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.
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.
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.
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.