OK, WAS THAT it? Was that winter? Can we put the Prozac away?
Much of the Island might still be shovelling, but for the capital, the Snowpocalypse is already a rapidly receding nightmare. (Most of Victoria got about five centimetres. The exception was Cook Street Village, where residents protested that five was too high and asked the city to remove one.)
The melt couldn’t come soon enough for reader Naoya Kusano, who wrote in to express concern for the pedestrians he saw blithely stepping off the curb and into the path of skidding cars.
Kusano grew up in Montreal, where people quickly learn that the laws of physics trump those written on paper. (For video proof of this, Google “slow-motion crashes on Montreal streets” from last week.) Québécois who want to survive the icy streets keep their heads up.
Not here. On Friday, Kusano was alarmed to see school kids, eyes glued to their phones, crossing Yates oblivious to the slow-speed missiles sliding toward them with brakes locked. “As soon as the Walk sign turned on, they were walking off the curb without looking,” he said Saturday.
He thought it might just be a kid thing, but no, adults did it, too. “When I got to Blanshard and Fort, it was just as bad with grown-ups.” Everyone acted as though crosswalks offered not just legal protection but some sort of force field to repel the cars Trumping* toward them (*at the first sign of adversity, they lost their grip).
I would have shaken my head and tut-tutted at Kusano’s story were I not pretty sure I was one of those with his head in his phone, charging into the crosswalk like a golden retriever chasing a stick. In a black winter coat. In the dark.
That would put me among the 40 per cent of us who, according to State Farm Canada, admit to wexting — walking while texting. (A colleague once handed me scissors after I almost bowled her over in a crosswalk. “Hold these in your other hand,” she said. “Now run. It’s called culling the herd.”)
Those who text/talk and walk in Victoria traffic display an almost touching confidence in the driving ability of their fellow citizens, considering that half are night blind and the other half can’t see over the dashboard. Either that or they’re like the two guys who got busted for driving drunk in Colwood as the snow fell Friday (West Shore RCMP were still dealing with the first driver, who had smacked into a utility pole on Sooke Road, when the second one cruised up with his bumper dragging on the road; this is what police call “a clue”).
Distracted walking isn’t just a Victoria thing, of course. Nor is it new. As far back as 2008, authorities in London, England, placed padding around lamp standards to mitigate injuries. Last year, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons compared wexting to drunk driving.
It isn’t just a car-versus-pedestrian issue, either. In the U.S., the National Safety Council says half of all distracted-walking injuries involving cellphones happen at home. Most involve the phone user falling down or walking into something. Young women are disproportionately affected, though the most serious injuries are to women over 55.
Still, it’s the street conflict that has some suggesting a legal remedy — though, like Victoria drivers in the snow, the idea has yet to get traction. This spring, New Jersey politician Pamela Lampitt proposed banning pedestrians in that state from walking while texting or using electronic devices on roads unless they are hands-free.
In July, Toronto City council asked the province of Ontario for a similar ban; the province threw the idea back at the City, told it to pass a bylaw instead. Likewise, after a couple of Vancouver councillors began muttering about the same thing, the B.C. Transportation Ministry said the province had no plans for a distracted-walking law, though local governments were free to pass them.
Even with public support (in October, Insights West released a poll showing two-thirds of Canadians would support a ban on hand-held phones while, say, crossing the street) nobody wants to go first. Not even Victoria (motto: “Solving the world through regulation since 1862”) has jumped.
A fine wouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent anyway. To really change wexters’ behaviour, authorities would have to impound their phones (or, for less serious offences, just cut off an arm).
And nothing works as well as the Law of Common Sense, particularly when the City of Gardens turns into the Great White North.
“Yes, the onus is on everyone,” Kusano says, “but staring at your phone while walking, especially during these conditions, is extremely dangerous.”
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