Was the great pedestrian uprising in Winnipeg the last stand of the forgotten man on foot? Has he — that’s all of us, after we’ve parked — already been beaten in the race against the machine for the right to use our cities in comfort? Well?
THE LAST REAL PEDESTRIAN IS DEAD. All his life, until the day he died (of natural causes) last August, William Charles Turney held the quaint belief that people are more important than traffic lights or cars. Being an Anglican priest, he was a man of principle, and what Father Turney preached about the inherent rights of men over machines, he practised successfully as a resolute jaywalker on Winnipeg streets for thirty years.
Father Turney did not get the send-off he deserved as the last holdout against the domination of the automobile. If we still don't appreciate what he tried to do. it is because we 4,302,770 car-owners across Canada don't realize what w'e have been doing to ourselves and to thirteen million other Canadians who spend some part of each day as pedestrians. What w'e have been doing is letting the automobile hog
our streets, dominate our traffic control systems and reshape our cities until a man in a car can barely move—which doesn't enhance the usefulness of automobiles—and a man on foot has to jockey for standing room only.
DEFYING THE LIGHTS, THEY SURGED ACROSS THE STREET
It’s gone so far that most men on foot seem to have lost even the will to fight back, and we may not see again a great pedestrian uprising like the one Father Turney helped lead three years ago. It happened when Winnipeg first installed WALK — DON'T WALK traffic signals. Father Turney didn’t believe in letting a traffic light tell him when to use the street under any circumstances. Other pedestrians, though willing to obey reasonable signals, found the new ones gave them only ten seconds to get across the street. Cars, on the other hand, had the green light for ninety seconds. Soon people were following Father Turney's example, surging across the street without waiting for the lights. Many people also wrote letters to the newspapers, bitterly attacking the timing of the new devices. After several months, the authorities gave in and extended the walk periods, almost doubling them at the widest intersections. Satisfied, everybody but Father Turney went back to obeying the signals.
An earlier uprising in Winnipeg was even more revolutionary, for it brought about a change in the law.
CONTINUED ON PAGE 48
continued from page 26
“Cars, cars, cars!” exclaimed the Russian, “That’s all you have! Aren't there any people?”
For years the police had tried to stop shoppers from jaywalking across Donald Street, on their way to and from Eaton's department store. Donald is a one-way street. Few people could see any point in waiting when there were no cars in sight. A constable was assigned to do nothing but catch Donald Street jaywalkers. But there were so many of them that he found every time he caught one ten others slipped across the street. Finally the authorities gave up and made it legal to jaywalk on Donald. "The original law was patently absurd.” admits Chief Constable Robert T. Taft. Taft's men later took the same common-sense attitude toward Father Turney. “He made life a bit more interesting," the chief says. “Police.” the father used to say for his part, “are law-breakers if they obstruct pedestrians crossing in orderly fashion. whatever the color of the lights." The police never obstructed Father Turney, and he lived to be seventyseven without ever getting hurt in traffic.
Father Turney probably carried the fight against this tyranny of the machine as far as a reasonable man can. There was another individualist in Winnipeg who used to cross the streets with a cane, w'hacking the hoods of any cars he thought came too close to him. Occasionally, he broke a windshield. (Not long ago he was placed in a mental institution.)
One Toronto man must feel like doing the same thing after his ex-
perience at a crosswalk last year. To warn motorists of his intention to cross the street, he stood on the sidewalk and stuck out his arm. A passing car broke it in three places.
And the futility of any lone pedestrian's struggle against the automobile has never been more thoroughly demonstrated than it w'as last spring by a Toronto housewife, Mrs. Audrey Jardine, who got annoyed because many motorists were failing to give her the right of way at an Avenue Rd. crosswalk she used frequently. She began taking down license numbers of cars that refused to stop. When she had five numbers, she traced the owners, phoned them and asked if they would please be more considerate. One rudely hung up, but the other four promised to be more careful. However. Mrs. Jardine says, there are thousands of other motorists who make that crosswalk as dangerous as ever.
