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Infrastructure Politics Roads Toronto Walking

Zero vision in suburban Toronto

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Though the city of Toronto has made some progress towards safer streets recently, the lack of police enforcement of traffic laws, the reluctance to spend serious money on road redesign, and the attitudes of some city officials continue to be obstacles towards making Toronto a safe place to walk and cycle.

As part of the city’s Vision Zero 2.0 Plan, City Council voted in July to reduce speed limits from 60 km/h to 50 km/h on 37 sections of arterial roadways across the city, and from 50 km/h to 40 km/h on five more roads. Councillors Ana Bailão and Jim Karygiannis moved to extend several of these sections. However, rookie councillor Cynthia Lai (Ward 23-Scarborough North) moved to amend the item to remove three sections of arterial roads in her ward:

  • Brimley Road from Sheppard Avenue East to Steeles Avenue East,
  • Markham Road from Milner Avenue to Steeles Avenue East, and
  • McCowan Road from Milner Avenue to Steeles Avenue East.

Councillor Lai claimed that her constituents were concerned about gridlock in her ward and opposed the speed restrictions. Scarborough is especially dangerous for pedestrians as it has the most kilometres of high-speed arterial roads in the city and the longest distances between crosswalks.

High speeds and dangerous driving are major problems in Ward 23, a part of the city that I visit a few times a month. Brimley, Markham, and McCowan Roads are designed solely for car traffic: they are lined by plazas, warehouses, and backyard fences. Traffic signals are often far apart. Markham and McCowan Roads are also high-speed thoroughfares connecting Markham to Highway 401.

Walking along McCowan Road between Finch and Steeles earlier this year, my spouse and I encountered a pedestrian refuge smashed in by a motorist. The refuge island was protected by reflective signage, as well as metal barriers, and was installed to help pedestrians cross at a TTC bus stop, though pedestrians are not given the right of way.

IMG_1644Smashed pedestrian refuge island on McCowan Road

This is why it was so disappointing to see Councillor Lai organize a “Senior Pedestrian Safety Initiative” with Toronto Police at Woodside Square, a community mall at the corner of McCowan Road and Finch Avenue. Councillor Lai, her staff, and local police were “educating” seniors about pedestrian safety, while giving out reflective armbands. Councillor Lai claimed it was part of the city’s Vision Zero strategy, and she doesn’t “think we should blame anybody.”

This was just days after a police report showed a severe decline in traffic tickets issued and extremely limited police enforcement of unsafe driving in Toronto. On the Friday before, two seniors were seriously hurt when crossing the street.

Needless to say, Councillor Lai and the Toronto Police taken to task by road safety advocates and even fellow councillors. Jessica Spieker of Friends and Families for Safe Streets called it a “form of victim blaming.”

Supporting Councillor Lai’s position, on Monday November 25, Councillor James Pasternak said “wearing high visibility clothing or reflective gear is a key part of keeping everyone safe, including pedestrians, construction workers, cyclists, police officers and crossing guards. Let’s make VisionZeroTO work.” Councillor Pasternak is Mayor John Tory’s handpicked chair of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee, which among its duties is ensuring the safety of Toronto’s road infrastructure.

Vision Zero 2.0 says nothing about armbands. Instead, the plan includes reducing speeds, road design improvements, and safer crossings at TTC stops.

Though it is always a good idea for pedestrians to be aware of their surroundings and be predictable when crossing the street, most of the responsibility falls on the city, which designs the roads, the police, who have abandoned their duty to protect road users, and drivers, who are licensed and insured to operate multi-tonne vehicles. The rash of hit-and-runs after pedestrians were struck is especially alarming.

In Waterloo, a crossing guard performing her duties was struck and seriously injured by the driver of a F-150 truck, who then fled the scene. This was the despite the school guard wearing a reflective vest, carrying a stop sign, in a marked school crosswalk. No amount of high-visibility clothing will protect pedestrians from dangerous drivers, who in Toronto this year, killed pedestrians walking on sidewalks, and injured pedestrians in transit shelters.

