Ontario Transit

How intercity bus service is failing Ontarians

Coach Canada bus at the Guelph Terminal, three weeks before it abandoned the Guelph-Hamilton service in 2009

The state of intercity bus travel in Ontario is bleak. While there are still many bus options if you’re travelling between large cities, since the 1980s, hundreds of weekly bus trips and dozens of routes have been cut in Ontario, leaving many small cities and towns with minimal or no intercity transportation options. St. Thomas, a city of 45,000 located a mere 25 kilometres south of London, once had daily buses going in every direction. Today, it has none. Although studies on the modernization of the province’s beleaguered, skeletal bus system got underway in 2016, bus travel remains an afterthought.

I wrote more about the sorry state of the intercity bus network in Ontario for TVO, my first contribution to the network’s great digital presence.

Roads Toronto Walking

Toronto’s killing streets

A collision involving a pedestrian on Jarvis Street, 2017

If there’s a “war on the car” in Toronto, the car is still winning.

On Tuesday, Gideon Fekre was acquitted of dangerous driving causing death, after he sped on Dundas Street East, crossing a bike lane, mounting a sidewalk, and struck a pedestrian, Kristy Hodgson, killing her and one of the two dogs she was walking at the time. Both the prosecution and the defense agreed that Fekre was distracted at the time, reaching for a water bottle that fell. But Fekre was acquitted because his driving was not deemed dangerous enough to be worthy of a “dangerous operation of a motor vehicle” conviction. As Ed Keenan — an excellent Toronto Star journalist who covered the trial — pointed out, the Supreme Court ruled the same way in a similar case.

Surveillance video showing Kristy Hodgson walking her dogs, before Gideon Fekre’s car crosses the bike lane and mounts sidewalk before hitting and killing her. (Toronto Star/YouTube)

In the second case, Deriba Wakene was acquitted of leaving the scene of a collision after a 2015 hit-and-run that killed Nelisa DaMota as she was crossing Bloor Street mid-block. The judge in that case explained that he believed Wakene when he said he did not hear, see or feel any impact, even though Wakene’s neighbours could see the damage to his car after he parked it in his driveway.

Both these judgments have made me angry. I hit a raccoon once while driving on a dark, rural highway, and heard and felt that impact, and I was shook up by that, even though there was no damage to the car, and there was’t much that I could do. If you hit a pedestrian, and don’t even know it, you shouldn’t be behind a wheel. If you’re distracted enough that you mount a curb and hit a pedestrian, there should be consequences to that.

These two trials were the result of criminal charges, rather than lesser Highway Traffic Act (HTA) charges more commonly laid by police. For most HTA offences, the accused does not need to appear in court, even after a pedestrian or cyclist is injured or killed, and penalties are light — often a small fine. A proper vulnerable road users law, like that proposed by NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, is necessary. Her bill sets out mandatory probation orders and community service for careless drivers that cause death or serious injury to a pedestrian or cyclist. DiNovo’s Bill 158 passed first reading at Queen’s Park, but may not be passed in time before the legislature breaks for the June 2018 general election.

Sadly, there’s not enough action on pedestrian and cyclists’ safety here in Toronto. The city’s Vision Zero plan is modest as best, as I recently discussed. Drivers are too often unaccountable for their careless dangerous operation of their potentially deadly machinery. Sidewalks and bike lanes are debated at length, while opportunist politicians and reactionary pundits complain about a “war on the car.” If there is such a war, the cars are still winning.

Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

Toronto’s Zero Vision and the folly of Seniors Safety Zones

IMG_4386-001Eglinton Avenue East near Brimley Road, one of twelve Seniors Safety Zones in the City of Toronto

Despite its status as a global city, a city that’s often ranked as one of the world’s safest, a city that likes to think of itself as both progressive and a top place to do business, Toronto does a lousy job of protecting its residents from injury and death on its roads.

Although there have been a few positive steps — the new King Street Pilot, launched last week, or the Bloor Street bike lanes, made permanent between Avenue Road and Shaw Street in October — Toronto does far too little to protect pedestrians and cyclists in this city. The installation of sidewalks in residential neighbourhoods are often opposed by local residents resistant to losing driveway space on which to park their cars, or unhappy about having to clear sidewalks of snow and ice. Affluent neighbourhoods might be dotted with “drive slow – kids at play”  lawn signs, but their residents and elected representatives will oppose new bike lanes and lower speed limits on the arterial roads they use to commute downtown.

