Categories
Toronto Transit Walking

Not seeing the light on pedestrian safety

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Earlier this week, I ranted on Twitter about a poster I spotted on the TTC. The poster, showing a pedestrian crossing a downtown street, is one of a series of posters aimed at pedestrians, all with the tag “Stay Focused. Stay Safe.” They are co-produced by the TTC and the City of Toronto.

The poster, as seen above, shows a blurry image of a pedestrian crossing the street, wearing a backpack and a dark jacket. But it shows that pedestrian crossing legally and safely at one of the safest intersections in Toronto – Yonge and Dundas. We see cars and a streetcar waiting at the light in the background. There’s nothing wrong with this picture. What part of “stay focused” does clothing come in, anyway?

(Some of the responses to my rant were hilarious, like the woman who compared walking downtown wearing dark clothing with hiking in rural B.C. and not being prepared for cougar attacks.)

With the new school year and with the shorter days, it isn’t a bad time to be reminding all road users about how to stay safe. Other posters remind TTC passengers to cross at designated crosswalks and to pay attention when crossing the street, rather than focusing on their smartphones. While crossing many streets midblock isn’t itself dangerous – as long as one crosses a quiet street with caution it’s usually quite safe – the advice given in the poster above bothers me. It indirectly blames pedestrians for the clothes they wear.

Most fall and winter clothes, especially jackets, are dark – black, navy blue, dark grey, etc. Instead of blaming pedestrians, should we be blaming clothing retailers? Should we be requiring all pedestrians to wear high-visibility clothing, and be equipped with bright flashing lights? Or as David Hains pointed out in Torontoist, why aren’t cars required to be brightly coloured as to be seen better by pedestrians?

In Spacing, fellow Walk Toronto co-founder Dylan Reid wrote about, and debunked some common myths about pedestrian collisions. The vast majority of pedestrians in Toronto – 67% – hit by motorists had the right-of-way, such as with a walk signal at a traffic light or in a marked crosswalk. Only in 19% of collisions did injured pedestrians not have the right of way. And downtown, where there is a higher volume of pedestrians, there’s a safety in numbers; it’s on busy suburban arterials where pedestrians are most at risk; speed kills.

And as for bright-coloured clothing, it’s a great idea for joggers and runners at night, especially in rural areas. But it doesn’t necessarily prevent collisions. I was hit on Dupont Street by a careless taxi driver two years ago, even though I was riding safely in a bike lane. My bright, reflective jacket, my steady front and rear bike lights and my flashing helmet-mounted lights did not do a thing. I’ve been nearly hit over a dozen times by aggressive drivers racing through red lights or making right turns without looking for pedestrians with the right of way; I was attentive, and avoided injury in every case.

Some factors that make pedestrians difficult to see at night include poor lighting, inattentive and/or aggressive drivers, and motorists who don’t put their headlights on at night. There’s nothing wrong with reminding all users about how to get around safely; pedestrians should always be attentive when walking in and around traffic. There’s lots that can be done to promote pedestrian safety: better infrastructure, improved lighting, lower speed limits, and so forth. Safety campaigns are a useful tool. But blaming pedestrians for their wardrobe is ridiculous and misses the point.

Categories
Cycling Toronto

More thoughts on cycling infrastructure

In Torontoist last week, I mapped the new and improved bike lanes proposed for 2016. There are some great new additions – more contraflow lanes in the east end and through Kensington Market allow cyclists to take direct routes along quieter residential streets. There will finally be a pilot of the long-demanded Bloor Street bikeway; at least between Shaw Street and Avenue Road. And, as I write this post, work is being completed on separated bike lanes along Adelaide and Richmond Streets east to Parliament Street. The popularity of the lanes added last year (University Avenue to Bathurst) pretty much guarantees that these new bike corridors, still officially pilots, are permanent.

