’re on a 4-lane road (Thorburn, Kenmount, Topsail) you have people walking on the outside lanes, and motorists either have to stop or slow down to weave carefully around them. It’s dangerous! It’s dangerous to pedestrians and motorists alike! Anyone who has ever been rear-ended on a busy street will tell you, that situation is asking for trouble!

    I think if the roads aren’t safe to walk on and the sidewalks aren’t safe to walk on, the metrobus is the right way for people to get from Point A to Point B. I know metrobus isn’t exactly ideal, and their routes leave a lot to be desired, but neither motorists OR pedestrians have the right to make our roads unsafe. We have to find a way to live in harmony while the City of St. John’s gets their act together with proper snow removal.

  12. Anon · April 26, 2013

    I agree with every point made in this document, and I support, 100%, all of the demands that the writers have made.

    However, the authors threw any credibility they had out the window with the “rocks” comment. Hitting a moving vehicle with anything is not only dangerous to others drivers on the road, but to (you guessed it) OTHER PEDESTRIANS.

    In fact, everything stated under the “What we will do” section gives away the writers as a fairly juvenile, irresponsible group of postmodern rebels. Rebels who have decided to pass up perfectly workable strategies which will result in improvements for pedestrians in favour of self-indulgent, anti-social activity which will only serve to alienate otherwise sympathetic drivers and sustain the myths and slanderous notions that this movement is trying to dispel.

  13. scottf22 · April 26, 2013

    We are also runners who do not want to stop doing something we love just because the weather is lousy or there is snow on the sidewalks.

    Without a doubt the single biggest problem I encounter is driver speed.

    Drivers – you may feel you are in complete control of your vehicle but when someone is running during a snowfall or on slush or snow-covered roads, and you go by at 50kmh so close they could hit you with their elbow, you are leaving too much to chance. You may feel inconvenienced to have to apply your brakes for a few seconds, but please do it anyway. One slip and we could be under your wheels.

  14. sinjan · April 26, 2013

    actually, it says “rocks?”.

    but seriously, what are you offering instead?

  15. kevin · April 26, 2013

    As one of the signatories to the Manifesto I’d like to respond to some of the comments made above. Let me be clear when I say that I speak for no one but me and my family of pedestrians.

    Now rocks. It actually says “Rocks?” which implies that it is a question or consideration. Obviously no one is advocating any violence but hitting anything with a moving vehicle dangerous too. But it’s frustrating to be standing at a crosswalk with my arm out and my kid in the stroller while cars whizz by. Those drivers are dangerous and a lot of them are texting or on the phone. They certainly couldn’t tell the policeman that they saw me chuck the rock could they? It’s just a fantasy I have to clean up the streets.

    What do you suggest are perfectly workable strategies? Here’s some: posted speed limits, speed bumps, more crosswalks regulated with flashing lights, and crosswalks painted regularly. All of these things are aimed at curbing the behavior of drivers and are a lot more expensive than rocks. So, do we as a city accept that pedestrians are a vital part of our community? Then we should invest in and support such initiatives.

    Now this business of being a postmodern rebel. Postmodern? Sure, if that means that I reject grand narratives, embrace a multiperspectival worldview and sometimes sprinkle curry powder on my Kraft Dinner. Rebel? No, I’m just a boring old dad who likes to walk with his kids in this great city. I’m teaching my oldest how to spot when a driver is talking on the phone. I’d much rather bond over baseball.

  16. Anon · April 26, 2013

    First, let me start by saying that I find nothing to disagree with you about the solutions you have positioned, except maybe to say that they don’t go far enough. Much is mentioned about roads (such as the intersection at Empire and King’s Bridge) where speed limits are commonly flaunted by asshole drivers. Speed traps (whether manned or automated) would not only serve as an excellent deterrent for would-be reckless drivers, but it would also provide much needed funding for the other solutions required for pedestrian-safe streets. Consider it a tax on being an asshole driver, if you will. As well, not enough attention is placed on the rest of the metro area, where these problems are just as serious, and have led to fatal accidents very recently.

    My only problem with your document are the “strategies” you intend on taking in order to secure these improvements for the pedestrians of St. John’s, specifically the “What we will do” section.

