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Recent Halifax crosswalk incident raises questions that must be answered

The Herring Cove accident from afar. Contributed.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A serious incident on a marked crosswalk earlier this week during evening darkness raises several questions. Halifax pedestrians are frequently hit on crosswalks, and this is considered to be both normal and inevitable due to “bad drivers” and “careless pedestrians”. 

When I raise the issue of the constant and disproportionate number of incidents on crosswalks in Halifax in terms of a crisis that requires emergency action and remedial measures, the response has often been along the lines of either denial or inevitability – ‘most pedestrians use crosswalks to cross the road, so this is where they are most frequently hit’.

This year has even been lauded as one of “progress” due to lower number of incidents, despite two senior women hit and killed earlier this year while lawfully using marked crosswalks. Halifax’s Mobility dashboard shows significantly lower numbers of pedestrians using streets, which could likely account for the lower number of incidents.

Few specifics about incidents on crosswalks are usually communicated to the public, consequently causing minimal public reaction. The press release published by the Municipality states:

“On December 15 at 7:20 p.m., Halifax Regional Police responded to a vehicle/pedestrian collision. The pedestrian, a 32-year-old woman, was crossing on a marked crosswalk when a vehicle driven by a 39-year-old man collided with her. The pedestrian was taken to the hospital by EHS and suffered what is believed to be non-life-threatening injuries.

The driver of the vehicle was not injured and was issued a summary offence tickets for failing to yield to pedestrian within a marked crosswalk and failing to carry valid insurance.

The driver is scheduled to appear in Halifax Provincial Court at a later date.”

However, some further information has been shared including this report from HRM Safe Streets for Everyone member Chris Osbourne:

“Tonight while on a water main break, I saw (from a great distance) a Ford E250 van absolutely plow into a woman crossing the road on foot.

The woman was thrown from the marked crosswalk, approx 35 feet into a ditch.

If anyone knows who that woman is, I hope she is OK.

Myself and a second younger fellow sat with her in the ditch to keep her calm until medical aid arrived.

Completely unnecessary, especially this time of year.

Please slow down and pay attention…especially around crosswalks and school zones.”

A Go Fund Me page has also been initiated which appears to relate to this incident, though it cannot be verified as genuine:

“My friend of 25 years was hit in the marked crosswalk of herring cove rd and woodcrest ave last night she is in hospital with a lacerated liver small fractures to her spine and other organs needing healing she is also 16 weeks pregnant with twins and her placenta is damaged and will be on bed rest the remainder of her pregnancy things will get really tight now with her needing round clock care of there is anything someone can do to help even if it’s just 1$ or a gift card for food please help if u can”

A petition has also been initiated (104 signatures at the time of writing) to install “crosswalk lights”at this location, likely meaning pedestrian activated overhead amber flashing lights. A supporter of the petition states:

“There shouldn’t need to be someone hurt or killed before this city does something about pedestrians but apparently that’s the only way things get done around here. I wish we could be more proactive instead of reactive but here we are. Do something HRM. Before another life is in the balance.”

The reality of any impact from a vehicle travelling at speed is substantial damage to our unprotected body. We generally don’t get to know much about that unless friends or family members share further information publicly, or as occurred last year a local Doctor raises concerns due to what they are seeing at local hospitals.

Why so many incidents on crosswalks and what can be done?

We have known for some time that faded paint and an overhead sign with no flashing lights are woefully inadequate for a main road that likely sees average traffic speeds in excess of 50 km/h, says local lawyer Gavin Giles:

“the Crosswalk where she was hit is very difficult. There are frequent near misses. Cars approach from the west (inbound) at high speeds. Cars approaching from the east are just getting clear of Dentith Road and accelerate far too quickly right into and through that crosswalk.

The speed zone is 50 but 80 is more common. Speed zone enforcement there is all but nil.”

Crosswalks like the one at Herring Cove Road and Woodcrest Avenue require something additional to overhead signs to ensure drivers slow down as they approach the crosswalk; a pedestrian refuge island and lights to alert drivers that a pedestrian is crossing, ideally red (a clear signal to stop) as seen in Europe and elsewhere. In Nova Scotia, the less reliable flashing amber light (yield if a pedestrian is seen crossing or about to cross) is used.

So why have dangerous crosswalks not been adequately assessed for safety, and improved? 

Until they are, these extremely treacherous crosswalks are death-traps for the disabled, children, pregnant women and seniors. The fact that all ten of Halifax’s recent pedestrian fatality victims were over 55 years old should be raising serious alarm, and requiring urgent action.

