Sunday, January 26, 2014

It's An Issue Of Safety

On Friday, (01/24/2014) the Winnipeg Police Board agreed to study a proposal by city councillor Ross Eadie (Mynarski ward) to install red light cameras at crosswalks. He says that over the years, there has been a growing number of incidents - near misses, accidents and fatalities at crosswalks in the city. Eadie (who is completely blind) says he has nearly been hit three times in recent years. (Click the hyperlinks to see news stories from CBC CTV and The Winnipeg Free Press )

Opponents to red light cameras claim that one of the biggest flaws in the red light camera system is that the ticket is sent to the registered owner of the vehicle rather than the person driving it at the time of the infraction.

Point noted. However, being the registered owner of a vehicle implies that you are accountable/responsible for said vehicle and what happens with/to it. That also means making responsible choices in whom you allow to drive that vehicle and keeping track of who is behind the wheel at any given time.

Drivers are loudly crying foul to this new red light camera idea and claiming it is just another tax grab for the city. In their minds, many drivers feel that the onus is on the pedestrians to make sure the coast is clear before stepping off the curb.

To a degree drivers are right. However, just as we cannot label all drivers as bad, we cannot label all pedestrians as careless in their attempts to safely cross the street. Then again, IF everyone were to obey the laws, then there wouldn't be a need for red light cameras at all!

This post isn't about how much it could cost the city to install these cameras or how much money this could make. 

This post is about overall safety and respect for both drivers and pedestrians.

I suspect many drivers will dismiss my views as naive or out of touch with the realities of being behind the wheel - but I'd ask them to at least pause and consider another point of view.

In full disclosure, I have never driven a vehicle. I am in my mid fifties, have always had low vision and been legally blind since 1990. I have lived in various areas of the city since 1980 and rely on public transit for most of my travels. Like Mr. Eadie, I too have had a few close calls at crosswalks (and some intersections).

Frankly, I hate crosswalks. I avoid them like the plague! IF I have the time and sidewalks are good, I'll walk a couple extra blocks to a controlled intersection rather than using crosswalks. In my experience, drivers tend to treat crosswalks as an annoying slow down. Unfortunately, not all pedestrians can walk that extra distance to a safer intersection to cross, so are at the mercy of respectful drivers.

I know how to use a crosswalk. I know how to activate the blinking lights above the signs so that drivers know I want to cross. I wait for vehicles to stop before I attempt to cross. That can mean waiting several seconds and having to stop at the meridian to press another button and waiting before crossing.

There are thousands of citizens who rely on these crosswalks to get them safely across a busy street on a daily basis. Granted, not all pedestrians are as responsible or cautious as I am while using one. There are those who don't bother to push the button or to take the extra seconds to ensure traffic has fully stopped.

That being said, drivers also have to take responsibility here.

Driving is a privilege - NOT a right. You have to have a valid licence to operate a motor vehicle. That means that you have supposedly passed a written test and driving exam that ensures you are knowledgeable in how to safely operate a vehicle and that you understand the laws. By signing you licence you are agreeing to respect and obey the laws set out by local governments. 

There are of course many good drivers in this city who respect both the power of the vehicle and the rights of other citizens in vehicles and on foot that they may cross paths with.

There are many drivers who tend to think that the laws don't apply to them or that they can skirt the laws if the coast is clear.

There are also some drivers for whom getting behind the wheel is like playing a time management video game. The object is to drive from point A to point B in the shortest time possible while completing as many tasks as possible such as eating food, drinking a beverage, listening to loud music, changing the radio station, texting, talking on the phone and personal grooming - all while encountering obstacles such as red lights, cross walks, flashing lights on school buses and of course the lowly pedestrian!

Distracted drivers are a menace to everyone on the roads - including themselves.

Drivers tend to forget what it is like to be a pedestrian. They've gotten so used to parking a vehicle and walking into their home or across a parking lot to a business that they just don't get the possible issues that can arise for a pedestrian.

Just as all drivers are not created equal - neither are pedestrians. Pedestrians come in all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. FYI - we aren't all jaywalkers, texting, talking on cells or listening to an IPod.

There are people with mobility issues who take a bit longer to cross. Some are hearing impaired, use canes, crutches, walkers or wheelchairs.

For those of us who are visually impaired, we wait for audio cues that vehicles have stopped before we can safely step off the curb. BTW, some of those new vehicles are SO quiet we can't hear them coming which is a whole other danger!

For those of us with a disability, we take our lives in our own hands every time we step off a curb - regardless of whether it is a crosswalk or a fully lighted intersection! Now that is scary!

I believe that drivers who do break the laws at crosswalks and intersections need to stop and think how they would feel if their actions had caused injury or death to someone they loved.

They should also be given a reality check from the pedestrian point of view.

Suit them up with various disabilities to simulate what crossing a street is like for those of us who do it. Put them somewhere on Portage, Pembina, Henderson, Main or any other busy street in the city and let them get a real taste for the challenge! Better yet, have them do it in rush hour and/or mid winter when they have to navigate the snowbanks at crosswalks and intersections!