Ironically, Woodside Square itself was hit twice by drivers in the last two years. In December 2017, a motorist crashed through both sets of doors at the mall entrance closest to Shoppers Drug Mart. In February 2018, a motorist, possibly dealing with medical problems, crashed into several cars and into a Subway restaurant at the mall. High-visibility clothing would not have helped in either of those cases.

It’s unfortunate that a city councillor will choose giving out reflective armbands over effective speed reductions, road redesign, and traffic enforcement. Hopefully, Councillor Lai will take the criticism to heart and do better for Ward 23.

Post script: A staff report to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee in October 2019 continued the recommendation for speed reductions in Ward 23, citing minimal impacts to travel times, and the dangerous conditions on Brimley, Markham, and McCowan Roads. Staff noted that there have been 6 fatalities and 20 serious injuries incidents on those three road segments. On October 29, Council voted to lower the speed limits on Brimley, Markham, and McCowan Roads against Councillor Lai’s objections.

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About me Cycling Roads Toronto Walking

Addressing the Toronto Police Services Board

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Earlier today, on behalf of Walk Toronto, I made a deputation to the Toronto Police Services Board addressing the lack of traffic enforcement in the City of Toronto. After criticism from organizations such as Walk Toronto, Cycle Toronto, and Friends and Families for Safe Streets, the Toronto Police now plans to initiate a “Vision Zero enforcement team,” with the city funding the annual $1 million cost.

As anyone who walks or cycles in the City of Toronto knows, aggressive, distracted, and careless driving is commonplace. They also know that apart from the well-publicized blitz, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) have not responded to the carnage on our streets.

I spoke to express our disappointment of how the TPS completely failed vulnerable road users by not engaging in meaningful traffic enforcement and calling for a return to making this a priority. Similar deputations were made by John Sewell, former mayor and police critic, Keagan Gartz from Cycle Toronto, and Jessica Spieker from Families and Friends for Safe Streets.

I found it was a bit intimidating. it was my first formal deputation in a long time, and I sat at a table in front the board, including Chief Mark Saunders and Mayor John Tory. But I did it! Next time I depute, I should find it easier.

Mayor Tory, to his credit, convinced fellow police board members that the traffic enforcement team be made permanent, and funded from the Toronto police budget, starting in 2020. This motion passed unanimously.

It is not enough, of course, but it’s an acknowledgement that we desperately needed. Walk Toronto and our partners will continue to push for safer streets.

Unfortunately, Chief Saunders chose to blame airpods for the epidemic of pedestrian injuries and deaths, ignoring experts and the city’s own data:

Chief Saunders and the board had the opportunity to ask questions of any member of the public who took the time to craft and make deputations today at Police Headquarters. Regretfully, they chose not to do so.

Below is the complete text of my deputation to the Toronto Police Services Board. You can watch the whole meeting here (I speak just after the 1:00 mark).

Vision Zero is an internationally recognized set of road safety tenets that aims to reduce all fatalities and severe injuries in a municipality to zero over the course of a year, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all, especially vulnerable road users such as pedestrians.

Road design, engineering controls and enforcement are all essential pillars for reducing road violence on our streets. Road improvements force vehicle operators to slow down and take notice, while improving the visibility and safety of vulnerable road users, especially pedestrians and cyclists.

In the meantime, the City of Toronto has focused on reducing speed limits, adding traffic signals, and designating school safety zones and senior safety zones. But this has been more about putting up signs. Signs have no effect If there are no consequences for disobeying them.

At Walk Toronto, we have noted the lack of police enforcement of safe speeds, red light running, illegal turns, and distracted driving. There may be the occasional well-publicized blitz, but for the most part, motorists in Toronto know that they can get away with risky and dangerous behaviour because the likelihood of being caught is negligible. At best, Toronto’s response to road violence has been reactive, rather than proactive.

