The City of Ottawa public works department is drawing criticism for road safety ads that target pedestrians rather than drivers—particularly drivers behind the wheel of larger vehicles—with graphic images of the perils of jaywalking.
“The ads, part of a larger campaign being tested by the department under the city’s road safety action plan, depict bloodied jaywalking victims lying on the ground in front of motor vehicles,” CBC reports. The city pulled the ads over the weekend after criticism from the public and some city councillors, but still plans to test graphic imagery as a deterrent to unsafe practices.
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“Ultimately, the goal of this campaign is to bring every road user’s individual responsibilities in safely sharing the road to the forefront of public discourse,” the city’s general manager of public works, Alain Gonthier, told councillors in a memo Monday. The point of the ads is “not to lay blame on any one party or individual,” he added.
A day earlier, downtown councillor Ariel Troster said at least one of the ads, showing a bloodied pedestrian on the ground in front of a car, had the wrong focus.
“You jaywalked to save time. But you lost it. Forever. Cross only where it is safe,” the ad said.
“Our city transportation staff, they care deeply about trying to prevent accidents and deaths on the road. And I know that they’re trying to change behaviour,” Troster said. “But I do think this one ad really missed the mark, in that the target was the victim of violence rather than the perpetrator.”
“Will #OttCity’s comms staff create an ad that educates us about how drivers in oversized vehicles are more likely to hit and kill pedestrians?” added west end councillor Sean Devine.
Troster, whose Somerset Ward covers the downtown core and neighbourhoods just south of Parliament Hill, “said she’s seen many instances of pedestrians and cyclists ending up in danger even when following the rules,” CBC writes. That list includes a flashing crossing signal in front of her child’s school where “drivers blow through… all the time,” she said.
“There are many situations where there should be more signalized intersections, because those are places where people, particularly children and seniors, need to cross the street,” Troster told CBC.
City data show pedestrians involved in one-quarter of the city’s “fatal and major collisions”, CBC says, and crossing somewhere other than an intersection in 29% of the incidents.
In weekend memos to council, Gonthier said the city was trying “a different approach to get the message across” that “all users have a shared responsibility if we are to achieve reductions in fatalities and major injuries on our roadways.” But “given the concerns with the use of the ‘jaywalking’ terminology, those test ads have been pulled.”
Jonathan Simon, a part-time professor and director of marketing communications at the University of Ottawa, said many countries use graphic images in road safety ads.
“It’s a shocking campaign. It’s supposed to start a conversation,” he told CBC. But while the approach gets attention and builds awareness, he said there’s less evidence about whether it changes behaviour.
Three years ago, Bloomberg CityLab published a nine-point opinion piece that called for the elimination of anti-jaywalking laws in the United States, asserting that they rarely work and their enforcement reflects racial bias.
As a “relatively young” concept dating back to the 1930s, “jaywalking is a made-up thing by auto companies to deflect blame when drivers hit pedestrians,” wrote author and planning consultant Angie Schmitt and Charles T. Brown, a senior researcher and adjunct professor at Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University. “The concept of jaywalking encourages drivers to be aggressive toward pedestrians, and for third parties to ignore or excuse pedestrian deaths,” even though city streets “are not designed to make walking safe or convenient.”