take back our roads

There are now flags for pedestrians to hold at dangerous Toronto crosswalks

With an exploding population of both people and motorists who don't obey the rules, Toronto is growing ever more dangerous for vulerable pedestrians.

Police data shows that cycling and pedestrian deaths hit an all-time recorded high in 2018 with a whopping 41 and five fatalities, respectively.

Citizens are growing frustrated, even as the city works to combat the problem by reducing speed limits and spending tens of millions of dollars on road safety measures through John Tory's Vision Zero program.

Last year, cyclists started using pool noodles as buffers in an attempt to protect themselves from dangerous drivers. Pedestrians took to sharing their own near-death experiences on Twitter.

Now, the residents of at least one Toronto neighbourhood have attached yellow flags to the poles of a crosswalk for people to hold for enhanced visibility.

"Welcome to Toronto, where apparently you should now wave a flag if you hope to cross the street safely. At a signalized intersection. By a school," tweeted urban planner Gil Meslin with a photo of the crosswalk on Monday afternoon.

The crossing in question, near Bathurst and Nina Streets, is known to be problematic, according to Meslin.

"The problem here is not pedestrian visibility," he explained in his thread about the flags. "It is drivers who race through yellows and run red lights to make it down the road to the next red light 30 seconds sooner."

"Hillcrest School on the left. Crossing guard on the right," he wrote in an earlier tweet with video footage from the crossing. "This is the culture that kills."

As Meslin points out, this particular flag setup appears to have been installed by the insurance company Aviva as part of their "Take Back Our Roads" campaign.

The company had highlighted the idea, as concepted by a group of Grade 5 students near Davisville, earlier in June, calling it "the cross safe flag program."

At least one other group is doing the same thing in the neighbourhood of Summerhill.

Here's how the program works, should you encounter an intersection with a can of flags attached to streetlight poles, according to Aviva.

"At each corner of the intersection, canisters with bright orange flags are attached to streetlight poles. When crossing, pedestrians: Take one flag, look both ways, maintain eye contact with the driver, cross street with flag held up in the air, place flag in the canister at the other side of the street."

Sad as the fact is that Toronto even needs such an idea, it's said to be working in Davisville.

"The program has been hugely successful, with students proudly holding out flags as they cross intersections safely," reads Aviva's blog post.

"Intersection by intersection, the Cross Safe network is growing, allowing pedestrians and students to get where they’re going - safely."

Lead photo by

Gil Meslin

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