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Pedestrian safety program targeting Toronto seniors faces online backlash

A photo from Saturday's pedestrian safety initiative showing red-and-yellow reflective armbands being handed out to Toronto's seniors. .
A photo from Saturday's pedestrian safety initiative showing red-and-yellow reflective armbands being handed out to Toronto's seniors. . @cynthiaToronto / Twitter

A pedestrian safety program meant to help seniors by giving them reflective armbands is facing backlash from many social media users online.

As part of Toronto’s Vision Zero initiative, an event was held on Saturday at Woodside Square shopping mall in Scarborough. The event was intended to educate seniors about being visible when they are out on the streets.

Roughly 300 pedestrians across the country died each year from 2013 through 2015, with the number spiking to 346 in 2016 and dropping to 284 in 2017, according to Transport Canada. Toronto alone has reported 31 pedestrian deaths so far this year.

A Twitter post by Scarborough North Coun. Cynthia Lai shows a number of seniors and police officers gathered at the event as well as bright red-and-yellow reflective armbands being given out.

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However, many took to Twitter to voice their concerns and frustrations, with some even calling the event “victim-blaming.”

“You do not support #VisionZero, @cynthiaToronto. If you did, you would not be opposing lower speed limits in your ward or supporting victim blaming exercises as this one. #shame #TOpoli,” wrote one Twitter user.

Another person wrote about their own personal experience with reflective clothing, saying: “When a driver hit me with their car (and ran), I was riding in the bike lane, wearing neon yellow and a reflective backpack, with flashing lights, in broad daylight. I know dozens of others with similar stories. Visibility is not the problem.”

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However, some defended the initiative, saying every road user, including vulnerable pedestrians like seniors, should be educated about road safety.

“Educating the most vulnerable populations about safety is not victim-blaming. It’s an essential part of a comprehensive safety strategy,” wrote another Twitter user.

Toronto police’s traffic services unit responded to the backlash Monday morning, saying it received a request from the community in regards to traffic safety.

Sgt. Jason Kraft said the armbands are the same reflective material used by cyclists, pedestrians and other road users to be seen and are just one tool that police use in order to help keep pedestrians safe.

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“We are not by any means taking away the onus and the responsibility of the drivers and motor vehicles and saying that it’s all the pedestrians’ fault,” Kraft said. “It’s definitely going to be the drivers that need to be cautious, slow down, be aware of their surroundings and look for pedestrians and be aware that if they are going to hit a pedestrian, they’re surrounded by 3,000 pounds of metal. They need to be aware of that and take responsibility and ownership for that care and control of those vehicles.”

The mayor’s office also issued a statement on the backlash.

“Mayor John Tory wants to see any and all effective measures taken to eliminate preventable deaths and injuries on our roadways,” Don Peat, a spokesperson for Tory, said.

“The City of Toronto is absolutely focused on saving lives by working non-stop to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist collisions. The mayor has repeatedly stressed that everyone must do their part to stop these preventable deaths and injuries but that the primary onus rests with drivers in powerful steel vehicles.”

Other communities in Canada have given out reflective arm bands in recent years as they seek to increase pedestrian safety, including Halifax and Nanaimo, B.C.

With files from The Canadian Press