My Journey to Being a Traffic Safety Advocate
I recently read Elmwood Guy’s origin story on the Strong Towns blog, which inspired me to write about my own journey into traffic safety advocacy.
This is my story about the best designed street in the entire city. It’s the whole reason I’m here advocating for active transportation investment, safer streets, better neighbourhoods, and a more sustainable city. Quite literally.
What is sad is that if you ask a design professional, you would hear things like “this road is substandard, it needs improvements. We need to fix this before someone is hurt.” But to me it’s just the street I grew up on.
Summers in Riverbend were always great – I could walk to the park and had Red River Community Club at the end of our street. which hosted a free play program that I loved attending, and around the corner from our house were 2 baseball diamonds.
Unlike the newer portion of Riverbend, the roads in the older portions where I lived had “substandard” treatment. Donan Street, the street I lived on, was 18 feet wide with two-way traffic, parking, and no sidewalks. The road is chipseal and has ditch drainage instead of the standard concrete and catch basin style. You would think we were living in a third world country (or Charleswood).
It was a collector road of sorts, connecting the older portion of Riverbend with the newer, and the only north/south street connecting all the east/west avenues.
Before I was old enough to play baseball, I always went to watch my brother. I loved the sport. It was so exciting to see a hit make it out to the outfield, and the kids running and yelling, the umpire making the call at the plate. It was always so fun.
But if you know anything about Riverbend in the summer, the fields attract a lot of cars during field times, filled with parents of children who play mini-soccer and tee-ball.
It really doesn’t take much, mere seconds, for something to go wrong. My brother and I were walking home from his game when I ran out from between cars and was hit… about 50 meters from my house.
I don’t recall much of the day myself, just the stories my brother and mother tell me about it. Apparently I had a few scratches, but walked away from it without going to the hospital – a five-year-old kid.
I thought I was lucky, but since coming across Strong Towns I’ve realized that I wasn’t. I realized that my street was safe by design, and that the driver of the car was likely going far less than even 30km/h, despite the speed limit being 50.
I think about what Strong Towns has taught me, and about the choice my parents made to move to this neighbourhood instead of buying a newer house in Linden Woods or Crestwood, both of which I have heard they were considering. Without them I wouldn’t have the language I have now to explain my own thoughts, and to explain why the street I grew up on is one of the greatest streets in the city, and a great feat of engineering.
I think about what would have happened to me if the same occurred in one of those neighbourhoods, along Lindenwood Drive or Cavalier Drive. Would I be here today?
These events are why I chose the path I did, to fight for a safer transportation system.
In the ensuing years I have had friends, family and acquaintances all pass away or receive live altering injuries from car crashes. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. Everyone of an age near me has a story similar.
As I have learned more and read more I found out that it wasn’t just safety that was affected by these design choices. Everything, from where we get our groceries, how connected we feel to our neighbourhood, racial justice and poverty, housing affordability, community cohesion, city financing, drugs and gangs… all of it is inter-related.
That’s the powerful thing about viewing your city through a Strong Towns lens – it forces you to break from the status quo. It shows you in no uncertain terms that something isn’t right, that we need to change our assumptions about how people want to get around our city, why some neighbourhoods have more poverty, who we enable to purchase homes, and why we sometimes don’t know our neighbours anymore.
But just realizing there is a problem is only the first step, the city needs action, and it needs action now. Whether it’s something big like starting or restarting a neighbourhood association, or as small as talking to your neighbour about these issues. The city is full of people who want change, it’s just a matter of reaching out.
So let me start – reach out to me. Let me know what problem you see on your street, in your neighbourhood, in the city… I want to hear from fellow Winnipeggers trying to make a difference.
We aren’t alone in this fight for a better, stronger city. We are in this together, and together we have the power to make real change.
West Kildonan Guy