    Most of the article is serious in its tone; suitably so, given the increasing importance of the topic it addresses. However, like I said before, this document (no pun intended) veers straight off its path when it reaches the “What we will do” section. The entire list (not just the comment/question about the rocks) reads as a disjointed tangent listing the passive-aggressive fantasies of some-to-all of the authors, and it has an effect similar to what would happen if the Muscular Dystrophy Association were to can Jerry Lewis and replace him with the rotting corpse of GG Allin; sure, it WOULD be entertaining, but it wouldn’t be productive, and the MDA would be stunned to assume that the general public would take them seriously for the next decade or so. The same stands for your movement: if you aren’t going to be 100% serious in the crafting of your founding document, then why should the average reader bother to take you seriously?

    And that is where the problem lies. While it is clear to me NOW that you guys aren’t, as I falsely and unfairly stated, a “group of postmodern rebels”, it wouldn’t be hard for the average casual reader to insinuate, after reading your manifesto, that the leaders in this movement aren’t exactly being serious in their organizing efforts.

    St. John’s is a growing city, and it will continue to grow for quite a while. It’s about time a group of progressive-minded individuals banded together to fight the dangers that come with such an explosion of growth; I would like for you to be consistent, at the very least, in your efforts and actions.

  17. Ken O'Brien · April 26, 2013

    “And we will stop waving in thanks to those who do. As Pedestrians, we have the right of way at all times. You are required to stop.”

    I agree with the thrust of making our streets safrer for pedestrians. But what’s this about not waving a thank-you when a driver yileds to you? Don’t be such a crooked-arse. WE could all use some more politeness and courtesy.

  18. Motorist and Taxpayer · April 26, 2013

    It’s a shame that no one will actually be able to take this article seriously, because there are some good points buried within all the juvenile nonsense. This confrontational, immature, us-vs-them approach to a serious issue is not helpful. Implying thats it’s ok to throw rocks? Intentionally being rude to motorists? Banning development in a rapidly growing city? Come on now. Most motorists are reasonable people, and the jerks who speed and ignore crosswalks are the same people who cause vehicle collisions; us sensible drivers arent happy about sharing the road with them either.

    More/better maintained crosswalks are all well and good, but we also need stricter enforcement of existing rules, and that includes ticketing jaywalkers, ticketing disabled people who seem to think their mobility scooter is a car, and yes, arresting and charging any idiot who throws a rock at any car for any reason. Dont ever think that pedestrians “have the right of way at all times”. Like it or not, the Highway Traffic Act favors the motorist; after all, we pay a disproportionate amount of money to maintain roads, through not-so-thinly-veiled road taxes. I can only imagine the howling from the pages of this newspaper if the city decided to bring in a pedestrian tax (to cover things like bridges over busy roads) that exempts car owners, who are already being gouged by things like vehicle registration fees, gas taxes, and ridiculous parking restrictions. Look, the point is that you guys have to meet motorists half-way on this, we have rights too, and treating it like some kind of showdown is counterproductive because motorists already have the upper hand.

  19. Elling Lien · April 26, 2013

    Thanks for the comments. To explain how this was put together…

    We didn’t really set out to write the be-all end-all document for solving pedestrian woes, but we did set out to outline how frustrating it is the be a pedestrian in this city and to get people talking about the subject. We gathered a few people together to discuss what they would put in such a document, and what their concerns were as pedestrians, plus a few off-the-cuff remarks, then we took their ideas and wrote them in the present format.

    It got tricky to balance the tongue-in-cheek-ness (“Revolution now!!!”) of this idea with the seriousness of the topic, especially thinking of the number of accidents and pedestrian deaths just recently, but having you all talk about it here is what we were after in the first place, so we’re happy…

  20. Sandy · April 26, 2013

    “ticketing disabled people who seem to think their mobility scooter is a car”??? Seriously??

    Have you seen how difficult it is to get around this city for a person who is able to walk, let alone someone in a (motorized or otherwise) wheelchair? In the winter when I see someone in a wheelchair on the road, my immediate thought is that the city should be ashamed for not having accessible sidewalks cleared – it is NOT that the person being forced out onto the road deserves a ticket! My god, what are ya like at all.

  21. Motorist and Taxpayer · April 26, 2013

    Yes, I’m serious. Of course it’s difficult for them to get around. Thats why we call it a “disability”.

    I would like to clarify that I’m not talking about ticketing disabled folk who have no choice but to be in the road. If the sidewalk is inaccessible, than it’s inaccessible.. we all need to compromise. But some of these people with the mobility scooters and wheelchairs are far too aggressive all year round. They take up traffic lanes, and it’s a road hazard. If they can get that chair/scooter onto the sidewalk, than they have a responsibility to do so.