The general idea of reducing road violence is a popular one. But specific actions are often opposed. The city’s own Vision Zero strategy — weak as it is — is a good indication of the ambivalence to road safety we have in this city.

IMG_4403-001Woman and young child cross seven lanes of traffic at a crosswalk at Eglinton Avenue East and Danforth Road

Vision Zero, which originated in Sweden, is the road safety philosophy that no loss of life is acceptable, and that all road users are human, that humans make mistakes, and road design must minimize the impacts of those mistakes. Complete streets that accommodate all road users (pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, and transit users), and road engineering measures to protect pedestrians and cyclists and reduce traffic speeds are in the spirit of Vision Zero.

But when Mayor John Tory and Public Works and Infrastructure Committee Chair Jaye Robinson (Councillor, Ward 25) originally announced the city’s Vision Zero plan in June 2016, it merely aimed to reduce serious collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists by 20 per cent over a ten year period, allocating $68.1 million over five years.  The plan itself was modest. After a social media backlash and criticisms from active transportation activists (including Walk Toronto, of which I am a co-founder and a steering Committee member), the plan was revised, with an additional $10 million allocated and the goal to eliminate serious collisions, rather than simply reduce that number.

One of the specific measures in the city’s Vision Zero plan is the creation of seniors safety zones, areas with high volumes of older adult pedestrians and higher risk of collision. Older adults make up a majority of pedestrian deaths in Toronto; 37 of the 43 pedestrians killed  in 2016 were over the age of 55. According to the City of Toronto’s Vision Zero Road Safety Plan, seniors safety zones will feature changes intended to improve pedestrian safety, such as lower speed limits, improved street lighting, advanced and extended walk signals at signalized intersections, red light cameras and radar speed signs, improved sidewalks and additional crosswalks, and increased enforcement.

Twelve seniors safety zones were designated across the entire city of Toronto. Five are in the old City of Toronto, including Dundas Street at Bloor, Dundas at College/Lansdowne, and Dundas at Spadina. Six are in Scarborough, and one is in North York.

Senior Safety Zone sign and 40 km/h speed limit, Danforth Avenue at Coxwell

On Danforth Avenue, two senior safety zones were identified: near Coxwell Avenue and near Main Street. The speed limit on Danforth Avenue was reduced from 50 km/h to 40 km/h in 2016, but few other visible changes are apparent. Danforth Avenue is a five lane street, including a centre lane for left turns, and is paralleled by a subway line. The curb lanes on Danforth are unusually wide, and are used for parking outside of weekday rush hours. There are no bike lanes on Danforth either.

Despite the 40 km/h speed limit, the wide lanes, dedicated turning lanes, and the absence of daytime local transit promote high speeds. The design speed of Danforth is simply too high; simply reducing the speed limit and putting up “senior safety zone” signs will do far too little.

IMG_4396-001Seniors Safety Zone sign on Eglinton Avenue East, at Brimley Road. Note the 60 km/h speed limit sign

Eglinton Avenue East, between Midland Avenue and Danforth Road in Scarborough, is another senior safety zone. Two pedestrians were killed on this stretch of road in 2016.

Eglinton Avenue through Scarborough is seven lanes wide, including a centre left-turn lane to cross streets and commercial properties that line the wide street. Traffic signals  are typically 500 metres apart; many TTC bus stops on Eglinton Avenue East are located far from a designated crosswalk. Buses are frequent between Midland and Brimley; four frequent routes feed into the Kennedy subway station to the west. Again, there is no cycling infrastructure to be found.

The senior safety zone here is a joke. Not one safety intervention was made here. The yellow-and-black safety zone signs that read “drive slowly” are merely advisory, and do not stand out among other traffic  and commercial signage. The 60 km/h speed limit was not changed, and intersections were not altered at all to improve pedestrian safety.