If the safety of pedestrians were the only thing at stake, it would be bad enough. Authorities estimate that about eight hundred people will be knocked off their feet and killed in Canada this year. But we are, by our own design, being overrun by automobiles in more ways than one. A Russian who accompanied Khrushchov on his visit to New York sat at an upper window of the Soviet Embassy on Park Avenue, staring incredulously at the street and exclaiming. “Cars, cars, cars! That’s all you have! Aren’t there any people?”
Allowing for some differences in living standards and population density (statisticians now speak of “car population” as if Fords and Chevs were people) the Russian visitor could have been looking at any of a hundred streets across Canada where we the people keep giving away more and more ground to the motor car.
The late leader of the last pedestrian revolution
If a road needs widening for motor traffic, it gets widened — even if a sidewalk has to go. Has the reverse ever happened—has a road ever been narrowed to make way for a sidewalk? We motorists wouldn't tolerate such encroachment.
Every year a few downtown buildings in several Canadian cities are razed to make space for parking. But how many buildings get leveled to make way for a park, an open square or a walkway? Such pleasant conveniences are almost always considered too costly to waste on people who are merely on foot.
Expropriation has become routine along expressway routes. But has any city ever seized a piece of land to build a sidewalk, let alone cut a swath through a downtown area for an elevated walkway? (Incidentally, the moving sidewalk, which was soon to be carrying us around our cities — according to predictions we were hearing even before World War II—is here at last. Somebody installed one in a Montreal shopping centre this summer. It's seventy feet long. )
The pity is that nearly all of us, including the great majority of us who are also motorists, want parks, malls, protected walkways and other things to make life on foot more agreeable. But we never insist on getting these things the way we insist, as motorists, on getting wider roads, additional parking and fast expressways. There are times of course when it is just and proper for motorists to get priority in our public spending. But pedestrians never seem to come first, and usually they come such a
poor second that they don't get properly looked after at all.
Ron Haggart, the Toronto Daily Star's columnist on municipal affairs, considers pedestrians’ rights a lost cause already. For nostalgia's sake, he likes to record the effects felt around Toronto from the promachine. antipeople policies that are shaping most Canadian cities. His published findings have included:
• A point on a major suburban thoroughfare where pedestrians must step off, unprotected, into a busy traffic lane because the sidewalk tapers to nothing. It was built that way to make way for cars entering a shopping plaza.
• An inviting walk that leads almost. hut not quite. to a pleasant stretch of Fake Ontario shoreline. Here one of southern Ontario’s busiest thoroughfares blocks the pedestrian's path. There is no traffic light, stop sign or crosswalk. The citizen on foot crosses at his own peril, which is considerable.
• A new underpass which cornmendably makes it unnecessary for automobiles to cross a dangerous stretch of railway tracks in the western suburbs. Its design is such that several hundred pedestrians who go to the station each day to catch the commuter train must now either trespass on private property or walk an extra block and a half to reach the station.
• An intersection where a signal tells pedestrians to WALK and a motor-vehicle signal simultaneously gives a green light to any driver wanting to cut across their path.
These and other examples of “pedestrian indignities," as Haggart solemnly calls them in the published minutes of his mythical Pedestrian Protective Association, might have happened almost anywhere in Canada, for they were created with the intention of keeping traffic moving. Keeping traffic moving is a commendable aim, but somehow it always turns out to mean motor traffic, not pedestrian traffic or even people traffic as a whole. And in our zeal to pay homage to the automobile, we have decided that keeping traffic moving is a cause as lofty and noble as feeding the world’s starving millions or avoiding nuclear war.
A good example of the keeptraffic-moving-at-all-costs school of philosophy occurred recently in Vancouver, a city normally noted for its enlightened attitude toward pedestrians. Interviewed for this article, Kenneth Vaughan-Birch. who is the city's director of traffic engineering and is no doubt responsible for much of Vancouver’s enlightenment, said he was in favor of malls and other pedestrian preserves, providing they (a) left room for parking, and (b) didn't hinder the flow of traffic. Both arc reasonable provisos. But it would be refreshing now to find a traffic engineer refusing to build any roads until he has been assured they (a) will leave pedestrians plenty of space for just standing around, and (b) won't hinder the flow of foot traffic.
Is there any way at all to start planners thinking about how to shape our streets and cities so that people on foot get an even break?
