Advocates chide Tory's 'quite modest' plan for road safety
In total, the plan proposes lowering speed limits in 54 locations, many on downtown corridors.
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Mayor John Tory is championing a new road safety plan that aims to cut serious collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists by 20 per cent over the next decade.
At a news conference on Spadina Ave. south of Dundas St. W. on Monday, Tory and public works chair Councillor Jaye Robinson unveiled a plan that would dedicate $68.1 million to road safety initiatives over the next five years. That’s roughly $40 million more than is currently allocated.
Describing the number of traffic deaths in Toronto as “profoundly unacceptable,” Tory said the new strategy was a “smart, collaborative approach to reducing injuries and fatalities on our streets.”
“We need to decide collectively that we must do better. And I am here today to say I know we can, and I know we must,” he said, adding that he planned to personally record a public service announcement about traffic safety later in the day.
Sixty-five people were killed on Toronto roads last year, marking a 10-year high. The dead included 39 pedestrians and four cyclists. So far this year there have been 35 traffic fatalities, 16 of them pedestrians, Robinson said.
Torstar News Service reported Monday, the plan is designed around five focus areas: pedestrians, cyclists, seniors, school children, and distracted and aggressive driving.
The strategy puts forward 40 new and enhanced “countermeasures” that range from geometric safety improvements to road designs and audible crossing signals for the hearing impaired, to education campaigns and expanded use of speed-display signs that show drivers how fast they’re going.
Central to the plan, which city staff stressed is “data-driven,” is the implementation of“pedestrian safety corridors” in areas where statistics show a high number of serious collisions. These locations, mostly downtown, would be selected for safety measures such as crossing signals that give priority to cyclists and pedestrians, enhanced crosswalk markings, “no right turn on red light” prohibitions, and reduced speed limits.
In total, the plan proposes lowering speed limits in 54 locations, many on downtown corridors such as Yonge St., Bathurst St., Bay St., Dundas St., Bloor St. and Queen St. The limit would be reduced from 50 km/h to 40 km/h in 28 locations, and from 60 km/h to 50 km/h in 24 others. In two locations outside the core, the limit would be cut from 70 km/h to 60 km/h.
Transportation staff wrote in the report that the strategy would “establish Toronto as a national and international leader in urban road safety,” but some pedestrian advocates say it’s not nearly as robust as plans endorsed by other cities.
Dylan Reid, co-founder of Walk Toronto, described the strategy as “sensible” but “quite modest.”
He said drafting a plan to explicitly address safety for vulnerable road users was a “step forward,” but other jurisdictions have embraced more sweeping policies such as city-wide reductions on the default speed limits.
Reid also criticized the plan’s 20-per-cent reduction target, particularly in light of the more ambitious “Vision Zero” campaigns in other cities, like New York and Vancouver, which aim to completely eliminate traffic deaths.
Reid noted that a 20 per cent cut in Toronto’s 39 pedestrian fatalities last year would still result in 31 deaths. That’s higher than the number the city posted in 2011, when 18 pedestrians were killed.
“I think the 20 per cent reduction is the reflection of the fairly modest and not too expensive steps that they’re taking,” Reid said.
Tory defended the 20 per cent target, saying the report makes clear the long-term goal is zero traffic deaths. He argued that since this is the first time the city has had a comprehensive road safety plan and it was important to take an “honest, realistic approach.”
“We can go the old Toronto way, where there was either no plan at all, or a plan that had unattainable, unfunded objectives which sound good. Or we can take the new approach where we set realistic goals we will achieve,” he said.
“Our goal is ultimately to eliminate fatalities here,” Tory added.
Following criticism of the initial target, however, Councillor Robinson told Torstar in an email Monday afternoon that she planned to move a motion at public works committee next week setting a target of zero traffic fatalities. She said the move had the mayor’s support.
Ray Chan, government relations specialist with the Canadian Automobile Association, praised the plan as “a great step forward in helping to reduce some of these fatalities and serious collisions.”
“I want to see some more studies done to see what the potential impact to motorist traffic would be. But I also respect the fact that we obviously need to share the road,” Chan said.
The plan will be debated by the committee next Monday, after which it’s expected to go to city council in July for a final vote.
Five key ways to make roads safer
Transportation staff have divided the city’s new road-safety plan into five key areas based on their analysis of recent collision data.
One Toronto cyclist is killed or seriously injured every week in Toronto. The plan proposes enhanced cycling facilities such as separated bike lanes, advanced green lights at intersections that give bikers a head start on motor vehicles, and signals that automatically detect cyclists and allow them additional time to clear intersections.
One pedestrian is killed or seriously injured in Toronto every two days. The new plan would implement pedestrian safety corridors at locations known to be dangerous and implement measures such as reduced speed limits, signal timing changes, prohibitions on turns and beefed-up police enforcement. Some street corners would also be built out to force drivers to slow down when turning.
Between 2011 and 2015, 34 children going to or from school were killed or seriously hurt in traffic collisions. Transportation staff want to launch a pilot project of automatic enforcement in school zones that would allow police to catch speeders using remote cameras. The city would need the province’s permission for the project.
Every five days, a pedestrian over 55 years old is killed or badly hurt in Toronto. The new strategy would install more mid-block crossings and extend pedestrian signal times near seniors’ facilities. Curbs on some roads could also be built further out to make it easier for older adults to cross the road.
Distracted and aggressive driving
Distracted or aggressive drivers kill or harm one person every day in Toronto. Nine intersections currently have LED signs that light up to warn drivers of left-turn prohibitions, and staff propose installing them at five new intersections each year and adding signs for “no-right-on-red” rules. Staff also want to expand the use of mobile “Watch Your Speed” devices that deter speeding by showing drivers how fast they’re going.
Vision Zero in other cities
Sweden enshrined Vision Zero in national law in 1997 and between 1990 and 2011 reduced traffic fatalities by 66 per cent.
Norway embraced Vision Zero in 1999, but a decade later traffic fatalities remained largely unchanged at about 250 a year.
Since San Francisco adopted Vision Zero two years ago, traffic deaths have actually increased, from 10 in 2014 to 13 so far this year.
A year after launching Vision Zero, New York City had its safest year on record in 2015, when it cut traffic fatalities by 22 per cent compared with 2013.
Edmonton claims to be the first Canadian city to adopt the Vision Zero approach, after its city council voted in September 2015 to set a long-term goal of stamping out traffic-related deaths and serious injuries.
Source: Swedish Transport Agency, City of New York, Vision Zero San Francisco, University of Stavanger, City of Edmonton.