At the end of this post, I have added updates from the local Councillor and MPP Offices. In particular, Councillor Mark Grimes has made a motion at Council for additional signage at the curve discussed at this post.
This post is a work in progress. I’ve been thinking of writing this post for a long time. The logistics of setting up the post are overwhelming at the moment, however. So many photos to look at, and links to find. And there are other things to do.
The topic, however, is of relevance, on many levels. It matters on the practical level in that lives of young drivers (typically male) are at stake. By young, I mean people under 50 or so. Once you’re above 60, I think you may start to slow down as a matter of course.
Thus what follows is a rough draft of a polished post that I will write some day, if I get around to it. Whether or not I get around to it, I do not know. There are other things to do.
Traffic signs distinguish themselves by the quality of their syntax, positioning, and flair
In days past, I used to write film reviews, for a magazine called Cinema Canada. I learned on the job. I was a freelance writer. The work did not pay well but I learned a few things, and I reached some readers, which is always a thing of value for a writer. In time, I learned that I could make more money writing report cards, as a public school teacher, and I left freelance writing behind.
Whenever I see a set of traffic signs, however, I am once again a film reviewer. If you are driving a car, the scene in front of you is your movie.
I’m pleased that it’s now illegal to speak on a cellphone while you’re driving.
When driving in my car in the past, before the use of handheld devices was prohibited, I used to have some very involved conversations on my cellphone, and the movie transpiring in front of my windshield would sometimes get pushed aside (almost) entirely.
I say almost entirely, because I did manage to stay attentive enough, to the movie unfolding in front of me, that I did arrive home safely.
Losing track of one’s destination, cellphone in hand
One time on the QEW, or some such highway, I was heading west and was planning to take a particular exit to get off the highway. I was talking on my cellphone, and totally lost track of the fact I was supposed to turn off at a particular exit.
I was miles, many miles down the highway, travelling west without a thought to where I was supposed to turn off. I was totally engrossed in the cellphone conversation. The conversation was setting up a most engaging movie in my mind. I was following a story, and contributing to it, and my mind was far away from the road in front of me.
Another time I was having a conversation, on my cellphone, while talking with a lawyer. The lawyer was very talkative, and I kept on listening, and occasionally adding a few words, as I was driving. Finally, I arrived at a school parking lot, and the conversation was finally ended. I don’t remember a thing about the drive, about sitting in my car and driving. I remember every detail – or, to be more precise, I remember each of the key, salient points – of that phone call, however, to this day. I can play back, in my memory, each of the key things that the lawyer said. The topic was about a matter that concerned me greatly, at the time.
Signs along the road
Now I no longer talk on my cellphone while I’m driving. It’s against the law. Even if I had a handsfree cellphone, which is legal to use while you’re driving, I would not use it while I’m driving. That’s because extensive research indicates that a handsfree cellphone is still a huge distraction, if you use it while you’re driving. I have also noticed, especially with the passage of the years, that even a conversation with a passenger sitting next to me can become distracting.
If the conversation is really interesting and involving, soon all manner of images and scenarios arise in front of me, in my mind, and the movie in front of the windscreen starts to fade away – until I have to slam on the brakes, at the last minute!
Signs are arranged like words in a sentence – either aptly, or not so aptly
I do like to read road signs. One can, if one wishes, speak of a syntax of road signs, a grammar of road signs. On can, if one wishes, speak of the linguistics of road signs, of the linguistic anthropology of roadway signage.
However, I am not an academic. When it comes to road signs, I am not interested in academic disciplines that deal with signs, such as the discipline of semiotics. That kind of material is too academic, too laden with jargon, too far away from the practical realities of everyday life … for me. If I were an academic, and got paid for engaging in semiotic analyses, then I would be all for it, but I am not an academic.
So, I just go by the seat of my pants.
Dead Man’s Curve at the south end of Brown’s Line
Sometimes, drivers get into situations where the signs pass them by.
The signs may be there, but they may not be set up very well, or very aptly – and if you’re speeding, there’s a chance, unfortunately, that you will end up dead.
This is what has happened in 2016, and again in 2017, at the Dead Man’s Curve at the south end of Brown’s Line in South Etobicoke.