Spontaneous uprisings, Winnipeg style, may alter the timing of traffic lights, but they aren't likely to widen sidewalks or build malls. (The celebrated Ottawa mall is simply a threeblock, seasonal joke. The one sparkling exception to an otherwise dismal trend is Place Ville Marie, the newly opened, seven-and-a-half-acre complex of buildings in downtown Montreal. It has four acres of open space for pedestrians only. But Place Ville Marie was built on land owned for years — by the CNR — under exceptional circumstances. There is no indication that its example will be followed anywhere else in Canada.) A special organization for pedestrians isn’t any more feasible than a club for sleepers or a brotherhood of people accustomed to eating three meals a day. A New Yorker named Leo Wilensky thought otherwise in 1959, when he became cofounder and director of the Pedestrian League of America. Gathering about him a board of “administrators" who didn't own or drive automobiles, Wilensky declared all jaywalking laws unconstitutional. “In the eyes of the law,” he said, “the pedestrian should always be right." Within a year he had “150 members in ten states.” Recently I wired Wilensky, asking for a progress report. He never did reply. I like to think this was because he was out visiting the membership, on foot. But I suspect the PLA has gone the way of any organization that is obsolete the day it is founded.
We don’t need an organization. As individuals, we can and should demand tough enforcement of motor traffic laws, anci licensing tests so stringent that the worst drivers arc ruled off the road. We should agitate to make licenses for small cars drastically cheaper than licenses for big ones. (Smaller cars stop in a shorter space, are easier to see around, and take up less room on the streets and in the parking lots.) We should demand income-tax concessions for people who reduce traffic by riding in car pools or otherwise sharing their automobiles regularly. In our day, almost every man on foot is at cither times a man behind the wheel of a car, and at those times he can see striking advantages to new bylaws that would compel trucks to make all but emergency deliveries to stores and offices by night. And we would be doing almost every car-owner on the road a favor by enforcing all noparking restrictions along rush-hour routes. (Vancouver is renowned for its tow-away program.)
We should insist, through our city councils, that people who put up buildings provide enough parking space for them. (Though not necessarily on the same site. Some town planners argue, with considerable common sense, that the price of additional land should be contributed by builders and. in effect, pooled, so that the city can decide the best locations for all parking lots.)
Having won these minor concessions, we can go after bigger prizes. We might offer fast tax write-offs for merchants and building owners who provide special amenities for pedestrians — extra sidewalk space, benches, awnings or decorative roofing over sidewalks, splash guards at curbs, lighted walkways and other pedestrian-oriented pleasantries.
And when these have become commonplace we can plump for separate walkways elevated above the street, where people could window' shop at second-story levels without bothering, or being bothered by, the motor traffic below. Such conveniences are not just curiosities on some visionary’s drawing board. They—or other innovations based on the same principle of separating motor and foot traffic — are now in use or being built in Fort Worth, Texas; Daytona Beach, Fla.; and Baltimore. Md.
And while we arc trying to win back some standing room in our cities, we should reclaim the legal rights we have surrendered out of ignorance or timidity. In the great majority of towns and cities in North America, the pedestrian theoretically has the right of way at all intersections unless there is a traffic signal
against him. The sidewalk is considered to extend invisibly across the road. This is the law' in Hamilton. Ont., where authorities work hard at making it a reality, and in Montreal, where this principle is so poorly enforced that pedestrians don’t enjoy any right except the right to use their agility to survive as best they can.
Instead of the "invisible sidewalk ’ some Canadian cities — including Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto—have crosswalks.
Here the pedestrian in theory (and usually in practice) has an actual right of way. In exchange for this right, he must, in most localities, defer to motor traffic at unmarked corners and in mid-blocks.
For years, authorities have swapped statistics, experiences and occasionally some venom without ever settling the argument over which concept makes traffic safer and more efficient for everybody. Father Turney of course had a far more extreme idea
than most of us about what our rights were according to centuries of British tradition.
"Somewhere people have to draw the line.’’ he said, during the 1959 hassle over pedestrian signals. "If you do not protect these rights, then other rights will go tomorrow."
Obvious, perhaps. But no more so than another point of his that we can never seem to remember.
"Man.” Father Turney used to say, "was here before ears.” ★
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.