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Editorial: Walking into danger

Even before the snow came, St. John’s had an unenviable record.

Six different motor vehicle/pedestrian accidents have occurred in just two weeks.

Then, with Saturday’s 30 centimetres of snow, the sidewalks vanished.

The main surprise is that, since the snow, there haven’t been more accidents since then.

Pedestrians are walking in the streets, often because there are no options. Some sidewalks are plowed, but even those that are, are clear evidence that those responsible for clearing sidewalks don’t actually walk on them.

There are drivers who are actively hostile to pedestrian traffic in this city, viewing anyone walking as an annoyance, or worse. Walkers are splashed, nudged by drivers turning right at red lights but looking left for traffic, and ignored on crosswalks.

On some of the “cleared” sidewalks, the plow has actually reached somewhere close to the concrete. On others, there’s five centimetres of soupy, half-plowed snow covering glare ice. And on still more, the city has used perhaps its most useless sidewalk-clearing technique, where a street plow sets its wing-plow down on the sidewalk, grinding hard against the curb and leaving snow that gets deeper with every step away from curbside.

Making your way to anywhere on foot requires a kind of skill in tracking: Memorial University sidewalks and lots are regularly and quickly cleared, and so are commercial and hospital parking lots. Low-traffic side streets are safer that the high-traffic routes. Remembering the leftovers of last year’s storms can help you navigate this year’s mess.

Monday, Mayor Danny Breen pointed out that clearing snow is difficult, that parts of the city are poorly suited to snowclearing, and that it takes six or seven days to clear up the effects of a single storm. He told CBC that the city’s crews “did a great job” with the first storm of the year.

Many would disagree.

One thing to keep in mind: even if, as a pedestrian, you have the right of way, that right of way means nothing if a car hits you. You lose regardless.

There are drivers who are actively hostile to pedestrian traffic in this city, viewing anyone walking as an annoyance, or worse. Walkers are splashed, nudged by drivers turning right at red lights but looking left for traffic, and ignored on crosswalks.

Be aware that this is the darkest time of the year. If you walk to work, chances are one, if not both, of your daily trips will occur in darkness or twilight. Dress for the walk, That doesn’t just mean wear your hat and gloves if it’s cold, but wear high-visibility clothing for the light conditions as well.

Face traffic — at least then you can look into the eyes of the driver who looks up from their smartphone just in time to hit you.

And stop and think about the stupidest driving mistake that could happen in front of you: in a city of aggressive drivers who are both inattentive and signal-challenged, that stupidest thing, coupled with a lack of effective sidewalk clearing and slippery roads, could leave quite an impression on you.

An impression shaped like a hood and headlight.

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