IMG_4374-001At Eglinton and Midland Avenues, wide curb radii encourage speedy right turns into crosswalks; many drivers do not stop at the red light before making a right turn

Several residential side streets off of Eglinton, such as Winter Avenue, do not even feature sidewalks. The signs might say “seniors safety zone” but there is no evidence that pedestrian safety is taken seriously at all here.

Winter Avenue’s sidewalks disappear a mere 50 metres south of Eglinton Avenue

Physical interventions, such as narrower lanes (which could make room for cycling infrastructure and/or wider sidewalks), bump-outs at crosswalks to improve pedestrian visibility and slow down right-turning vehicles, would be more effective. Police enforcement, or speed radar cameras, would be an additional deterrent against dangerous driving.

At least the city has taken notice of the unacceptable numbers of pedestrians and cyclists killed in Toronto, but simply putting up new speed limit and safety zone signs are not enough. Without road engineering works to slow traffic down, and without effective police enforcement against speeding and drivers’ failures to obey traffic signs and yield the right of way to pedestrians, we only get feel-good measures and ineffective signs. A real commitment to Vision Zero requires political will, which so far is lacking at City Hall. Instead, we get zero vision.

Cycling Infrastructure Roads

The trouble with those “cyclists dismount” signs


Recently, I wrote about inconsistent, misleading, and problematic signage at road construction sites. Too often, cyclists are instructed to dismount and walk when a bike lane or general traffic lane is closed for construction.

But these signs also exist where many multi-use trails and paths cross intersections. In suburban municipalities such as Brampton and Mississauga, multi-use paths adjacent to major roadways are preferred over on-street bike lanes (protected or not). But they too, are littered with signs instructing cyclists to stop, get off their bikes, and walk across the intersection, such as the example illustrated below, in Mississauga.


The trouble is, the Ontario Traffic Manual (OTM), used by transportation planners and engineers to design roadways and install the appropriate signage, takes a dim view of signage requiring cyclists to dismount when on roadways or on multi-use trails:

“It is sometimes necessary for cyclists to dismount their bicycle and walk when the terrain or cycling conditions are difficult and no alternatives exist. However, the option of asking cyclists to dismount and walk their bikes should not be relied upon in lieu of adequately accommodating cyclists through appropriate road design.”

Book 18 of the OTM (available here as a PDF) states that the “dismount and walk” sign should “be used only in exceptional cases, such as where an in-boulevard facility ends, and cyclists would discharge into a sidewalk or pedestrian zone.” This clearly means that these signs should not exist when a bike route or multi-use trail crosses a driveway or an intersection, but only when the route ends and becomes a sidewalk, or at a pedestrian mall where cycling is not permitted. (Page 118, OTM Book 18, 2013 edition.)

OTM Book 18 page 118Excerpt from page 118, book 18 of the Ontario Traffic Manual, December 2013 edition

The OTM also says that “…cyclists usually find it difficult to rationalize why “dismount and walk” restrictions are in place, and conclude that they were a poor, illogical or arbitrary decision. Thus, if facility designs cause cyclists to make what they consider to be unnecessary stops, this will increase the likelihood that they will ignore or disobey traffic controls.”

What the Ontario Traffic Manual does specify, is how signage, road markings, and design should be made to clearly mark crossing locations, warn motorists to watch for cyclists, and to remind cyclists to yield to pedestrians. Figure 4.103 from OTM Book 18, shown below, illustrates how a mixed pedestrian and cyclist route on the side of a road — like those in Brampton and Mississauga — should meet an intersection. While signs warn motorists and cyclists to watch out for each other, and for cyclists to yield to pedestrians, there are no “cyclists dismount” signs to be seen in the diagram.

OTM Book 18 page 124 .jpg
Illustration of how a multi-use trail should meet an intersection. Figure 4.103, from page 124, book 18 of the Ontario Traffic Manual, December 2013 edition

Multi-use trails are an effective way of providing safe cycling infrastructure, especially in the suburbs, where traffic speeds are higher and politics may not make installing bike lanes an easy sell. Traffic engineers have figured out that those ubiquitous “cyclists dismount” signs are not effective and developed designs that instead accommodate cyclists.

It’s time that municipalities figured this out.