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On Balance  

The irony of not walking

Mental Health alert!

OK, this is still a column about traffic safety, especially but not exclusively for motorcyclists. First though, I have to look after an issue that just came up.

I learned, in discussion with the editor of a major Canadian motorcycle magazine, that the stuff I’ve been writing is “too depressing,” with not enough solutions.

True, I don’t have to sell motorcycles or motorcycling, my role is specifically rider safety, so I’ve not been offering the usual happy-clappy fluff you can buy at the magazine racks.

But in any case, I felt I should make some mental health suggestions in case somebody is feeling a bit blue after reading about safety issues and how they affect us. Degrees in psychology and social work, after all.

Little irony there, eh?

So here you go: take a hike, ride a bike, go for a swim, ski, snowshoe, whatever. Run, jog, racewalk on the trails. Get some physical activity. Burn off calories and the blues, so it’s a twofer.

Decades of research have confirmed what my grandparents knew on the homestead. Moderate physical activity, “aerobic activity”, is a very effective antidote to depression, more effective in many cases than various medications and other therapies.

Go outside and play, as my mom used to say.

But, like the headline says, don’t walk. Around town. Especially, across roadways.

Because that, my friends, is a very good way to get killed or injured, wrecking the happy buzz you were after. Particularly at this time of year, it’s a minefield on our city streets, and crosswalks are where the big bang happens.

This is familiar to motorcyclists because intersections are very hazardous zones for us while we’re riding. Same deal as pedestrians, because, well, we’re “vulnerable road users” either way.

That’s what the safety boffins call both groups. No roof and fenders equals vulnerable.

Forty per cent of pedestrian fatalities happen at intersections, often involving a vehicle turning left or right across a pedestrian’s path. Just like when we’re on the bike. Big numbers in the afternoon or early evening, same again. 75% of pedestrian injuries happen in the evening rush hour. Similar patterns.

Not similar: time of year when this is at it’s worst. Which starts right now, when we’re putting away the bike. And continuing through the winter non-riding, pedestrian doldrums.

So, fellow riders, right when we thought we could let our hair down a bit from all our intersection vigilance, what’s actually happening is we’re just changing our roles but not our risks.

Some other patterns will seem familiar as well. When it comes to solutions, the standard old party lines get repeated endlessly.

  • Look left and right before crossing.
  • Make eye contact with drivers.
  • Approach with caution, don’t rush into the intersection (crosswalk).
  • Be prepared to yield, even if you “have the right of way”. No point in being dead right.
  • Avoid distractions, like phones, headphones, and texting.
  • And  - Wear Bright Clothing!

Once again, (depressingly), we as vulnerable road users are told to look after our own safety, by dressing up like a clown and waiting for everyone else to get where they’re going first. Wowee. 

Oh yeah, I forgot. Wear a hat with flashing lights. Helpful.

But, what if we actually want to stop the carnage? After all, the Better Homes and Garbage list for pedestrian safety has, for decades, just let pedestrians occupy a bigger, not a smaller, piece of the injury and fatality pie chart. Like riders.

For some stuff that works, here’s an “aerobic activity lis," if you will, for real pedestrian safety. The stuff I want all our governments to get busy with.

  • Change the crosswalks. Raised, better lit, and better controlled pedestrian crossings save lives.
  • Change the timing. When cars and pedestrians occupy the same space at the same time, people die. So, pedestrian movement only, then automotive movement only.
  • Change the speeds. The faster a vehicle is moving when it hits a pedestrian, the more likely a fatality.
    30 km speed limits at crossings and in high-pedestrian areas save lives. Proven worldwide.
  • Change the placement. Moving the crosswalk back a few feet along the roadway, instead of right at the point where vehicles are starting a turn, gives drivers more time/space to actually look for pedestrians.
  • Change the timeframes. Pedestrians move at a bit less than the speed of light, that is to say, the Walk Light. 18 seconds? How far is Grandma going to get in 18 seconds? Into harm’s way, that’s how far.
  • Change the movement. Some cities have a different pattern for pedestrian crossings.  Cars in all directions get red lights, and then pedestrians can cross in all directions, including diagonally. Called a “pedestrian scramble." Works.
  • Change the courts. In countries with better safety records, drivers who hit pedestrians are automatically deemed at fault, and penalized accordingly. Here, our legal view seems to be that pedestrians are the problem, and they struggle for compensation. Should have worn that yellow hat with the lights.

Proven solutions. The Safer Systems Approach to road safety. If our leaders implement them, following the Provincial Road Safety Strategy, we’ll all be a lot less “vulnerable.”

Also happier, walking or riding.

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About the Author

Bill Downey is a retired professional social worker in support programs for people with congenital or acquired physical and cognitive challenges, who was also a volunteer firefighter and a BCGEU health and safety advocate.

For many years, he has been a motorcycle riding coach/instructor with Kelowna Safety Council who spends too much time studying international traffic safety research and not enough time doing all the outdoor things a boy from the Okanagan should be doing.

He has lived a very large portion of his life on two wheels as a commuting and travelling cyclist, but, for the extra challenge, he is also as a motorcycle commuter.

By nature, he has a balanced approach to all things.

[email protected]https://kdsc.bc.ca



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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