January 31, 2018

Let's Talk Road Violence

Despite Toronto city council approving the “Vision Zero” road safety plan in 2016 aimed to eliminate traffic fatalities, road violence has gotten worse. 2017 saw a record number of vulnerable road user deaths at 46 and the first fifteen days of 2018 saw five pedestrians killed. To help humanize the road safety issue, I spoke with Jess Spieker who survived a collision when riding a bicycle in May 2015 and volunteers with Friends and Families for Safe Streets.
RZ: Tell me how your injury from May 2015 happened.
JS: I was riding to work heading north on Bathurst Street. At Shallmar Boulevard – north of Eglinton Avenue – a person driving an SUV, Sharon Gancman, failed to yield and turned left into me. Four 911 calls were made – including one from the 9th floor of a nearby building – and I was identified as a pedestrian with the bike thrown far away. I suffered a brain injury, broke the sacrum (base of spine), and had soft tissue damage to my left shoulder and knee. I had a near fatal complication with a piece of blood clot from the leg travelling to the heart and landing across both sides of my lungs.
No dedicated cycling facilities near Bathurst & Eglinton except for the Beltline Trail
RZ: Which therapies did you undergo to recover?
JS: I had to undergo physiotherapy for a long time and currently work weekly with an osteopath given the recurring back pain and stiffness affected my ability to do my job. I received some counselling, which was valuable to help deal with road rage and an increased fear of drivers when riding. I am angry Gancman got away scot-free – she was fined $300 and zero demerit points for improper use of a turn signal – and never apologized for the devastation she caused.

RZ: Describe some of the frustrations with the recovery process.
JS: Suing Gancman – which I am doing with Patrick Brown’s help (NOT the recently ousted PC leader) – and dealing with insurance is frustrating. I went through an examination for discovery where insurance companies pay a lawyer to downplay the severity of plaintiffs’ conditions and throw insults and abuse to try baiting them into losing their temper. If the plaintiffs remain calm and credible, insurance companies are more likely to settle out of court.

With my insurance company refusing to pay for treatment, I found out there are therapists covered by OHIP which often have two-year waiting lists. Since the replacement of lost income from insurance was a tiny amount, I ended up spending thousands of my savings. Often, survivors get very little compensation or just deal with it if they can’t access legal help.
FFSS also hosts monthly vigils to remember road violence victims
RZ: How do support groups offered by Friends and Families for Safe Streets work?
JS: FFSS’ support meetings are a helpful experience; talking to those who understand victim blaming and isolation. Some ground rules are set beforehand, but participants are reminded they aren’t alone and it feels good supporting others’ struggles in turn. I can’t believe how powerful it is to say things aloud and feel heard. If you are struggling in the aftermath of a crash, please reach out to us or come to a meeting.

RZ: Which campaigns are FFSS members currently undertaking?
JS: There are three campaigns involving language use, new legislation, and speed limits. We are encouraging people to say crash not accident; the latter of which is still used by insurance companies and the Highway Traffic Act. Crashes are preventable, given the role of driver errors such as speeding and distractions. We are calling for tougher and added penalties – which former MPP Cheri DiNovo’s Bill 158 would have accomplished – instead of small fines. Finally, we want speed limits reduced to 30 km/h.
Metro Toronto has been leading the media in using crash not accident in their reporting
RZ: Why is Vision Zero not working in Toronto?
JS: Toronto’s elected officials must put their money where their mouth is. Despite the 250% increase in collisions in January 2018 and Toronto’s abysmal safety record, it was difficult to get the Bloor bike lanes through city council. With the recent Yonge debate at PWIC, Mayor Tory and councillors still pander to drivers who complain about losing 30% of road space and adding 30 seconds to their commutes, as if that’s more important than people dying. This political atmosphere is devastating for bereaved loved ones and survivors where bike lanes trigger an explosion of stupidity. Councillors complain about spending $500,000 on Bloor yet support wasting billions on the Gardiner Expressway and Scarborough Subway. Instead, we should be asking how much crashes cost society and opt for lower cost prevention.

RZ: How are your riding’s elected officials reacting to road safety?
JS: MPP Arthur Potts met with FFSS before and has been receptive. However, he didn’t seem to view road safety as urgent – he voted against amending Bill 174 to incorporate DiNovo’s Bill 158 – though he says he plans to push for his own version of the bill. Federal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith has been silent on road safety so far, and Mary-Margaret McMahon has been wonderful. I’m really going to miss her when her term is over.

RZ: Where do you find things stand with October’s municipal election?
JS: I’m horrified about some aspects of the upcoming election. Lisa Kinsella – whose husband Warren vocally opposes the Woodbine bike lanes – is considering running in Ward 32. The mayoral race is uninspiring with Doug Ford challenging John Tory (if Ford loses the Ontario PC leadership), though I’m optimistic Torontonians might decide the Fords are effectively “over”. Finally, road safety doesn’t yet appear to be an important election issue but could be antagonistic with pro-car councillors such as Giorgio Mammoliti and Stephen Holyday.
Jess speaking at one of FFSS' monthly vigils in October 2017
RZ: What message do you have for road safety advocates?
JS: Keep on fighting! You may have heard this before: first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win. So far, we have been laughed at and fought hard against, and we are winning more attention. While I am new to advocacy, there are good things being done and I am amazed at the level of advocacy in Toronto.

If you are passionate about road safety, a column by Metro Toronto’s Matt Elliott had some good advice. He encouraged people to get involved in the municipal election by running as a candidate or helping another’s campaign.

Ride safe!
Rob Z (e-mail)

1 comment:

  1. Excellent read as a survivor of a near death crash myself I am inspired to learn from the experience of others. Thank you Rob and Jess!