Why is it called the Dead Man’s Curve? That’s because two male drivers have died there, during the past two years. I’ve posted the incidents at this website, but I am not about to do a search for the posts, at this point. The current post is a work in progress. It’s a draft document. I just want to get something down at my keyboard, so that I have something posted. I will feel I have done something, as much as I can do, at this point.
Who originated the term, “Dead Man’s Curve,” for this stretch of road? I don’t know if anybody else has called it that. If there is no known documentation of the use of this term, for this particular turn in the road, then the term, from this point on, does indeed apply. All names and traditions are inventions, part of the social construction of reality (as persons of an academic persuasion, including occasionally myself, like to say).
Absence of chevrons at the curve at the foot of Brown’s Line
The Dead Man’s Curve at the foot of Brown’s Line in Long Branch would benefit from having chevrons, but currently there are no chevrons at the curve. I have contacted the local Councillor’s Office, and the local MPP’s Office. I will also contact the City of Toronto at 311, as well as the Ontario Ministry of Transportation with regard to what can be done to save lives at the curve.
If you have an interest in this topic, I would urge you to make your views known as well, to the relevant authorities.
I have contacted the City of Toronto on a few, rare occasions in the past, with regard to less complicated signage issues related to missing or obscured School Zone signs. I have referred to the signs as Children at Play signs in a recent Long Branch Neighbourhood Watch Facebook comment, but that was an erroneous recollection: School Zone signs were in fact the topic regarding past signage issues.
These contacts, regarding missing or obscured signs, have led to good results, but I have not until recently gotten around to contacting anybody about the Dead Man’s Curve. The current post is my first step, in organizing my thinking, regarding the topic at hand.
Like a cannonball shot from a cannon
The presence of chevrons, along a sharp curve, will not in itself save anybody from a collision, if the chevrons are ignored, for whatever reason.
But chevrons will at least be helpful in keeping most drivers safe, as they travel around a curve that is abrupt.
One exception does come to mind at once, with regard to what chevrons can and cannot do.
For many years, I’ve been travelling south along Dixie Road in Mississauga, in order to take the right turn that leads you to the North Service Road which travels to the west toward Cawthra Road. On many occasions in recent months, I have taken photos of each of the chevrons at that curve, as well as photos showing all of the chevrons lined up together. That’s been part of my research for the post that you are now reading.
Some months ago, I made a point of paying a special visit to the curve at Dixie Road and the North Service Road. I had learned – I think I had first learned of this on Twitter – that a car had been travelling south on Dixie Road, headed toward just this curve.
Instead of attending to the message conveyed by the chevrons, however, the driver had just blasted along, straight ahead, in fact driving through one of the chevrons. The driver had proceeded straight ahead, that is, like a cannonball shot from a cannon, ignoring the call to make a turn to the right.
The car in its straighforward path, apparently at a high rate of speed, like a cannonball, proceeded to smash through the barrier, that separates the QEW from the North Service Road. It then struck a car that was heading west along the QEW. The drivers involved in the collision survived, as I understand. I do not know the details of the event. There was a news report but I do not have a link at hand. This is just a draft of my post. The link can wait – possibly indefinitely.
When I will get around to writing a final version of this post, complete with links and photos – I have even thought of creating storyboards and/or animations to tell the story – I do not know.
I do not want to make predictions. I have learned that I am not good at finishing some of the projects I am keen to finish. I am slowly learning to take on less tasks, and finish what I start. But such a learning process is a work in progress. In fact, if you do not yet know, I myself am a work in progress. Always keen to rewire my brain, to celebrate the wonders of neuroplasticity. Am I going to keep the latter comment? Or will I edit it out, as I often do? Why not leave it in, as this is a first draft.
It’s possible I will never get around to writing the final version. Or maybe the final version will appear as a chapter in a book, which would make more sense than spending a large amount of effort and time on a post at this website, where the chance for remuneration is in most cases zero. (The exception is when my blog posts lead me to some consulting work, here and there, which on rare occasions happens, much to my enjoyment.)
Sometimes drivers run over the poles that hold up traffic lights
Sometimes, I’ve seen evidence that drivers run through the poles that hold up traffic lights. I’ve seen this at the corner of Dixie Road and Lakeshore Road East, where the Small Arms Building, which is a source of endless fascination for me, because it serves as a metaphor for many things, is located.
