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Zombie pedestrians make for road kill in Toronto

14 died on the Canadian city's streets in a four-week period — the highest one-month total in a decade.

Cars and trucks are shown jammed on Queen St. in downtown Toronto. Desensitized drivers are partly to blame for recent spike in road fatalities — 14 in a four-week period is the highest month total in a decade. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

TORONTO, Canada — The other day, I watched a very modern man crossing the street, blissfully oblivious to all that surrounded him.

It was at the corner of Queen Street West and Dovercourt Road, the bustling heart of Toronto’s trendy west end. From my vantage point, it wasn’t clear whether he knew the light was green: He stepped off the curb without looking up, eyes fixed on his BlackBerry, thumbs beating out a text, an iPod blaring music in his ears.

It was an act of incredible trust, if not stupidity, in a city where recently, it looked like open season on pedestrians.

In Toronto and its suburbs, 14 pedestrians were struck by vehicles and killed in a four-week period — the highest one-month total in a decade. In one incident, a 28-year-old mother was killed, while pushing her baby in a stroller, when a driver ran a red light. In another, a 38-year-old woman was killed while jaywalking.

In short, there was plenty of evidence for police officers to scold both drivers and pedestrians for being spaced out.

“Driving has become so desensitized,” Constable Hugh Smith told the Toronto Star, “with tinted windows, televisions, comfortable seats and gadgets that have to beep to tell us we're going to hit something. We don't even feel the road anymore.”

Another police officer blamed pedestrians who rely on traffic lights rather than paying attention to the metal on wheels around them.

“They’re walking around like zombies,” the officer said, referring to pedestrians, many glued to cell phones, in the city’s financial district. “Just look at them!”

Desensitized drivers and zombie pedestrians make for a lot of road kill.

Police decided it was time for a public education campaign. So officers blitzed the downtown core, handing out $50 tickets to jaywalkers. It’s telling that when they opted for a high-profile crackdown, police officers picked on pedestrians rather than drivers.

(Read about a similar anti-jaywalking campaign in Montreal.)

Toronto is a city where the car is king. Its politicians talk incessantly about being on the cutting edge of eco-culture. But no one dares discomfort drivers. Mayor David Miller, who doesn’t miss a chance to tout his progressive credentials, refuses to consider road tolls like those in London, where drivers pay a fee to enter the downtown core.