A few days ago, a woman in our office was hit by a car at the corner of Fitzroy and Queen streets. She emerged with a broken wrist, facial lacerations and a dread of ever walking in Charlottetown again. She's not the only one.
As a Charlottetown pedestrian of long standing, I too fear walking our streets. Inevitably, pedestrians suffer the most severe consequences of any altercation with motorists. And to be clear, the province's driving handbook states unequivocally it's the driver's responsibility to yield.
There are a series of white lines painted across Queen Street running parallel to Fitzroy. Although I've lived in Charlottetown for several decades, I've never seen any official explanation as to what they signify. I've always assumed they are crosswalks indicating motorists must stop for pedestrians, but many simply disregard them.
Daily, drivers ignore people trying to cross the street at these designated crossings. For walkers, the worst crossing is Fitzroy at Great George where, despite a blinking overhead light, white lines on the road and clear signage, cars vie with one another to scoot up the inside lane so they can get to wherever they're going 10 seconds earlier.
If driving through a crosswalk while someone is trying to cross is a traffic offense why are the police not fining offending motorists in downtown Charlottetown? How are hundreds of thousands of off-Island visitors supposed to know what these lines mean?
The Guardian reported an accident in Summerside this summer in which a young man was hit by a car driven by off-Island visitors who presumably weren't aware of the Island version of the crosswalk.
These crosswalks are placed and maintained by individuals who never actually walk in Charlottetown. Why are they only on one side of a crossing rather than on both as they were a number of years ago? The inconvenience for the walker who is trying to be faithful to the signage is far greater than it is for the motorist.
Why are they not maintained during the winter? By the time spring comes, most of the crosswalks are barely visible. Some were not re-painted this year until June. Surely, there must be salt and slush resistant paint that would make the crosswalks visible to motorists. Why are parking places repainted long before the crosswalks? It makes the city appear to be more interested in revenue generation than in protecting the safety of its citizens.
Why are crosswalks placed in non-intuitive places? There is a marked crosswalk on Brighton Road in front of the old hospital, for example, that starts from the lawn on the hospital side and leads to a concrete pad the city has installed presumably so pedestrians don't do what is most intuitive which is to walk up the closest driveway to the sidewalk. During the winter, of course, it's virtually unusable because of the snow piled up on either side.
The City has recently started putting flags at crossings to offer pedestrians greater visibility. This approach seems to be a tacit admittance that the City regards the pedestrian as being solely responsible for their safety. Why isn't there a similar campaign to make motorists more aware of having to stop for walkers?
Pedestrians are also trying to get to work but are just not cocooned in two thousand pounds of automobile moving at speed. To be fair, the majority of motorists are respectful of pedestrians and do stop at marked and unmarked crosswalks (sometimes even if you just happen to be lingering innocently by the side of the road.)
Recently, I was standing at a clearly marked crosswalk. A city bus approached and sailed on through. As it passed, I pointed at the large crosswalk sign. The driver did a double take as though he'd never noticed it before. Another pedestrian, having witnessed the incident, stopped me and said, "It's pretty bad when even the city bus drivers don't stop at crosswalks."
Yes, it is that bad, and although it's too late for my injured colleague, it's going to get worse unless the City takes the initiative and makes it safe for all citizens - not just the motorized ones - to safely traverse its streets.
- Douglas Malcolm is a Charlottetown writer, and pedestrian of long standing who has concerns for the safety of walkers in the city.