One day, while I was walking by, I noted that the light standard was flat on the ground. It was, like, supine on the ground, snoring. I could see the security camera, or cameras, on the light standard. A Peel Regional Police officer was directing traffic, as I recall. Or maybe I just saw a police car, with lights flashing, at that location.
I did notice, when I walked by the next day, that a new light standard (that is, a pole that holds up a traffic light; at this stage, I have not determined what the correct technical term for this pole might be) was in place.
Then a bit later, I was driving by the corner of Valermo Drive and Brown’s Line in Alderwood, and noticed another light standard that had been blasted off its base, by an errant driver. In this case, I observed a specialized truck, that was in the business of hoisting a new light standard into position.
I also saw evidence of a light standard that had been knocked down at Elder Ave. and Thirtieth Street in Long Branch. Once you see one having been knocked down, you start to notice that it’s a pretty regular occurrence. Or maybe it isn’t. I would need evidence, before I were to say for sure.
I don’t know what the reasons were, that the three light standards, that I’ve described, got knocked over. Some drivers will smash into anything, at any time, meaning that negotiation of a curve in a roadway is not the only situation that can give rise to collisions.
Traffic signs along Lakeshore Road East and Dixie Road
I got my start in writing about local history following some networking that occurred when I was documenting a construction project on Lake Shore Blvd. West, between Forty First and Forty Second Streets. That’s close to the foot of Brown’s Line. I like to document construction as it takes place, when I have the time and opportunity.
A construction project is akin to the making of an animated film, of which I have made several. In fact, I have used still shots from a construction project – namely, the Aquaview Condo project at the location on Lake Shore Blvd. West, that I’ve just mentioned – to put together a time-lapse video at Vimeo.com, depicting the start to finish of the latter project.
Time-lapse and animation are very similar, from a technical standpoint. And when you are sitting in a car, travelling by traffic signs, you are watching a movie, in which the traffic signage reveals the plot.
What I especially like about construction projects is the ephemeral nature of the visual field, that a person observes, as the work proceeds from day to day. Usually, the steps are not documented – such as through photographs or video – in much detail.
People involved with construction projects might take photos or videos on occasion, but generally they have other things, that they are paid to do. Documentation, of the kind that I’ve done, is generally not done. I like to do what otherwise would not be done. It’s one of the opportunities that life offers any person – to do what otherwise would not be done. When you package that, the results can be fun to see. A little bit of local history has been preserved, in the process.
As a documentary maker, I have on occasion spent years of time documenting ephemera, such as day-to-day progress at a building site. I’ve made a short film, for a construction superintendent, Andy Iadinardi, regarding the Aquaview project. Among other projects, I have additional projects planned, based on the accumulated recordings from the latter project.
Traffic signage connected with Hanlan Water Project
To the west of Aquaview Condominiums in Mississauga, I have been following the Hanlan Water Project during the several years when the latter project was giving rise to extensive construction along Dixie Road heading north from Lakeshore Road East. Construction has also been underway for many years along Lakeshore Road East west of Dixie Road.
The signage that’s been in place, along both of these travel corridors, has been, and continues to be, exquisitely well done. Drivers are forewarned, way ahead of time, of the upcoming features in the roadways, that will require care on the part of drivers, as they travel through constrictions.
The signs are all arranged in a way that makes sense – the concept of syntax, or grammar comes to mind. What I have found especially noteworthy is that the signs appear to have been changed in small ways, from time to time, specifically for the purpose of keeping regular drivers on their toes, so that they remain alert as they pass along the same roadway, day after day.
I say “appear to have been changed” because I may be reading something into this, that may not be there. However, that is my hypothesis – that sometimes, features of the signage have been changed, simply to keep things fresh, from the perspective of the drivers passing through. I can do research about this, to see if my hypothesis is on the right track, or not.
A person can talk at length about the evolution of traffic signs, as I have observed in travelling across the urban landscape. I have compared signs that were put up decades ago, and have looked at new signs that convey the same information, but in a different style or format. However, for the post at hand, I want to end with a reference to the Dead Man’s Curve at Brown’s Line as you head toward Lake Shore Blvd. West.
It’s called a Dead Man’s Curve for a reason
What you see is a very dangerous curve, that has been the site of two recent fatalities, that I know of, one on 2016 and another in 2017.
