News / Toronto

Pedestrian and bicycle-friendly streets are Toronto's road to good health: Report

Narrowing a roadway to make room for a bike lane or a traffic-calming measure ... well, says the chairman of the Board of Health, “That’s a war, that’s a tough, tough fight.”

At its meeting Monday, the Toronto Board of Health received three in-depth reports on how better street infrastructure — bike lanes, pedestrian crossings, lower speed limits, attractive pedestrian-friendly tree-lined walkways, lighting and street furniture — make Torontonians healthier, because it encourages us to get out of our cars.

The reports summarized decades of studying the link pedestrian and cycling-friendly infrastructure has with better health outcomes, including lower rates of obesity and diabetes, and improved mental health.

But, the changes require concessions from the road: narrower or fewer lanes, that impede speeding and make room for bicycles, broader sidewalks and attractive public spaces.

At the meeting, the Healthy Streets reports were lauded by several councillors, two university professors who have devoted their careers to the issue, and walking and cycling activists. However, the reports aren’t going to lead to the city spending money to facilitate changes to its streets any time soon.

They are meant to contribute to a report on “Complete Streets” that isn’t expected until Dec. 2015, or sometime in 2016. That plan is meant to shift the rules that govern how city councillors and city engineers make decisions when it comes time to resurface roads in their wards: instead of rebuilding them in the same way, more of the budget should be allotted for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.

“You have the planning department on board, you now have Public Health on board, this is how bureaucracies move,” said chairman of the Board of Health, Coun. Joe Mihevic.

But, there are some who are ideologically opposed to doing anything that could be perceived as a war on the car.

“Getting those lanes down from 3.3 metres and perhaps 2.7 metres, that’s war,” said Mihevic. “To have narrowings at intersections, so that pedestrians have an easier time. That’s a war, that’s a tough fight.”

Mihevic, explained that these things take time, saying it is “transformative change,” in that it would shift the priorities for the many millions the city spends on street restructuring.

The change would be most drastic in Toronto’s in suburbs, where there is little in the way of healthy streets infrastructure today.

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