The Municipality must follow the leading example set by our inspirational community and volunteer driven crosswalk flag programme and act by a proactive, not reactive, process of assessing and adapting its unfit-for-purpose crosswalk infrastructure throughout the Municipality.

Very gradual and incremental progress is not an option – this will only result in far more of our least able vulnerable road users being seriously injured or killed. 

A shake up of our crosswalk priorities and infrastructure choices is decades overdue, it is an obligation, and it must start to happen now, beyond isolated examples and tests.

What if the driver has no insurance?

Usually compensation for injury would be obtained through the driver’s insurance policy. But what if the driver has no valid insurance policy, as reported in this unfortunate incident this week? Gavin Giles suggests as follows:

“If this woman has an insured car of her own, she can make a claim against her own insurance – Section “D”. Otherwise, she can still claim through the Facility Association.”

It is also worth enquiring in what circumstances a local municipality may be found negligent for failure to provide adequate and robust crosswalk infrastructure that is fit for the required purpose of ensuring pedestrians of all ages and abilities can cross a dangerous road safely.

Could this be our last winter of crosswalk violence?

This is an unfortunate but not at all exceptional incident involving a pedestrian in Halifax. It is time to put this very unfortunate and very long-term chapter of constant incidents on dangerous crosswalks behind us. 

Dangerous crosswalks are a concern for those who rely on walking for their mobility needs. It is a concern for the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women, and children. It prevents our weakest road participants from enjoying what should be a human right to walk in safety, regardless of their ability or disability, and ultimately results in a Darwinistic road environment where the least able pay the ultimate price for their disability or age-related physical, mental or medical disadvantages. 

Finally, we should understand by now that dangerous crosswalk conditions do not help to make pedestrians more careful and so safer, as claimed by some. Years of crosswalk incident data analysis in Nova Scotia has shown pedestrian error is a very insignificant cause of incidents – see page 32 of this 2007 report on Crosswalk Safety in Nova Scotia.

The safety needs of our least able pedestrians must be fully assessed, understood and accommodated, not overlooked, put off, or excused through mythical claims of crosswalk incidents being an inevitable result of human error.

Halifax leadership must turn this situation around by proposing an urgent HRM wide programme of simple and inexpensive adaptations to crosswalks. We claim to be following a Vision Zero approach to road safety – it is now time that becomes a genuine and urgent reality.

If you are concerned or affected by this issue, please write to your councillor highlighting any issues you are experiencing, and asking him or her to propose our crosswalk infrastructure is proactively assessed for safety adequacy with particular regard to children, pregnant women, people with mental and physical disabilities and seniors. This exercise requires both appropriate professional expertise and consultation and direction from the community, and must include appropriate adaptations to be implemented throughout the municipality, with urgency.

See also: Sackville tragedy is wholly due to an infrastructure oversight

If you walk, cycle or use a wheelchair and are affected by road safety issues, please join HRM Safe Streets for Everyone. If your local crosswalk needs a crosswalk flag, please contact the Crosswalk Safety Society. Please remember to report issues affecting your safety to our municipal authorities using the 311 service.

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  1. Hi Martyn,

    I have written you before about how big SUVs and Pickup trucks are a factor in many of these crashes. Has anybody ever tried to sue the big auto makers (Ford, GM, et al) over this? Will the future bring us some class action suits? Ask your lawyer friend if this is a crazy idea.

    1. Hi Margo, this is not at all a crazy idea. However larger vehicles are a requirement for commercial purposes, therefore it seems it may be hard. In Europe the dangers presented by larger SUV’s, trucks and vans (far more of those there) are mitigated by crosswalks which specifically accommodate the safety needs of pedestrians – well placed lights, a raised crosswalk, pedestrian refuge islands, a narrowing of the road, etc. This genuinely presents few problems for vulnerable road users because their all ages and abilities requirements have been carefully considered and accommodated. Here something like a raised crosswalk on a main road remains unthinkable, despite Halifax apparently adopting European methodology that requires the prioritisation of vulnerable road user safety over vehicular driving convenience and flow.

  2. This institutional inertia on the part of our traffic authorities has been going on for years. Halifax’s then head of the traffic authority, Ken Reashor, downplayed any advantage to improving cross walk infrastructure by claiming that more pedestrians are hit in well-marked cross walks. When I read that comment at the time, I thought I’d fallen down a rabbit hole and emerged in an even more bizarre version of reality than Alice’s Wonderland. With folks like that running things it’s no wonder that the pace of change in these parts is glacial.


    1. Thanks Robert, agreed. He made these comments just months before incident data published in a 2007 report he signed off proved him comprehensively wrong, as mentioned in the article.

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