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John Tory joins cycling activists' call for 'a hard look at safety' after child's death

Mayor John Tory said city officials are to meet Monday to begin a safety review of Toronto's trails.

The death of a five-year-old riding his bike next to a high-traffic road has renewed a debate in Toronto about measures to protect cyclists, prompting experts and John Tory to call for further action.

Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star

The death of a five-year-old riding his bike next to a high-traffic road has renewed a debate in Toronto about measures to protect cyclists, prompting experts and John Tory to call for further action.

TORONTO — The death of a five-year-old riding his bike next to a high-traffic road has renewed a debate in Canada’s largest city about measures to protect cyclists, prompting some experts and Toronto's mayor to call for further action.

The boy died Wednesday evening at Sick Kids Hospital after he lost control of his bike, fell onto the road and was hit by a car. The path where he was riding was not on the street, but there were no physical barriers separating bikes from cars.

Mayor John Tory said city officials are to meet Monday to begin a safety review of Toronto's trails.

"It is past time for us to have a hard look at safety on these trails," Tory said in a statement Sunday.

 Matti Siemiatycki, a professor of geography and planning at the University of Toronto, says these kind of accidents put safety at the forefront. 

"I think we have to move from the heartbreak of those events to focus on the infrastructure and focus on how our cities are designed. As we grieve, we also have to think, 'How do we prevent the next accident from happening?'"

"The roads, for the most vulnerable people travelling, are quite dangerous," he added.

He said infrastructure for active transportation — meaning non-motorized travellers, including cyclists, pedestrians and people using mobility devices — in the city is "varied".

"In some places, quite good infrastructure has been installed for cyclists," he said. "But then in other areas, it's just uneven. It stops and it starts, there are parts that are separated lanes and parts that are not separated."

Siemiatycki noted that the path where the boy was riding — the Martin Goodman Trail, which runs along the city's waterfront, at times right beside Lakeshore Boulevard — is itself problematic.

"You have a separate path, but along a very fast-moving road with no guardrail," he said.

That type of pathway can be quite dangerous, said Raktim Mitra, a professor at Ryerson University's School of Urban Planning. Cyclists feel safe, given that they're separated from the roadway, but motorists aren't expecting to see bikes.

"In these situations, when these two come closer, there needs to be higher safety measures, such as borders and physical high barriers and things like that," he said.

But generally, Mitra said, not every street needs a separated bike lane with a physical barrier — though they do have some benefit.

"Protected bike lanes give an increased perception of safety for beginner and new cyclists," he said, adding they may encourage more people to travel by bike.

Mitra said that above all else, roads should be designed with clarity in mind — it should be clear where each vehicle belongs, and the road should show cars where the bikes will be.

"On principle, I think as a city, we should show a stronger commitment to road safety," Mitra said. "At least in Toronto, it's been just talk so far."

Siemiatycki said the city should be taking a holistic approach to making streets safer for people engaging in active transportation.

"That's the key — to think of this as part of a system that encourages active transportation of all different types, and makes that feel safe and welcoming and comfortable, and a viable option for people of all ages and abilities."

He said there are a few things the city can do to accomplish this: build more separated bike lanes, and increase the length of time at crosswalks, allowing slower-moving people to cross safely.

"Our roads tend still to be built in most places predominantly for the automobile, and to move cars as quickly and efficiently as possible, and we're seeing some of the consequences of that."

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