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Two councillors call for graphic City of Ottawa jaywalking ad to be removed

In Ottawa, 27 pedestrians were killed in collisions during the five-year period between 2016 and 2020.

Screen capture of controversial City of Ottawa ad on jaywalking Photo by City of Ottawa

Two Ottawa councillors have asked city staff to remove a graphic online advertisement designed to discourage jaywalking among pedestrians.

The advertisement features a bloodied and bruised pedestrian lying on the pavement with an accompanying admonition: “You jaywalked. You saved time. But you lost it. Forever. Cross only where it’s safe.”

The ad quickly created a storm of controversy Saturday on the social media site X (formerly known as Twitter), where Ottawa residents such as architect Toon Dreessen decried it as “victim blaming.” He called the ad “shocking.”

Ottawa Citizen

“It fails to recognize road violence for what it is,” Dreessen said in an interview. “It’s victimizing pedestrians for being hurt when it’s inattentive drivers, poor infrastructure, poor road design that are really the culprits.”

In Ottawa, 27 pedestrians were killed in collisions during the five-year period between 2016 and 2020, according to a City of Ottawa road safety report.

Capital Ward Coun. Shawn Menard and Alta Vista Ward Coun. Marty Carr asked the city to immediately withdraw the advertisement.

Menard said the ad was offensive on multiple” levels. “It blames the victims of road violence for their injuries or death, when, in fact, the city bears the greatest responsibility as residents do not design the potentially dangerous streets they are forced to navigate, walk along and cross,” he said.

Using images of bloodied and damaged bodies, Menard added, could be also disturbing to people who have been victims of road violence.

In a message to city council Saturday, public works department general manager Alain Gonthier apologized for failing to inform councillors that a set of road safety “test ads” were being rolled out in advance of a full campaign later this fall. He also defended the approach taken in the ads.

“We acknowledge the graphic nature of the visuals,” Gonthier said in his email, obtained by this newspaper. “This approach has been done in other jurisdictions around the world and is in line with a safe systems approach to road safety, whereby all users of the roadway have a shared responsibility for their safety.

“We believe this approach will depict the serious nature of road safety and lead to a greater awareness to all road users of their responsibilities, which will contribute to our goal of saving lives.”

The image of the stricken pedestrian was only one in a series of test ads developed by the city, Gonthier said, and was released “on a limited basis.” Other ads in the series target unsafe driving habits.

Gonthier said the ad campaign was meant to change individual behaviours, and, to that end, it sought to put a human face on the issue rather than to rely on statistics.

The city’s road safety action plan aims for a 20-per-cent reduction in the average annual rate of collisions resulting in fatal and major injuries by 2024.

fatal collision bus pedestrian st. laurent boulevard
Police investigate the scene of a fatal collision involving an OC Transpo bus and a pedestrian at the intersection of St. Laurent and Tremblay Road on July 20. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

Gonthier said research showed 29 per cent of serious pedestrian accidents in Ottawa during the past four years occurred when pedestrians crossed the street mid-block rather than at intersections; another 23 per cent occurred when pedestrians with the right-of-way were struck by drivers turning left.

Dreessen maintained the city should apologize for the tone of the ads, adding: “There needs to be a more sustained commitment on part of city staff and city council to impose design leadership and make our streets safer for people.”

Some Ottawa streets, he said, such as the Blackburn Hamlet Bypass and Strandherd Drive, are designed for highway speeds. Many other city speed limits, he said, do not account for the size and weight of today’s pickup trucks and SUVs.