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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

Toronto needs hard infrastructure to produce real Vision Zero results: Matt Elliott

Toronto's smart road safety plan needs immediate action.

A cyclist uses the separated bike lane on Richmond in June 2015.

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A cyclist uses the separated bike lane on Richmond in June 2015.

I was cut off by an aggressive driver as I crossed the street to city hall last week. I was in the crosswalk with lots of fellow pedestrians during a no-doubt walk sign, but that didn’t matter. The driver was hell-bent on making a right turn, and missed me by inches. I got lucky.  

These incidents are too common on Toronto’s deadly streets, where 43 pedestrians were killed in collisions last year. And it was a pretty fitting illustration of why the event that brought me to city hall – Toronto’s Vision Zero road safety summit — was so important.

The summit was put together by Coun. Jaye Robinson, the chair of the city’s public works and infrastructure committee. It marked the culmination of a lot of work done to make Toronto a true Vision Zero city – a city that recognizes all deaths and serious injuries on roadways can be prevented.

And the work is pretty good. The plan presented to the assembled group – advocates for pedestrians, cyclists and public health, plus police officers and others – lays out the data on injuries and deaths, maps the danger zones for pedestrians and cyclists, and points to how absurdly common aggressive and distracted driving is in this city.

The plan also points to solutions: better awareness, more robust data collection, stricter enforcement and improved infrastructure, like redesigned pedestrian-oriented intersections and more bike lanes.

If anything worries me about this plan, it’s the last bit. I’m not yet convinced Toronto is serious about infrastructure.

Take the city’s 10-year plan for installing bike lanes. When the plan was unveiled last summer, Robinson worked to remove so-called “major corridor studies” from the plan, punting the decision over whether to install lanes on most major roadways to late 2018.

As a result, the city’s 2017 plan for bike lane installations is meagre. It includes just four minor improvements to the network, filling in some gaps on roads like Davenport and adding some lanes on side streets.

It doesn’t look like the kind of bike plan you’d expect from a Vision Zero city.

Similar causes for concern are found in many of the reports on road infrastructure that come before city councillors. Requests for crosswalks and traffic calming measures are routinely rejected by transportation staff because they don’t meet an arbitrary set of requirements.

Even obvious improvements to safety take too long. At the intersection of Richmond and Simcoe, a busy active transportation corridor, local councillor Joe Cressy had to work to overturn an initial report that rejected the installation of a traffic light for fears of traffic tie-ups.

Again, not what you’d expect from a Vision Zero city.

None of this should detract from the work the city has done so far, but it’s important to remember that true Vision Zero is more than just studies, signs and summits. It’s embedded in the infrastructure that makes up the city.

Vision Zero will not become reality because it’s written in a report. It must be written in the streets.

  

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