Years ago, I went through volunteer training at the CNIB. That involved being blindfolded and completing various tasks (indoors and outdoors) to better understand what blind people go through. Even though I was already legally blind at the time, I found the blindfolds and some of the tasks unnerving! Other organizations offer similar simulations to understand the effects of deafness, using a wheelchair, crutches, cane, walker and general aging.

After being immersed in a few of those circumstances, I suspect that most drivers would come away with a new perspective and a more respectful view of pedestrians. If that didn't give them a wakeup call then I fear only severe injury or the senseless loss of a loved one would!

Would red light cameras make a difference at crosswalks? It couldn't hurt to try! It also wouldn't hurt to re-educate drivers and pedestrians about safety issues in using crosswalks and intersections.

Like drivers, we pedestrians are just trying to safely get from Point A to Point B.

We need to find a way to be mutually responsible and respectful to each other's rights and ability to share the city streets, intersections and corridors.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Change In Time On A Cool Morning

For the last few years, I've been getting up VERY early once every week or two to go grocery shopping at the Superstore on Kenaston at Grant. I don't like rising at 4:40AM and walking out of my building by 6 but I've done it. Traffic is light and my bus connections are good. I could be at the store by 6:30 and back on a bus home by 7:10. If early rush hour traffic wasn't too bad, I'd be walking in my door by 7:40. Other advantages to that early shop were that the produce was fresh, the store wasn't crowded and the morning staff there knew me and were more than willing to offer assistance finding things if I needed it.

Thanks to our recent bitterly cold weather, I hadn't been out much, so my perishables were getting a bit sparse. So, this past Tuesday morning, I set out on my usual early trek to stock up.

As I crossed Grant, a westbound vehicle was turning into the parking lot. By the time I reached the store entrance, the driver was also approaching the door. We were both surprised to find the door locked and a sign indicating that the store only opened at 7:00AM!

HUH? When did that happen? I'd been there just before New Year's and nothing was said.

As we stood there in -25C windchill, we talked for a couple minutes about the unforeseen change. He and his wife had just returned from a month long trip to Mexico so their cupboards were rather bare - especially of fresh products. I said it wasn't worth turning around to go home as it was a half hour (including transfer) each way. I began to mentally calculate my options as we talked.

A couple minutes into our conversation, he said that he was going back to his car to wait rather than standing out in the cold. As he started to walk away, he turned and said that I was welcome to come and sit in the car with him till the store opened at 7.

What to do?

I was dressed for short waits at bus stops (5-7 minutes) but I wasn't dressed for, let alone thrilled that I may have to stand there for 30 minutes.

There isn't a lot of shelter by the store and with the windchill as high as it was, I could have gotten hypothermia and/or a very nasty cold before the store opened. There is a bus shelter not too far away, which is supposedly heated but frankly, those aren't much warmer than standing outside. I'd have stayed standing rather than sitting on a cold bench at a shelter as a cold seat would have left me vulnerable to a bladder infection. (It's happened in cold weather before and I wasn't about to risk that after effect again!) If I'd have caught a bus, I would have only gone a few stops before having to get off, cross the street at an unfamiliar intersection (possibly one without stop lights making it riskier) then wait for another bus and come back. Streets and sidewalks had many icy patches and a fresh dusting of snow overtop making them very slippery. Not all intersections have been plowed properly so a risk of falling (I've already fallen twice this winter and certainly not wanting to fall again) I know my way between the bus stops and Superstore but not familiar with many other businesses in the area - especially any that would be open at 6:30AM. Not to mention that at this time of year, it is after 8AM before the sun rises and the orange tinged street lights aren't conducive to safe visually impaired navigation.

Being legally blind, I've learned to trust my instincts about people over the years. Believe me there are many people I wouldn't dream of getting in a vehicle with! Heck, there are people I don't even want to sit near me on a bus or be in an elevator with! Some people just give off a bad vibe.

Winnipeg is a very friendly city and known for acts of kindness. The store is located in an area with low crime rates.

My spidey senses weren't going off. I didn't feel threatened at all - more gratitude for a strangers kindness. As I said, we had only talked for a couple of minutes before the car was mentioned.

I had contemplated my options and took a calculated risk. I asked if he was sure and when he said yes, I said thank you and walked behind him to the car.

He turned on the seat warmers and we continued to talk. He told me more about his trip and the experiences bussing and shopping. I told him a bit of my trip to Mesa last January. We talked about the competitive grocery market here in Winnipeg and how some store takeovers and closings were effecting customers who relied on nearby stores. Of course we talked about the weather! Somewhere along the line, we also thought to introduce ourselves - first names only though. We talked of neighbourhoods and careers but nothing overly personal. All in all, it was a comfortable, casual conversation.

About 6:50, he noted that the Gas Bar in the parking lot was now open and that if it was okay, he wanted to drive over and fill up the tank so he or his wife wouldn't have to do it later. That may have set off alarm bells for some, but the fact that he told me what was on his mind rather than just starting the car and driving over eased any apprehensions I may have had otherwise.

The store finally opened its doors at 7:00. I thanked him once again for his kindness as we walked towards the entrance.

