Looking both ways

Photo by Kevin Coffey

During the minute and a half she lay on the Thorburn Road asphalt, Carly Bigelow says she realized she wasn’t brain dead because she could still hear her iPod…

It was just getting dark on a sleety, messy February evening last year as Bigelow, a 22-year-old Memorial University student, got off a Metrobus near Moss Heather Drive and attempted to cross the street.

“I was crossing and I looked both ways…and I guess she was coming from the direction I looked in first and I didn’t realize until I was crossing and I saw light getting really close to me,” she says. “I turned really quickly and there were headlights and I realized how close the frigging car was to me.”

In a deer-in-headlights moment, Bigelow stopped for a split second, and then felt the car’s impact above her hip, then on her shoulder and she landed on the road.

The driver had attempted to slow down, so Bigelow’s injuries were minor.

“I had a sprained ankle and one side of me was really sore for about a week or so,” she says.

Others weren’t as lucky. According to Statistics Canada, 1220 Canadian pedestrians died after being hit by vehicles from 2000 to 2005, the latest data available.

Pedestrians account for 12 per cent of deaths in motor vehicle accidents across Canada, and over a third of them are seniors.

Bigelow was struck down just a few blocks away from what city data conclude as St. John’s fifth most dangerous intersection, Columbus and Prince Philip Drives at Thorburn Road.

Predictably, the intersections with the most traffic accidents—some of which involved pedestrians—were along the city’s most popular drags: Newfoundland Drive, Columbus Drive and the Prince Phillip Parkway, according to 2006 data.

A 2006 study of Montreal pedestrian accidents found they are not limited to problem intersections, however. Three-quarters of injured walkers were either hit between intersections or on street corners where only one or two pedestrians had been injured within the five-year study period.

A handful of significant vehicle-pedestrian accidents have been reported St. John’s already this year. In the last six months, there has been about half a dozen.

In the media, drivers have been blamed, pedestrians have been blamed, even geography and infrastructure have been blamed.

But what’s the solution? Research from Atlantic Canada suggests awareness may be the key.

In the late 1980s, researchers from Université de Moncton and Saint Mary’s University conducted a pedestrian safety experiment in St. John’s, as well as in Moncton-Dieppe and Fredericton.

They launched an awareness program called Courtesy Promotes Safety that resulted in an increase in the numbers of St. John’s motorists that yielded to pedestrians from 54 to 71 per cent.

The percentage of pedestrians injured decreased by a whopping 50 per cent, based on data from three and a half years before and two years after the program’s implementation.

The program’s reach was vast. It educated the public through the use of flyers and large feedback signs reporting the percentage of motorists yielding to pedestrians each week. There were school-wide training programs and media buzz.

Advance stop lines were introduced and motorists were encouraged to yield father back behind crosswalks. Signs at problematic crosswalks instructed pedestrians on how to safely cross the street, and police gave out warning flyers and warning tickets to motorists who failed to yield (and small incentives such as a pen and bumper sticker to motorists yielding to pedestrians).

Despite the large scale of the effort, the program cost about $40,000 to implement, including the cost of traffic observers, signs, and all required materials. The City of St. John’s recovered about a third of the cost through the corporate sponsors, states the article, which appeared in a 1990 edition of the academic journal Heath Education Research.

The program was terminated, but the special crosswalk signs and pedestrian prompts were still on the go for years afterward.

A 1999 review of the literature on Canadian research on pedestrian safety said multi-faceted campaigns like Courtesy Promotes Safety are effective in modifying the habits of pedestrians and drivers alike.

Bigelow says visibility was poor the night she was hit, so she doesn’t blame the driver entirely, but calls inconsiderate drivers her biggest pet peeve.

She admits she wasn’t using a crosswalk the night she was hit, but she is more cautious these days.

“I’m ridiculously paranoid about crossing Thorburn Road now,” she says.

Hit or been hit? Leave a comment below.


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1 March 2013

  1. Common Sense · March 1, 2013

    “…realized she wasn’t brain dead because she could still hear her iPod
    “Bigelow says visibility was poor the night she was hit”
    “…but calls inconsiderate drivers her biggest pet peeve.”
    “…She admits she wasn’t using a crosswalk the night she was hit”

    So let’s pause for a moment here and consider those statements. This girl was crossing
    a)a busy thoroughfare on a dark night with poor visibility
    b)did NOT cross at a crosswalk but instead decided to jaywalk
    c)AND she was listening to her iPod, ensuring she couldn’t hear anything going on around her.

    I’m sorry if this sounds cruel, but it was her own fault for getting hit. You quite clearly did not take the steps to ensure your own safety.

    Turn off the iPod and pay attention to your surroundings.
    Cross busy thoroughfares at a crosswalk where it is safe, and well lit.
    Your pet peeve is inconsiderate drivers…but it is more than clear to me that you are an inconsiderate pedestrian, and you aren’t practicing safe behaviour. For safety’s sake, be safe!

  2. Paul Whittle · March 1, 2013

    Well now, I was hit on a cross walk at 4am — by a city parking vehicle no less. Because he was initially stopped and then proceeded to flatten me (looking to the right where he was going not at me straight ahead) I jumped and used my hand to alert him to my presence. Because I walk so much I have learned to signal my presence with cars, staring them down, or waving, to make sure they see me. This should not be the case. The specific story above isn’t what the general story is about, which is: this is not a pedestrian friendly city. There needs to be all kinds of improvements (lighting, driver awareness, traffic lights) or more people will “get gone.” Of course I was wearing black, maybe I just need to get rid of some of my artsy clothing. :)

  3. Safty! · March 1, 2013

    Pedestrian’s PLEASE remember! Drivers have enough to try and avoid as it is with animals, other careless drivers, and of course the dreaded potholes that riddle the streets.

    Use sidewalks! Use Crosswalks! Wear brightly colored clothing! And when its dark make sure the car comes to a complete stop before crossing.

    Drivers need to slow down and be more cautious, just think, in your haste to get home you could take a life!

    Pedestrians need to also remember in their haste to get home, that a well lit crosswalk may be further away and take more time, but isn’t your life more important then a few minutes?

    It’s a few simple things to avoid ending up laying on the roadway as Carly Bigelow did wondering if you still have brain functioning. It could have been far worse.