Letter to the Public Editor (Updated)

To: Kathy English, Public Editor, Toronto Star
From: Joshua Hind
Date: 2013-Jul-05

RE: Toronto Star story, “Toronto car crash at Bay and Lake Shore raises questions about road safety”, originally printed 2013-Jul-04, online version edited 2013-Jul-05

Ms. English,

I write today to call into question the reporting of the Toronto Star and writer Andrew Livingston in the story entitled, “Toronto car crash at Bay and Lake Shore raises questions about road safety”. The story in question not only fails to present the facts about the collision in any great detail, it also gives the reader the false impression that the pedestrians involved in the accident either share the blame for the collision, or were perhaps the cause of it.

The facts, as presented in slim detail, describe a car cutting off another, mounting the curb and hitting 6 pedestrians. The cause of collision, which resulted in serious injuries, and as of this morning, one fatality, doesn’t seem to have had anything to do with the pedestrians in question. And yet, your reporter, Mr. Livingstone, spends the bulk of the article portraying pedestrians as oblivious (a word used in the original piece, but since removed from the web version of the article) lawbreakers who frequently ignore basic traffic safety. Wouldn’t a discussion on the merits of safe driving be more appropriate in this case, given that the collision seems to have been caused by negligence of the driver, and not the pedestrians?

In the original piece (since edited), the reporter spends 17 out of 20 paragraphs on the failure of pedestrians to obey signals. He then interviews Toronto Police officers who speak at length about their frustration with pedestrians, but unbelievably, Mr. Livingstone doesn’t ask one question about driver safety. In a story about a collision caused by reckless driving, thoughts on driving recklessly are not to be found.

While reasonable people can disagree on the positive and negative aspects of the “countdown crossings”, or the behaviour of pedestrians, no reasonable person could draw a link between this specific collision and the actions of any pedestrian.

This story not only fails to present a complete picture of the collision in question, it misleads the reader by drawing an implied correlation between the behaviour of pedestrians in general and specific actions of the pedestrians injured in this terrible crash.

If the gentleman whose life was cut short by an unsafe driver had died at the scene, would this callous and fallacious story have made the paper? Or, would the death of an innocent bystander been enough to compel The Star to treat this story with greater care and dedication to the truth?

I request a retraction be written by the original author that clarifies the events of the collision at Lake Shore and Bay and clearly states that the pedestrians involved were the victims of a crime, not the negligent participants in one.

Best regards,
Joshua Hind

UPDATE: The Public Editor responds…

Dear Joshua:

I don’t see the need for any retraction here.

Six pedestrians were injured in this accident and police have raised questions about pedestrian safety at that intersection.

I think that is well worth reporting in a news story as this piece is. This is not an investigative piece, nor an in-depth analysis of the many issues involving  pedestrians and cars at that intersection and other dangerous spots in Toronto.

On a personal note, I cross that intersection coming to and from work each day and I actually did not know that the countdown means I should not proceed, so I am a pedestrian who learned an important lesson in reading this report.  Each day, I run across the road with just seconds left on the countdown. And every day, I see many other pedestrians rush across that intersection with just seconds to spare. I often wonder that there are not more accidents involving pedestrians and cars there as it always seems to me that is is some confusion on the part of both cars and pedestrians as to who can proceed when. (Maybe, I’m the only confused one!)

In any event, I really don’t see how this article suggests that the  pedestrians are responsible for getting injured.

Thanks for taking time to write. As you make clear there are some good issues regarding cars and pedestrians that are worth further reporting here.

Kathy English
Kathy English/Public Editor
Toronto Star/www.thestar.com

One thought on “Letter to the Public Editor (Updated)

  1. I had the same feeling as well when reading the web version of this article Thursday night. By the print edition on Friday, the introductory paragraphs talking about the Bay / Lake Shore crash had been removed (although with a couple of references left in the middle of the article) and we were left with an article that basically talked about the pedestrian issues.

    And, frankly, the article is wrong on that too (although technically they are right on the HTA). The countdown and flashing “don’t walk” signals are timed so that the slowest of pedestrians can get across before the light turns red. They’re timed for pedestrians walking at 1.0 or 1.2 metres per second. Try it and you’ll see how slow that is — walking at a reasonably brisk pace I normally do 2 metres per second. At a wider intersection, that may give me an extra 10 or 15 seconds. The countdown liberates pedestrians by giving them better information about whether they can get across, whether they need all the time they can get or whether they are walking at a more typical pace. The criterion shouldn’t be whether the flashing light has started — it should be whether you can get across the intersection before the light turns red, which is the real intent of the “flashing don’t walk” signal.

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