But the map below – created for the Torontoist post – shows many gaps, even with the new 2015 and 2016 additions. Note the long north-south lane in the top centre of the map. That’s Willowdale Avenue, the longest planned addition. It ends at Sheppard, just before Highway 401; there’s no easy and safe way for cyclists to cross North America’s widest and busiest auto route anywhere near where the new Willowdale bike lane ends. Freeways and railways remain nearly impenetrable barriers for pedestrians and cyclists; this prevents the true implementation of a minimum grid.

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But even bike lanes are only good if they aren’t blocked by ignorant or ill-intended motorists. Simple barriers like knock-down bollards or curbs are helpful, but they aren’t always effective.

Last Sunday, I cycled from my home in east Downtown Toronto to Downtown Hamilton, following the Martin Goodman Trail, Lakeshore Road, and the Hamilton Beach trail for an 84-kilometre ride. Through Oakville and Burlington, the Waterfront Trail is nearly non-existent, so I ride on Lakeshore Road itself, which has bike lanes in only a few sections. But motorists are, almost without exception, courteous and patient; it’s the one place in the suburbs where I really enjoy cycling.

In Hamilton, after crossing the Queen Elizabeth Way on a spectacular bridge that also spans the Red Hill Creek, I again take minor streets to make my way west towards downtown, where I usually visit a favourite pub on Augusta Street before loading my bike on a GO Transit bus rack and returning to Toronto.

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Hamilton, like Toronto, has started to add some great new cycling infrastructure. It has a bike share program, called SoBi Hamilton, it has great trails leading out to Brantford and Caledonia (as well as the Waterfront Trail), and some new bike lanes and cycletracks. The most impressive is Cannon Street, where a lane on a one-way arterial was transformed into a two-way separated cycletrack last year.

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But even green paint, knock-down bollards, and plenty of signage wasn’t enough on Sunday, when I encountered this:

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The woman in the red shirt and grey trackpants started screaming at me as I took these photos, claiming she had the right to stop here as she was moving out of the house. She threatened to call the cops on me (!) for taking photos of her stuff, saying I could be looking to steal it. (On my bike, of course.) Cyclists encountering this from the west would be forced into oncoming traffic; in any event it’s dangerous and illegal. (Taking photos of this type, on public property, certainly is not.)

 

There’s still a lot of ignorance out there; not by the woman with the U-Haul that I mentioned; but by at least one reaction:

Sidewalk riding is itself illegal and dangerous (sidewalk riding cyclists are a pet peeve of mine). Happily, there were plenty of others willing to correct that user about the safety of vulnerable road users and the various laws and by-laws applicable in this case.

But this is all a long and winding way to say that more cycling infrastructure is great. And places like Toronto and Hamilton are doing great work on that front. But the infrastructure is only as strong as its connectivity, and as long as they’re not blocked by ignorant and/or hostile motorists. Education and enforcement need to go along with the buckets of green paint, signage, and barriers now being added in our cities.

 

Categories
Maps Toronto

Mapping Toronto’s Legal Rooming Houses

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Rooming houses are often-overlooked in Toronto, but they provide an essential form of affordable housing in a city that struggles with the issue. In Torontoist, I looked a little more closely at this issue and created a map of all licensed rooming houses located in the City of Toronto. (The list from which the map was created can be found here.)

There are many, many more illegal rooming houses across Toronto that I didn’t map; currently they only legal in certain parts of the city  – the old City of Toronto and parts of the old cities of York and Etobicoke. These outdated laws predate amalgamation, and ignore the need for this form of affordable housing, as well as the variety of rooming arrangements. Illegal, undocumented rooming houses have the potential to be firetraps, licencing and inspections protect tenants from unsafe and unhealthy living conditions.

It’s time for updated regulations that cover all of Toronto; landlords should be able to rent out rooms right across the city. Happily, the city is conducting a city-wide review of rooming houses; one of the goals is to modernize the city’s by-laws; another is to improve the conditions in existing rooming houses.