Unsafe crosswalks have city talking about legal implications: FOIP / by Tim Querengesser

The City of Edmonton is discussing potential legal implications connected to unsafe crosswalks, a recent Freedom of Information request I have received reveals. 

After filing the request in June and receiving it today, I am able to report that 59 pages of documents the public is not allowed to see – because they are classified as privileged information – exist within City of Edmonton administration.

These documents were found after I requested the following through Freedom of Information: "Records of discussions between Transportation Officials and Legal Counsel regarding potential legal liability to the City of Edmonton as a result of documented inadequacies, safety deficiencies and lacking safety designs in crosswalks."

For context, in April, City of Edmonton administration shared a report to city council that showed 659 dangerous crosswalks across the city. The report also detailed how fixes for these crosswalks would cost $58 million.

Many noted at the time that our current pace upgrading these crosswalks – we spend roughly $2 million annually on crosswalk upgrades – would mean Edmonton will take 29 years to make these crosswalks adequately safe. Some questioned whether this situation, where the city has admitted unsafe condition for pedestrian infrastructure, exposed the City of Edmonton to legal liability in the event of a pedestrian being hurt or killed in one of these crosswalks.

The conversation at the time was amplified by the death, earlier in April, of 16-year-old Chloe Wiwchar, who a driver hit and killed as she walked in a crosswalk with signaled safety features on Kingsway. 

The questions about legal liability are natural because other cities are facing them and even paying for them. Because evidence from multiple jurisdictions shows that drivers who hit and injure or kill pedestrians rarely face serious charges, many have turned to the civil courts. Recently, California courts ruled that pedestrians injured in crosswalks can sue cities in civil courts, based on cities having an obligation to having safe property. In other states, that's already happening. In Missouri, a couple injured while crossing a street in an area identified by Jefferson City officials as dangerous is suing for $2.25 million. In Hawaii, a man hit by a driver while in a crosswalk recently won a suit and received more than $11 million in damages.

The City of Edmonton claims all 59 pages generated with my information request are privileged information (essentially, discussions between lawyers and clients) and therefore I and anyone else can't see them. To be crystal clear, that means there is only evidence of documents, but no evidence that the city is concerned about this situation or facing any potential lawsuits or doing anything other than simply talking about it.