Call to retire “shared responsibility” education campaign

Below is a letter sent by Bike Ottawa and School Streets Ottawa regarding the road safety education campaign recently released by the City of Ottawa. Our concern is the approach to road safety that messaging of this type represents. We call on the City to redirect resources toward proven methods of making our streets safer for all road users.

Date: 14 September 2023

Subject: Call to Retire “Shared Responsibility” Education Campaign

Mr. Gonthier and Ms. Stephanson,

Bike Ottawa and School Streets Ottawa are organizations with a membership base that advocates for residents using active means of transportation – an important ingredient for Ottawa to become a livable city during this declared climate emergency – through implementing goals as laid out in the 5 Big Policy Moves of our Official Plan and Transportation Master Plan.

The City of Ottawa released a Road Safety Action Plan (RSAP) social media ad on September 9th, 2023, depicting a person on the ground with text claiming the person’s actions of trying to save time by “jaywalking” resulted in their own death. We are gravely concerned about how this campaign depicts Ottawa’s approach and understanding of “road safety for all users.”

At this point, you have heard from the public and councillors on the many problems and tenuous basis in evidence of this RSAP campaign’s messaging; the auto industry-coined term “jaywalking” is not mentioned in the Highway Traffic Act, and mid-block crossings account for less than 30% of pedestrian deaths. As the trial’s intent was for city staff to learn from the public’s response, they must take away this: Ottawa chooses to frame road deaths and injuries as personal choices instead of being victims of the City’s failure to implement a safe systems approach to achieve Vision Zero. City staff and municipal leaders who created and supported this campaign appear insular in understanding vulnerable road users’ experience. 

Moving forward, our organizations want the best outcome for all residents on our streets and hope for a real shift in how our city perceives residents outside of cars. We strongly recommend the following actions be taken:

  1. Retire the Road Safety Action Plan’s campaign around “Shared Responsibility” educational messaging and instead shift to a rigorous “Safe Systems Approach.” Education campaigns have little to no measurable effect in improving road safety.1
  2. Any future messaging should focus on the “Hierarchy of Road Users”2 as enacted in the UK; those with the greatest power or who can inflict the most damage carry the greatest responsibility.
  3. Shift funding from education-focused activities and boost funding in this fall’s budget for concrete measures to achieve real Vision Zero goals, such as overhauling the City’s 29 most dangerous intersections, implementing a city-wide quick-build fund for immediate cycling network and crosswalk expansion, intersection safety improvements, and look at examples from Oslo, Norway who were able to accomplish their Vision Zero goals in 2019 after four years of dedicated implementation of measures.3
  4. Finally, an explanation and an apology from the City to residents to restore credibility to their commitment to achieve Vision Zero through the RSAP.

In summary, the city must immediately abandon this education campaign, which lacks basis in evidence; the tone-deaf message of victim blaming brings senior city staff’s judgement into repute for which it owes an apology; and the city must focus RSAP resources to deliver measurable and meaningful outcomes to achieve Vision Zero. Bike Ottawa, School Streets Ottawa will work tirelessly to amplify voices calling for safer streets for all users in Ottawa.


Shawn Gettler on behalf of the Board of Directors, Bike Ottawa

Chris Hircock, Cassie Smith on behalf of the Principals of School Streets Ottawa

Cc: Theresa Kavanagh (Councillor and Deputy Mayor, Bay Ward) 

Marty Carr (Councillor, Alta Vista Ward)

Shawn Menard (Councillor, Capital Ward)

Sean Devine (Councillor, Knoxdale-Merivale Ward)

Riley Brockington (Councillor, River Ward)

Ariel Troster (Councillor, Somerset Ward)

John Wambombo (Program Coordinator, Safer Roads Ottawa)

  1. Evidence Brief: Effectiveness of Education, Training Programs and Awareness Campaigns on Road Safety ↩︎
  2.  The UK Highway Code: Hierarchy of Road Users ↩︎
  3. Oslo Norway Completly Eliminated Bicycle and Pedestrian Fatalities: Here’s How ↩︎