I wrote this letter of concern to the London Police Services board because of a long term frustration with these issues in London and, in the immediate, an announcement yesterday that London Police Service would do a safety blitz targeting pedestrians and cyclists (see here for coverage in the Free Press, Global News, CBC, Blackburn). I get that they will be targeting “all road users” – and intersections are certainly the most dangerous part of our city – but the language used by London Police in these reports demonstrates clearly that they see pedestrians and cyclists as the problem, rather than what many of us perceive as a dangerous driving culture in the city. Anyway, I wanted to share because the only way to affect change at both London Police Service and City of London is at the top and from a policy and planning level.

September 13 2019

Dear Mr. Salih, Mayor Holder, Chief Williams and members of the Police Services Board,

I am writing to express my perception that London Police Services inadequately addresses pedestrian and cyclist safety. I have developed this perception over the past five years living in London, interacting with members of the Traffic Management Unit, and using our city’s infrastructure as a driver, cyclist and pedestrian. This week’s announcement that London Police Services would crack down on these road users confirms many of my suspicions.

My concerns are mostly based on experiences as a cyclist who commutes daily from Ryerson Public School to Huron University College. If you think about this commute, you will realize that I only cross one arterial road (Richmond) before arriving at Western’s campus, riding mostly in a residential neighbourhood and on the university campus. And yet, on a near weekly basis I end up in altercations with drivers who either do not give me enough space or roll through stop signs inattentively. Most concerning is that about once a month vehicles cross through intersections while my children (5 and 8) and I are still crossing. To be clear, I am talking about instances where a vehicle moves through the intersection while we are standing in front of it, not when we are almost through crossing.

Because of these frequent incidents in my residential neighbourhood, I have tried to understand London Police Services’ strategies to protect cyclists and pedestrians. I have read through all the material available on the “Reports and Statistics” section of your website. Doing so suggests to me that London Police Services neither takes this aspect of public safety very seriously, nor see it as part of your core mandate. In the annual reports, there is almost no reference to the Traffic Management Unit or pedestrian and cyclist safety. In fact, in an off-hand comment, the 2016 Annual Report considers these issues minor.

I would like to call your attention to several statistics that suggest ignorance of pedestrian and cyclist safety is a major problem:

  • The number of cyclists and pedestrians who have died on our streets rivals our murder rate each year. I suspect that the number of people seriously injured in traffic accidents, a number that is harder to determine, is similar to those who are victims of violent crime. These deaths and injuries are entirely preventable, but only when London Police Service and the City of London take seriously dangerous and careless driving around pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Based on your annual statistics, aside from theft, the number of hit-and-runs (1,066 between January and June according to the London Free Press (https://lfpress.com/news/local-news/mother-of-hit-and-run-victim-pleads-for-support)) is comparable to most other major crimes.
  • Automobile accidents out number most other crimes both in aggregate number and cost incurred to victims.

By almost every metric, traffic management and safety should be one of the core priorities for the London Police Service. Yet, it is not at all reflected in your reporting to the public. This suggests that your organization does not take these concerns seriously.

Furthermore, your Public Needs Survey demonstrates well that this is an area where the public would like increased service and visibility. There is real demand for more foot and bike patrol as well as relative dissatisfaction with your attention to traffic safety. I would like to suggest that it is time for a change in how you approach your work.

The Public Needs Survey points to one way in which you are inadequately approaching road and sidewalk safety. This survey does not at all ask about how safe pedestrians and cyclists feel in the city. Oddly, but illustrative of the biases I hope you will address because of this letter, the survey asks how safe drivers feel on the road. Why would you ask this question and not ask about how safe other road users feel while walking or riding their bikes?

Fifteen percent of our working population (33,100 of 222,815) travel to work without a car; at some point in the day, everyone uses our sidewalks. Though not the majority in terms of commuting to work, this is also not a marginal proportion of our city’s population. It effects everyone. I for one, commute to work on foot or bike daily, but drive through the city several times a week. I want to live in a city where everyone feels safe. When we investigate public perceptions of safety, it does not make sense to exclude some, while focusing on others. It is very concerning that you ask only about driver safety without asking similar questions about pedestrians and cyclists (especially given that these are modes of transportation commonly used by children and teens).

I understand that the Highway Traffic Act makes it easy to pass these issues off to other organizations and branches of government. I have certainly heard from your officers about how responsibility for many of these problems lay at the feet of our city’s planning department and not the police department.  I would suggest, though, given that London Police Services’ role is ensuring public safety, greater emphasis in this area is necessary. If reform in planning is needed, I would hope that London Police Services is leading the charge to pressure the City of London to make a significant and immediate shift in how it plans our city’s infrastructure.

Given that the number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths on our streets is comparable to our homicide rate, and collisions rival other forms of property damage in both number and cost, in writing this letter, I would like you to provide me with the following information that will help me better understand how your services are addressing this issue.

  • The total number of complaints since October 2018 about dangerous pedestrians and cyclists compared with complaints about dangerous drivers that informed the decision to target pedestrians and cyclists as part of next week’s blitz.
  • The number of criminal charges for incidents involving pedestrians and cyclists laid since October 2018.
  • The number of charges under the Highway Traffic Act for incidents involving pedestrians and cyclists.
  • The number of traffic charges issued by officers on foot or on bicycle; including the number of traffic charges issued because of their work against dangerous drivers.
  • How budgetary allocations for the Traffic Management Unit compare to other policing units, specifically major crimes but also others such as canine and the media office.
  • Given the high number of hit-and-runs, what strategies London Police Service has put in place to decrease these dangerous encounters.

All of this information should be publicly and easily available. As a member of the public it is hard for me to assess your work without knowing exactly how much effort you are putting in this area. It could be that my experience is not indicative of your broader efforts. This information should demonstrate well just how seriously you are taking these concerns.

In my opinion, though, next week’s so-called “blitz” is a major symptom of the problems I identify above. As you move forward in making longer-term decisions as a board, I hope that you will consider revisiting how London Police Service protects pedestrians and cyclists. What you are doing right now does not seem to be working. It would be encouraging to see policies and budget allocations that reflect the serious dangers inflicted on our city by careless use of motor vehicles and bad urban planning.

Thank you for taking these concerns seriously.

Tom Peace

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