cellphone ban toronto

Pedestrian cellphone ban debate resurfaces in Toronto

Hundreds of thousands of students are heading back to school in Toronto this week, prompting city officials to once again ask that drivers watch out for vulnerable pedestrians.

To that effect, Mayor John Tory just announced several updates to his Vision Zero Road Safety initiative, aimed at supporting the "safety, education and wellbeing of all students in Toronto."

These measures include more than 700 city-funded crossing guards, 136 specially-marked "School Safety Zones," an expanded "Active and Safe Routes to School" pilot program and a week-long Toronto Police blitz.

"No loss of life as a result of traffic collisions is acceptable in a Vision Zero city," said Tory to reporters outside Scarborough's Oakridge Junior Public School on Tuesday morning.

"Addressing road safety continues to be a top priority for me, my City Council colleagues and all of the City of Toronto."

True as this may be, critics say Vision Zero isn't working.

To wit, at least 20 pedestrians have been killed within the City of Toronto this year so far.

Former Toronto Chief planner and 2018 mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat is one of many local advocates who feel Vision Zero focuses too much on altering the behaviour of pedestrians and drivers, as opposed to redesigning streets in a way that has been proven to reduce deaths in other cities.

"A flagrant disregard for the facts, the data and proven approaches to preventing preventable deaths on our city streets means... people continue to die," wrote Keesmaat in the first of several widely-shared tweets on the subject Monday, linking to a Toronto Star article about pedestrian collision myths.

Then, in a tweet that has since been liked nearly 2,000 times, she reminded followers that City Council had passed a motion asking the Ontario government to prohibit people from using phones at crosswalks while debating their original Vision Zero plan.

That motion, put forward by Councillor Francis Nunziata in 2016, was approved 26 to 15 with Tory himself voting in favour of the pedestrian cellphone ban.

Keesmaat held up the move on Monday as evidence of "a sustained and dangerous anti-pedestrian narrative built by politicians" in Toronto.

Her Twitter thread has since delved into a wider debate over victim blaming, and the merits of fining pedestrians for "distracted walking."

Similar to what we saw in 2017 when a Liberal MPP proposed "the Phones Down, Heads Up Act" — a private member's bill that, if passed, would have seen pedestrians fined up to $125 for using their cellphones while crossing the street — Torontonians are getting worked up over the mere mention of such a move.

"Once again, for those at the back: the AVERAGE age of people walking who were killed by cars in Toronto this year is 68," wrote one Twitter user in response to Keesmaat's now-viral tweet.

"Grandma isn’t checking her f*cking Instagram. She's trying to get across a street that is not designed to accommodate anyone but people in cars."

Others say that distracted pedestrians are indeed, the problem.

"Sorry, but individuals have to take some personal responsibility," wrote one Twitter user in reply to Keesmat.

"Looking both ways before you cross is kindergarten stuff — why have mobile phones changed this? Simple answer is — it isn't always the drivers fault — especially on busy streets. There is a shared responsibility."

"I don’t agree with the ban, but it's incorrect to assume that pedestrians are never at fault," wrote another. "I can't count the number of people that attempt suicide on an ongoing basis by stumbling across intersections staring at a phone, or wearing earbuds and all black."

It's important to note that several major studies, including one released on Friday by New York City's Department of Transportation, show that "electronic distractions" statistically account for a very low number of pedestrian fatalities.

It's an interesting conversation to follow, regardless of whether a pedestrian cellphone ban actually looms.

On the whole, most people in Toronto seem able to agree on one thing: We should look out for ourselves when using city streets like our lives depend on it — because in some cases, they do.

Lead photo by

Ian Muttoo

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