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Toronto's Deadly Streets in review: The fight for more accessible intersections

The city is making it safer for pedestrians with visual impairments to cross the road, by installing more accessible pedestrian signals at intersections.

An accessible pedestrian sign is seen in Toronto, Thursday, December 15, 2016.

Eduardo Lima / Metro

An accessible pedestrian sign is seen in Toronto, Thursday, December 15, 2016.

Metro launched its Toronto’s Deadly Streets campaign in June with the goal of making road safety a priority at City Hall. This week, Metro looks back on how far Toronto has come on the issue — and the role our coverage played in making streets safer. 

When Daniella Levy-Pinto walks around Toronto, she plans her route based on where she can find accessible pedestrian signals.

The signals provide audible signals to pedestrians with visual impairments. For Levy-Pinto, who is blind, they mean the difference between crossing safely or not.

“I choose routes where I know I can find them, even if it means walking a long distance,” she said, noting that without them, something as simple as crossing the road becomes “a guessing game.”

Fortunately, for Levy-Pinto and others like her, the city is accelerating plans to make intersections more accessible. Since June, the city has installed 56 new signals, and the new road safety plan vows to add the devices to 20 new intersections a year.

“The city’s goal should be to have them everywhere where there’s a traffic light, in order to convey the same information to blind pedestrians as they give to sighted Torontonians,” Levy-Pinto said.

An accessibility advocate with Walk Toronto, Levy-Pinto says the city also needs to standardize the location of the special signals. She’s trained her guide dog to spot them, she said, but others with visual impairments can have difficulty finding them if they’re not right next to the crosswalk.

And in the wintertime, the poles can become blocked by snow, she said.

One simple solution, Levy-Pinto said, would be to make the audio signals automatic. At present, users have to hold the button down for a few seconds to trigger them.

“What I’ve seen in other cities, like New York and San Francisco, is that they’re automatic. The light changes and the sound starts. It’s simple.”

Metro Effect

Levy-Pinto said Metro’s Deadly Streets series made pedestrian and cyclist safety something politicians and the public “could no longer ignore.”

“You reported on every single collision,” she said. “I think Metro did a wonderful job in putting this issue at the forefront of the public conversation and not letting people forget about it.”

As a vocal advocate for safer streets, Levy-Pinto said she’s noticed more people are “engaged” on road safety, and she credited Metro in part for that awareness.

“The challenge now is to reach the people who still don’t believe this is an urgent issue,” she said.

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