Pedestrian shaming has long been a way for cities to prioritize cars over people, from the invention of jaywalking to blaming walkers for their smartphone use. In Toronto, an ad campaign telling pedestrians that their clothes make them more likely to get hit by cars is getting serious backlash—and rightly so.
The “Stay Focused, Stay Safe” campaign by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) features several different posters telling pedestrians to pay attention. But the poster that’s made advocates the most angry is one that insists certain wardrobe items are simply not fit to be worn on city streets. Sorry, all Toronto goths.
Although they’ve been up around the city for several months, the posters were heavily criticized on social media over the weekend, after CBC News published troubling comments from a driver who hit a girl stepping off a streetcar.
While supposedly apologizing, the driver quickly shifted blame to the people on foot who dared to exit the streetcar in what would seem to be a normal and predictable pattern. (“The doors just swing open and people just run out,” said the driver.) The driver asked the transit authority to remind riders to watch for cars—not the other way around. Which is exactly what TTC’s posters are saying, too.
Posters with anti-pedestrian messages like this not only make it seem like city streets are dangerous for walkers, but they also give people an easy excuse to to shift the blame to the person on foot in the event of a crash. It’s much like using the word “accident” after a collision to help absolve the driver of any fault.
In addition, several studies have proven that so-called high-visibility clothing does not, in fact, help drivers pay attention to pedestrians and cyclists. A 2014 study by the University of Bath tested the impact on a wide range of cyclist outfits—including one that said POLICE—on driver behavior for 5,690 passing vehicles.
“Our study suggests that, no matter what you wear, it will do nothing to prevent a small minority of people from getting dangerously close when they overtake you,” lead author Ian Walker (no relation) told the Association for Psychological Science last year.
In fact, the only thing that is proven to make pedestrians safer is better street design. This includes infrastructural changes like slower speed limits, narrower streets, better crosswalks, and—yes!—brighter street lighting. It would seem that instead of encouraging pedestrians to change their clothes to help them be seen on dark city streets, the city should be making the changes that might make those streets less dark.
Toronto’s misguided messaging isn’t the only city-funded anti-pedestrian campaign; the city’s police department runs its own shaming ads, like a 2013 video that encouraged walkers to #DoTheBrightThing. Instead of paying to make videos and slap up a bunch of garbage posters all over town, that’s money which could easily have been used to improve street lighting for the city’s most dangerous intersections.