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'Safety is job number one,' says Toronto's new transportation chief

In her first public appearance since arriving in Toronto, Barbara Gray spoke about the need for roadways to work for everyone – not just drivers.

Barbara Gray is Toronto’s new general manager of transportation. She comes to the city from Seattle, where she was a champion for pedestrian and cyclist safety.

Torstar News Service file

Barbara Gray is Toronto’s new general manager of transportation. She comes to the city from Seattle, where she was a champion for pedestrian and cyclist safety.

Toronto’s new transportation chief has a message for drivers: sharing is caring.

In her first public appearance since arriving in the city nine days ago, Barbara Gray spoke Tuesday about the need for Toronto’s roadways to work for everyone – whether they’re behind a wheel or not.

“If you own a car, and a car is more convenient for you to get around the city, you want to know that your trip will be safe and reliable,” she said. “And I want you to know that you’re sharing the road with other people who make a different choice.”

In her new role, Gray will be tasked with managing congestion in Toronto, improving road closure co-ordination and ensuring streets and roadways contribute to the broader public realm. However, she said overseeing the rollout of the city’s new road safety plan will be her top priority.

“The mayor has made it very clear that safety is job number one,” she said.

Gray comes to the city from Seattle, where she oversaw a number of initiatives aimed at improving travel for pedestrians and cyclists. She pledged to continue that work in Toronto.

Specifically, Gray spoke about how Seattle has reduced the number of vehicle lanes on some streets to make way for other infrastructure.

“You might expand the sidewalk, you might include a bike lane, you might have a centre turn lane,” she said.

Gray referred to that process as “rechanellization,” but in other jurisdictions it’s known as a “road diet.”

She also noted default speed limits in Seattle are lower than in Toronto – major arterials are capped at 25 miles per hour (40 km/h) – but stopped short of endorsing such a measure here. Instead, she plans to focus on better enforcing existing limits.

“The top-end speeders and the high speeders are the ones causing the most safety challenge for our pedestrians,” she said.

Tory heaped praise on Gray, and was quick to dismiss the notion that giving more space to pedestrians and cyclists constitutes a “war on the car.”

“It’s an evolution, not a war,” he said. “It’s the 21st century. Our transportation corridors, which are not expanding in their size, are going to have to be shared to a greater extent.”

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