On safely crossing a street, aka taking your life in your hands

I see in the paper there was another collision between a motor vehicle (in this case, a bus) and a pedestrian (14-year old girl) on St Laurent Blvd. While I don’t know the exact location of the collision, I find it odd that there could be 500m without a crosswalk. I suspect there may be 500 m between signalized intersections, but even where it is an unsignalized intersection, a crosswalk exists, whether marked or unmarked.

Recall also that it is NOT ILLEGAL to cross a street. Some people think we should cross only at intersections, or signalized intersections, or at marked crosswalks.
There are many people in the pedestrian advocacy movement who will also advise you — just as I will — that it is frequently much safer to cross midblock than at intersections, since there is no turning traffic, and the potential number of conflict points is much reduced. Intersections are designed for the convenience of motorists, for the safe and fast movement of vehicles, and only rarely for the convenience of pedestrians.
I, for one, don’t feel obliged to cross at signalized intersections when they are not designed for my safety.

9 thoughts on “On safely crossing a street, aka taking your life in your hands

  1. As a pedestrian who wasn’t aware that it’s not illegal to cross a street in the middle of the block, can you explain why this isn’t jay-walking?

    1. The general rule in a Common Law jurisdiction is that things are legal unless there is a law against it. So the question would be whether there is any law in existence against “jay-walking”.

      The only place such a prohibition is likely to be found is in the Highway Traffic Act, in Part X on “Rules of the Road”:

      There are a couple of pedestrian-related clauses, such as the rule of walking on the left side of the road facing traffic, but for the most part even these clauses are related to the duties of drivers vis-à-vis pedestrians and crosswalks. Essentially, there are greater ‘protections’ for pedestrians at crosswalks than elsewhere, but there is nothing that can be construed as banning pedestrians from crossing elsewhere.

      It is possible that individual municipalities have jay-walking by-laws, but then violating these is not “illegal”.

  2. I found it interesting that although the term “jaywalking” is part of my vocabulary, I actually had no coherent idea of what it meant.

    It seems it is not a universal term, and the rules governing how pedestrians cross roadways depend a lot on what part of the world you are in. But it’s clear that “jaywalking” originated as a pejorative term from motorists staking a claim to owning the roads.

    Another enlightening post. Thanks.

  3. Have you ever visited Halifax? Motorists there are very respectful of pedestrian’s wishes. It is normal for pedestrians to cross the street wherever they like and to expect traffic to promptly stop. Is there a way to import Halifax’s driving culture to Ottawa?

    1. On the other hand, Halifax motorists, taking their lead from the City authorities no doubt, somehow fail to recognize cyclists as legitimate road users. I spent several hours searching out the least dangerous route for a friend’s daughter to make her way to and from school. I recall that a parking lot was involved for at least part of the journey. And how many bike parking spaces did the school provide? Hmmm. Ten?

    2. I grew up in a small town in New Brunswick, and yes, motorists are generally more respectful of pedestrians. It’s always a bit of culture shock to visit and have to “relearn” how to cross the street!

  4. There’s much confusion about jaywalking (I’m confused, for one). I can’t find any bylaw in Ottawa that prevents people from crossing mid-block, as long as they yield the right of way. Where I get confused is those intersections with no lights and where the crosswalks aren’t marked. I’ve been told that pedestrians have the right of way there — anyone know?

  5. Google spits out several articles about ottawa officers writing tickets for “jaywalking”, but they all seem to refer to Highway Traffic Act section 144 (27) – Pedestrian disobey “Don’t Walk” signal offenses.

    Spending a few minutes on the City of Ottawa By-Law page (http://ottawa.ca/en/licence_permit/bylaw/a_z/index.html) doesn’t show any hits for likely words like “jaywalking”, “road”, “traffic”, or even “pedestrian”.

    It isn’t impossible that the By-Law people have dreamed up their own vocabulary for this offence (that seems a likely thing for lawyers to do) but I can’t find it.

    So this would imply it is is illegal to cross at an intersection against the lights — but says nothing about crossing mid-street.

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