A brief history of Toronto’s nasty habit of running over toddlers in cars

Traffic at a standstill on the junction of Bay Street and Queen Street West in Toronto, 1959, during one minute of silence to remember the 81 people killed in traffic accidents in the city the previous year. Image: Fox Photos/Getty Images.

It seems every day, another pedestrian or cyclist is injured or killed in Toronto. In this respect the city is living a historical déjà vu: interwar Toronto (1919-1939) witnessed similar numbers of walkers and bikers, especially children, dying on its streets by the same cause: cars.

Yet, like their earlier cousins, today’s Torontonians hear the same platitudes voiced by police and community leaders: cyclists and pedestrians must actively defend their own self-interests. In other words, cyclists and pedestrians must ultimately construct ways to protect themselves — by themselves — on thoroughfares full of dangerous motor vehicles.

How odd that in 2018 the best Toronto’s policymakers and enforcers can do is to rehash a century-old idea that in practice failed catastrophically in the past? Historical fatalities involving children give us a glimpse into Toronto’s remarkably unimaginative approach to the street.

Toronto’s leaders alone created this intolerable street-policy circumstance. Their virtual indenture to the car since the 1910s effectively renders them policy-impotent.

Banning cars is one way to ensure pedestrian and cyclist safety on city streets. Image: Andrew Gook/Unsplash.

The only method to guarantee pedestrian and cyclist safety on streets currently dominated by motor vehicles would be to prohibit automobiles. Since this idea is inconceivable, what is left for municipal leaders to say or do — except lamely urge people to be careful?

Torontonians have understood the threat to civic life posed by automobilisation since the 1910s. They learned the excruciating effect of unforgiving motor vehicles on children, as they watched their own children die on the very streets in front of their homes.

At the end of the First World War, children were losing their lives by the dozens at the wheels of motorists (90 between 1919 and 1921). Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, it was common knowledge that Toronto’s children were imperiled.

The city’s newspapers almost daily, and certainly gruesomely, described how motor vehicles bruised and lacerated the “little tots of the street,” broke their bones and shattered their skulls, flayed and crushed them to death. Dragged and battered in their ancestral playground — the street — Toronto’s besieged preschoolers, many just three years old, had no recourse. Protection by government policy never happened.

Changes from horses to cars

This motor-caused trauma arose from a dramatic change to the Victorian street and its social functions. Victorian Toronto’s streets formed organically around walkers, leisurely omnibuses and plodding horse traffic. Here flowered a remarkably integrated system of slow-moving outdoor living, incorporating the whole street, façade to façade, sidewalk, curb, gutter and roadway.

True, bicyclists “scorched” through newly asphalted fin de siécle streets, sometimes running down adults and children in the first instances of modernised hit-and-run crime, but for the overwhelming majority, the street was safe. By 1920, with booming motor vehicle ownership and traffic, pedestrian, bicycle and automobile collisions became commonplace.

Automobiles raced through intersections, drove on both sides of the road, challenged streetcars and passed them as riders disembarked. They jumped curbs and collided with walkers (and buildings). They raced trains at level crossings, frequently operated erratically and, of course, cut off and bumped cyclists.

Crucially, the time-space compression of fast-moving traffic was difficult to assess for both pedestrian and driver, and both — but most especially children — struggled to adjust to the new culture of the street.

A staged image from the Ontario Safety League campaign for pedestrian safety in 1923, showing examples of improper behaviours by pedestrians and cars. Image: City of Toronto Archives.

Compounding the circumstances, foot traffic escalated as the population swelled with hundreds of thousands of opportunity-seeking migrants. Multitudes awaited public transit, paraded to schools, churches and stores, and congested sidewalks.

The consequent crisis of pedestrians and automobiles was inevitable. And neither the city nor the province had any idea how to stop a person from walking in front of a moving car, or how to prevent a motor vehicle from hitting a pedestrian.

‘The chariot of prosperity’

The real problem from a policy perspective was the automobile’s economic significance. Its value was obvious to all, particularly to Toronto’s politicians and business people. As the “perfect machine,” it was “the chariot of prosperity,” and quickly “achieved its rightful prerogative over all other methods” of transportation.

“The king of vehicles,” the Globe wrote, “the motor-driven car, has won its place in the civilised world”. That this paragon of civility fomented lethal conflict with pedestrians, including kids playing tag or chasing butterflies, was a paradox to be ignored.

So what did Toronto’s policymakers do to stop cars from killing children on the streets? Nothing.

Deputations to and motions in City Council (in 1920 and 1928 respectively) to ban motor vehicles on streets where children played were unsuccessful. The result: every year between 1927 and 1934, dozens of toddlers died horribly in the streets.

In 1934, after three consecutive years of unconscionable fatalities — 30 toddlers per year — Ontario’s highways minister, Leopold MacCaulay, exclaimed that he could not “help but shudder at... the needless mangling of little ones.”

Ironically misunderstanding his role in the policy solution, MacCaulay believed it “would seem entirely unnecessary to ask [drivers] to protect” these children. “The instinct of humanity should be sufficient,” he continued, “but these figures prove it is not.”

Thus, the only ersatz policy ever devised to prevent people and cyclists from injury and death on automobilised roads was the invocation of self-preservation. This included committing preschoolers, whose crime was to innocently play on calamitously speeded-up streets, to “the necessity of guarding against accidents by abstaining from contributory negligence,” as the Ontario Safety League put it.

Look both ways

For as long as we can remember we have looked both ways before crossing the road — this is the only policy in the municipal arsenal to prevent people from being hit by cars. It is offered with a predilection to blame non-automobilers for inattention to their own safety.

Do cars matter more than people in Toronto? Image: Arturo Castaneyra/Unsplash.

Of course, we know automobiles are the ultimate cause — but just as “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” so too cars don’t kill people; drivers kill people. Apparently, like the gun, the car itself is unimpeachable.

Pedestrians and cyclists know how to save lives in Toronto in 2018: ban automobiles from the places where we live. This cannot happen today for the same reasons it could not happen a century ago: automobiles matter more than pedestrians.

Thus, death and injury are ineluctable externalities of the car’s modern beneficence. Just as the City of Toronto wouldn’t enact policy to save the lives of the blameless and darling toddlers who fell by the hundreds a century ago, it will do nothing to protect adult bicyclists and pedestrians, regarded by many as urban pests.

The Conversation

Phillip Gordon Mackintosh, Associate Professor of Geography, Brock University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.

Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.