What are the features of the geography, the sight lines, and the current signage that add up to extreme danger, in particular circumstances, at this curve? What I am writing is a draft, and the current version of the post is what occurs to me, at this point in my analysis, as a reviewer of streetscapes in the Greater Toronto Region.
The bottom line, in this case, is that if you take the Brown’s Line curve too fast, you may lose control of your vehicle … and lose your life. If you have a passenger or passengers with you, they may die as well. However, the two collisions, in 2016 and 2017, each involved a single-occupant.
It occurs to me that possibly, if there is a passenger or passengers in a car, and assuming that the driver is not under the spell of alcohol or drugs, a driver would take more care – in particular would take more care not to speed – than would otherwise be the case. But that is just a hypothesis.
The key point about the Brown’s Line curve is that if you are a driver new to the area, you would not know, at the point where you are approaching the crest of the hill, that’s in place as you are travelling south, that as soon as you are over the hill, you are about to take a pretty sharp curve to the right.
Some drivers, new to the area, would not necessarily clue in – until it is too late – that there is a sharp curve up ahead. The signage that’s currently in place does not telegraph the information that you, as you climb the hill, are about to hit a sharp curve.
In the first case, in 2016 (I think it was 2016: I have a link at this website, for the news report, but I am not going to look for it just now), the car came around the curve too fast.
The police report said there were no brake skid marks, indicating that no apparent attempt had been made to brake. The driver, not wearing a seatbelt, was ejected. The car hit the driver, after the driver had been thrown from the car. The driver was a male. If I recall correct from news reports, he was in his forties.
In the second case, early in 2017 (again, I will need to check for a link to the relevant news reports, to confirm for certain that I have the correct year), a car hit one of the concrete abutments along the wall, located at the outside of the curve, as you head south on Brown’s Line toward Lake Shore Blvd. West.
The top of the abutment was knocked off, and ended resting at a distance to the west of it. At the time of this writing, the broken-off part of the abutment remains where it landed. The deceased male driver, if I recall correctly from news reports, was in his twenties.
Visual dynamics of the curve
There appears to be a natural tendency, among drivers in general, in countries around the world, to step on the gas when approaching a hill – such as at the overpass roadway above the railway tracks north of Lake Shore Blvd. West.
Approaching the hill, there is a long stretch of straightaway. (Is that that the correct term? I must check.)
Straight roadways sometimes give rise to speeding, among some drivers. A Toronto Police Service speed trap is often set up at the corner of Dover Drive and Brown’s Line. Brown’s Line at Dover Drive is also a dangerous location; I have observed the results of two collisions at that location in recent weeks.
It’s natural, for some drivers, to pick up speed as they travel along the straight stretch of Brown’s Line as they approach the overpass just past Dover Drive.
At times, when I have travelled along this route, it has occurred to me that, on two occasions, in 2016 and 2017, two drivers would have been travelling along this roadway, unaware that in a matter of seconds, their lives would be over.
Now, as you proceed along the overpass, you do not have visual contact with what’s about to appear once, until you reach the top of the overpass.
The presence of a curve is not telegraphed for you, with a sign. All you see is a 30-kph sign, which is easy to ignore. Who attends closely to a sign that says 30-kph, if there is no other warning sign in place?
You do indeed see a sign – once you are right in the curve. The sign indicates the roadway swings to the right. The presence of a curve is not announced with a sign, until you are well into the curve. By that time, if you are travelling very fast, it may be too late … to save your life.
What would improve the situation?
A prominent advance warning of a curve – a sign that would clearly and dramatically alert drivers BEFORE they enter the curve – would be most helpful.
A series of chevrons along the curve would also be most helpful.
I have begun to send brief messages, about this topic, to the relevant authorities. I am delighted that I have finally gotten around to sending the messages. Maybe, people working together can save a life.
In the event you have a family member, friend, or acquaintance – or know a stranger – who may find this message of value, please let them know about the Dead Man’s Curve at the foot of Brown’s Line in Long Branch.
Daniel Fleming, Planning & Business Specialist, at Ward 6 Councillor Mark Grimes’ Office, has informed me that the Councillor has previously put a motion in for increased signage on and before the bridge:
The Councillor has asked that Daniel Fleming reach out to Transportation Services for an update. As soon as Daniel has one he will report back.
I have informed Daniel that MPP Peter Milczyn’s Office has checked at the provincial level.