Motordom Reigns Supreme in Ontario where a Pedestrian Crossing is a Courtesy

Perth Ontario is located 83 kilometers from Ottawa and is an old town established after the War of 1812 in 1816. The Tay River runs through it, and it has a historical core of stone buildings and antique storefronts that are a visual delight to pedestrians. It is a perfect place to stroll and window shop, with many great restaurants and the wonder of the Gore Street Antique Market which is a huge store full of different antique vendors and some museum quality antiques. A hand painted scroll presented to one of Vancouver’s original steamship captains was found here and  is now heading to the Vancouver Maritime Museum.
With all of this interest, it made sense for the Town of Perth to make some pedestrian “courtesy” crossings for  visitors and others to cross the street. But “courtesy” takes on a whole new meaning here because in Ontario cars are not legally required to stop for them. You read that right. The use of the cross walk is at the users’ risk, and Police “would likely not lay a charge against a driver if the driver does not yield to a pedestrian. It is the responsibility of the pedestrian crossing at the ‘courtesy’ locations to ensure vehicles have stopped before they cross.” 

Because the pedestrian crossings are really not safe pedestrian crossings where cars stop for pedestrians, the Town of Perth laid out additional signage on the poles letting pedestrians know they are liable if hit. The safe alternative under the Ontario Highway Act is  a pedestrian activated light signal which would cost in the six figures. In this case, if the motorist hit the pedestrian while the pedestrian was crossing with a walk light the motorist would be liable.

It was Allan Jacobs formerly of the San Francisco Planning Department and the author of “Great Streets” that taught the “Curb Test”. That is a specific test where you step off the curb by one foot and wait to see if traffic will stop. If traffic will not stop, you again double the space between yourself and the curb.  The Curb Test was applied  at a “courtesy crossing” on Perth’s Gore Street-no one stopped. Once the Curb Test was applied and the pedestrian attempting to cross was photographed, traffic stopped. Clearly a witness with a camera made the difference to car behaviour.
Ontario has now amended their Highway Act to allow for “pedestrian crossovers” with a painted cross walk and overhead lights and pedestrian activated flashers. These however are generally for four lane roads with a minimum speed of 60 kilometers per hour and are a major expenditure.  For those folks walking around Ontario’s small towns, those technology light, simple “courtesy” crossings are not pedestrian friendly, reinforcing that in Ontario, the “car is still king”.