Abigail Pugh had just dropped her 9-year-old daughter off at school in Dufferin Grove when she witnessed a near miss.
A driver didn’t see a boy crossing at a pedestrian crosswalk and slammed on the brakes, narrowly avoiding another headline-making tragedy. The experience spurred Pugh to create the hashtag and ensuing campaign #NearMissToronto.
“I just decided there and then that I needed to give people a voice for this kind of event,” she said.
Toronto road users have used the hashtag to share their stories of close calls and near misses. #NearMissToronto has picked up steam on Twitter, with 102 uses since Pugh started the campaign six weeks ago, amid a rash of cyclist and pedestrian deaths that have raised concerns about road safety.
“The actual fatality events don’t tell the whole story,” she said. “I figured that it would help journalists and politicians understand the extent of terror on our roads.”
Pugh wants the campaign to amplify the voices of pedestrians and others who feel powerless in the “wild west” of Toronto roads. But she also hopes municipal politicians and Mayor John Tory read people’s stories and are moved to make changes to infrastructure, like changing pedestrian crossings to light signals.
Pugh printed 200 posters promoting the hashtag and stuck them up at crosswalks around her neighbourhood, and some friends did the same. A sign at College and Havelock Sts. asks, “Almost hit by a vehicle at this crosswalk? To share: #NearmissToronto.”
Dozens of tweets and Facebook posts followed, with most of the buzz building up in the past few days. Twitter Canada said the hashtag’s use peaked on July 6, with 41 mentions in one day.
“This is a sign that it’s not just the fatalities or even the collisions that are going up, but also people’s experiences of these near-misses,” Walk Toronto’s Dylan Reid said.
Because near misses aren’t tracked in any formal capacity, Reid said “it’s really about people’s experience, and I think this hashtag is really valuable insight into people’s experience in Toronto.
“The fatalities and serious injuries that we see are the tip of the iceberg of people’s experience of danger when they’re just trying to walk around the city.”
While intersections and crosswalks should be safe, Reid said people are increasingly finding that they aren’t as safe as they’d like. Aggressive driver behaviour and vehicles stopping within intersections are contributing to the problem, he added.
“Suddenly, what’s supposed to be the safe pedestrian crossing becomes a dangerous one,” Reid said.