Redesigning Toronto's deadliest intersections
Road safety starts with good design. Here's how the experts would rebuild some of Toronto's most hazardous intersections for pedestrians and cyclists.
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Fifty-four per cent of serious or fatal crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists happened at intersections, according to a 2015 Toronto Public Health report. Left-turning drivers alone accounted for one quarter of all collisions with pedestrians. If Toronto is going to get serious about road safety, it will need to redesign the spaces where our streets meet. Metro took road safety experts to three of the most deadly intersections in the city and asked them how lives could be saved.
Dylan Reid and Michael Black of Walk Toronto redesign the intersection of Bloor Street and Dundas Street West
Between 2010 and 2014, five pedestrians were killed or seriously injured in this very spot. Even during off-peak hours, the intersection sees high volumes of vehicle traffic in all directions. There are also plenty of pedestrians making their way to and from the Dundas West subway station and the new Union-Pearson Express station to the east.
"They've done the basics here," said Walk Toronto's Dylan Reid, noting the presence of painted crosswalks and accessible walking signals.
But he and his colleague, Michael Black, said far more could be done to improve safety at the busy intersection.
1. Sight lines
Whether it was a "no left turn" sign hidden behind a lamppost or a utility box blocking drivers' view of pedestrians, both Reid and Black said improving the intersection's sight lines is a simple step towards safety.
2. "Bump out" the sidewalk
The northbound right lane on Dundas Street leads drivers straight into a taxi stand. The biggest change Reid and Black suggested was making the lane right-turn only, and bumping out the sidewalk north of Bloor. Doing so would reduce the turning radius at the corner, forcing drivers to slow down when turning right. It would also shorten the distance between the two northern corners, they said, reducing the amount of time needed to cross.
"It makes no sense that drivers would go straight through the intersection in that lane," Reid said, "so why not reclaim that space for pedestrians?"
3. Better lighting
At some corners of the intersection, Reid noted the streetlights are "inexplicably set back" which makes pedestrians harder to see at night. The lights should be moved, he said, while Black suggested adding "illuminated bollards" at street level to maximize visibility at night.
"You should be able to cross the street with light shining on you," Black said.
4. Left turn signals
Vehicles heading east on Bloor Street have no dedicated left-turn signal onto Dundas. In the short time Reid and Black spent at the intersection, numerous drivers turned left on late amber lights, putting them into conflict with pedestrians in the northern crosswalk. They both suggested a left-turn signal would make the intersection safer.
"When you're trying to make the yellow, that's when you hit pedestrians," Reid said.
5. Improved streetcar signage and platforms
The northbound streetcar stop sits right in the middle of the intersection's southern crosswalk. While not a major concern, Black suggested better signage and road markings should be present to alert motorists to the presence of passengers.
"Right now there's nothing indicating that people could be waiting there," he said.
Beth Savan of the Cycling Think and Do Tank at the University of Toronto redesigns the intersection of College and Bathurst streets to make it safer for cyclists
College and Bathurst is one of the busiest cycling intersections in the city. Between 2010 and 2014, two cyclists were killed or seriously injured at the intersection.
“There's a lot happening here,” said Beth Savan of the Cycling Think and Do Tank at the University of Toronto. “You've got streetcars running both ways, and turning, as well as two lanes of vehicle traffic in each direction. You've also got one of the most popular bike lanes in the city on College Street, meaning the lanes are often congested.”
1. Wider bicycle lanes
Savan said her experience of cycling on College is one of "constantly passing" slower riders and cargo bikes, while "constantly being passed by couriers and guys in spandex." The lanes are far too narrow to accommodate the high volume of cyclists travelling at different speeds, she said, which means passing forces cyclists out into the roadway.
2. Separate the bike lanes
Research clearly shows separated lanes improve safety — as well as the perception of safety, Savan said, meaning more cyclists will feel comfortable riding in them. They also discourage cars from illegally stopping in the lanes, which can force cyclists to merge with car traffic and increase the risk of crashes.
3. Turning islands
The corners at Bathurst and College are rounded, which allows cars to turn at higher speeds. To make the intersection safer, concrete turning islands should be installed at each corner, which would protect cyclists and pedestrians from turning vehicles and force drivers to tap their brakes, Savan said.
4. Contiguous bicycle lanes
Savan noted the bicycle lanes on College "evaporate" once they reach the intersection. "That means cyclists have no guidance on whether they should behave as vehicles or pedestrians," she said. She suggested the lanes should be painted green and extend through the intersection to make it clear to both cyclists and drivers how the road is being used.
5. Leading signals
Leading signals would allow pedestrians and cyclists to begin crossing before vehicles. That makes them more visible to drivers, Savan said. Traffic lights dedicated to walking and cycling also help "legitimize" those modes of transportation, she added. "When drivers see those lights, they realize the city is saying that walking and cycling are good ways to get around.”
6. Using parked cars as a bike lane buffer
Parking on College is "on the wrong side" of the bike lane, Savan said. More modern lanes place parking between bike lanes and traffic, serving as a safety buffer and reducing the chance of getting doored.
Ryerson University planning graduate Neil Loewen redesigns the intersection of Birchmount Road and Scarden Avenue in Scarborough
Located just north of Highway 401 in Scarborough, Birchmount and Scarden is among the most dangerous intersections in suburban Toronto. Between 2010 and 2014, the city says four pedestrians were killed or seriously injured at the intersection.
Neil Loewen was one of the research associates involved in the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation’s study of “complete streets.”
1. Lower speeds
Birchmount boasts five lanes of traffic and a 60 km/h speed limit. “It feels like you’re on a freeway,” Loewen said. However, the intersection connects to a residential street and there are bus stops on both sides of the road. The proximity of pedestrian activity means the speed limit along Birchmount should be lowered to at least 50 km/h, Loewen said, in order to reduce the likelihood and severity of pedestrian collisions.
2. More mid-block crossings
The nearest controlled intersection to Birchmount and Allanford is more than 800 metres away at Sheppard Avenue. The lack of crosswalks or other pedestrian features along Birchmount means people are forced to either walk long distances or cross mid-block. With five lanes of fast-moving traffic, that’s a dangerous proposition, Loewen said. Another controlled crosswalk within walking distance would give pedestrians more choice and more safety.
3. Tighter corners
Loewen suggested the turning radiuses of the intersection’s corner be reduced, which would require drivers to slow down more before turning right. The change would also create more space and visibility for pedestrians, while reducing the distance needed to cross the road. “The radiuses look like they were designed for the larger street, not the smaller one,” he said. “They should be designing for the more vulnerable users here.”
4. A “road diet”
If the city wants to get serious about pedestrian safety, it should put streets like Birchmount on a “road diet,” Loewen said. Removing a lane of traffic from the street and narrowing the existing lanes could free up space for more pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, he said, while also slowing down traffic – thereby reducing the chance of a fatal collision.
“Changing the speed limit is one thing, but the design of the road is also important,” he said.
5. Better lighting
Only two corners at Birchmount and Allanford have streetlights, meaning pedestrians crossing at night may not be visible to drivers. Adding more lighting to the intersection is a simple step towards safety, Loewen said.