I learned from staff that the new hours started the first Monday of January. The opening was moved from 6 to 7 as there wasn't enough business to justify staffing for that early hour. The change has been noted on their web site and in flyers. I check the website weekly, but only the flyer section - not my store hours. A number of customers have been caught off guard by the change. Oh well!

Once my shopping was done, I managed to make semi decent connections home - despite not having access to my bus timetables. I walked in my door by 8:25 - about 45 minutes later than I used to.

Since then, I have re-calculated my bus timings - both to and from Superstore. AND for future early morning grocery shopping trips, I can now set my alarm to 5:20 and still be there shortly after 7!

So, all's well that ends well for that early morning adventure!

Yes, this story could have gone in a very different direction. As I shared the story with various friends,  some thought I was a tough cookie, but also knew me well enough to know I have good instincts and would never intentionally put myself in harm's way. There were also those who cried "stranger danger!" They are right of course, but I reminded them that my spidey senses weren't going off. On a Tuesday morning at 6:30AM with a nippy -25 windchill in a Winnipeg neighbourhood with a low crime rate, it felt like a reasonably safe chance to take.

Would I do it again? That will all depend on the circumstances and what my instincts tell me.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

A New Year To Start Anew

Well another year has passed.

For many, 2013 is a year to forget. Illnesses that sidelined some for weeks or months. Many have had to deal with the heartbreaking loss of loved ones.

There were tragic accidents like the train derailment in Quebec. There were floods in Calgary and surrounding areas. Then there was the massive ice storm that took out power for much of Toronto and surrounding areas for several days in December. Atlantic Canada has also been hit with a number of nasty storms.

Here in Manitoba, much of December was spent in a very bitter deep freeze. The temps didn't even rise above -20C on many days. Add in the windchill factor and it felt more like -40'sC most of the time.

How cold has it been? We actually hit -48C with the windchill on the morning of Tuesday, December 31! United Airlines was even cancelling flights in/out of Winnipeg thanks to the cold! That same day, temps were warmer at the North Pole and on Mars!

We've had brief reprieves from the bone-chilling temps but the warm up just doesn't last! 2014 has also gotten off to a nippy start but hopefully that won't continue all winter!

2013 also seemed to be a year of politicians and celebrities behaving badly. Okay, there are always some politicians and celebrities behaving badly - it just seemed that more of them got caught this past year!

Musician/composer, John Sheard put together a witty retrospective of this past year (from a Canadian perspective) that he and Stewart McLean (Vinyl Cafe) performed during the recent Vinyl Cafe Christmas tour. I wasn't able to embed the video here, but click on this link to watch the video:

If only we could find humour in all of what happens in this world!

Throughout the world, there were many heartbreaking stories of loss and devastation from natural disasters. Wars and civil unrest abound as people continue to fight for freedom and equality/

There were all too many manmade horrors of terrorism, shootings, and unjust treatment of fellow human beings and animals. Whether these were revealed to be in part due to lack of diagnosis/treatment for mental illnesses or were self justified by misguided religious beliefs, it is a sad commentary on how fractured and troubled some segments of society have become.

The world and the actions of it citizens can be depressing at times. The amount of bad news seems to grow every year.

It isn't all doom and gloom. There is plenty of good news if we only choose to see it.

Thankfully, there are countless unsung heroes who strive to make this a better place to live. Those who do little things every day to make life better for those around them. Those who step up and lend a helping hand when no one else seems to care. There are those who step outside their comfort zone and even risk their lives for strangers in dire need. Not just the professionals, but also the private citizens who run towards accidents/disasters while others are running to escape. Those who witness grave injustice and stand up for what is right.
Where would any of us be if not for these people?

There are also those wonderful souls who pay it forward. When something nice is done for them, they in turn do something nice for someone else - often a complete stranger. A simple gesture of kindness can go a long way to creating a healthier society and a more grateful world.

We are only a few days into a brand new year. We have all started anew.

Some have made resolutions and many have already been broken but it doesn't mean we can't continue to try.

I don't make resolutions anymore. I just take each day as it comes and do the best that I can with what I have been given. I'm far from perfect and it's not that I don't have goals or things I'd like to change - I do. I just allow myself to move at my own pace and make adjustments to my life as needed.

Each and every day is a new beginning. There is always opportunity to make a difference.

We all have the potential to make better lives - not only for ourselves but also for those around us if we'd only make a little effort.

It doesn't take a lot to make a difference for someone else. You don't have to make big donations of time, money, products or services - though those can certainly help if you have them to give! A simple gesture of paying for the person behind you in the drive thru or at a coffee shop can start a chain of paying it forward. Let someone with less items go ahead of you at the checkout. Hold the elevator or open a door for someone, Offer your seat on the bus. Allow a vehicle to merge into traffic ahead of you. A simple acknowledgement of "hello" or "good morning" can make a whole day for someone feeling down.

There is so much in this world that we cannot control. No matter how hard we try, we can't always foresee or predict what may happen to others. However, we can make a difference in how we react.

Let 2014 be a year of good will and paying it forward!