To date, 34 pedestrians were killed on Toronto’s streets in 2019; in 2018, 42 pedestrians were killed. Not just on city streets, but on sidewalks, at bus stops, and even inside a bus shelter. Earlier this year, a home was struck in East York. Meanwhile, police are being deployed downtown not to protect pedestrians, but to ensure traffic isn’t impeded at busy intersections during rush hours.

We were outraged – but not shocked – by a recent Toronto Star report that found that the number of traffic tickets issued dropped from 700,000 in 2010 to just 200,000 in 2018, and that there are no officers assigned to full-duty local traffic enforcement. This is despite a growing city, an ageing population, and enhanced provincial penalties for distracted, reckless, and impaired driving introduced over the last few years.

The Toronto Police Service has failed the city’s most vulnerable road users.

Though red-light cameras, photo radar, and automated school bus “stop” signs are useful tools, there is no substitute for old-fashioned police enforcement. Additional new dedicated officers are a good step in recognizing this failure, as long as enforcement does not target indigenous, racialized, and other communities that are already disproportionately affected by policing. In the end, we need both better designed streets and a renewed direction that the Toronto Police Service will have no tolerance for unsafe driving in Toronto.

Thank you.

Categories
Maps Toronto Transit

A review of GO Transit’s fare structure

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Four years ago, I wrote about GO Transit’s problematic fare structure. Though GO Transit claims to charge passengers based upon a fare-by-distance structure, fares for travelling short distances were disproportionately high compared to long-distance rides from outer suburban stations. In 2015, I also found significant fare differences between corridors, with Kitchener Line passengers paying the most per distance traveled.

Since my original post, some changes were made to the GO Transit fare system:

  • In 2016, a tiered fare increase was applied, with the lowest fares frozen (for example, Union Station to Mimico, Bloor, or Danforth), with fare increases between  40 and 60 cents per ride dependent on distance traveled. Those fare increases applied to Presto fares, though with a discount (11.15% less than the cash fare).
  • In January 2018, a $1.50 fare discount was introduced for Presto card users transferring between TTC and GO. However, the Ford government announced it would no longer subsidize the TTC-GO fare discount, threatening its continuation.
  • In April 2019, GO fares for trips less than 10 kilometres were reduced, with the minimum cash fare going from $5.30 to $4.40, with the minimum Presto fares reduced from $4.71 to $3.70. A passenger headed from Union Station to Exhibition Place could choose to take a local TTC streetcar fare ($3.10 with a Presto Card) or the direct GO train ride (just 60 cents more). At the same time, the cash fares for trips longer than 10 kilometres were increased by 4%, while Presto fares were increased by 3%. 

The good news is the eventual reduction of short-distance fares have gone a long way towards flattening the fare/distance curve.

There were also some major service changes over the last four years. Two new GO stations were opened: Downsview Park (which offers a direct connection to the new TTC subway extension to York University and Vaughan), and Gormley, a station built next to Highway 404 on the Oak Ridges Moraine. Additional trains were added to Kitchener, new peak-period trains to and from Niagara Falls were introduced, evening trains added on the Kitchener Line, and this month, weekend trains were introduced on the Stouffville Line. But connecting bus routes to Cambridge, Bolton, and between Milton and Oakville were eliminated, with other bus trips cancelled across the system.

Categories
About me Intercity Rail Ontario Transit

Transit Summit in Guelph this Saturday, November 9

4003585727_e8125d19a3_o.jpgCoach Canada bus to Hamilton, September 2009

This Saturday, I will be joining fellow transportation advocates and experts in Downtown Guelph for the First Annual Transit Summit & Town Hall organized by Transit Action Alliance of Guelph (TAAG).  I’ll be speaking about the gaps in regional and intercity transit in Guelph and Southwestern Ontario.

In the 1980s, there were direct buses from Guelph to Toronto, Brampton, Kitchener, Hamilton, Fergus and Elora, and Owen Sound. There were five VIA trains a day in each directions between Toronto, Guelph, Kitchener, and London. Though there are far more buses departing from Guelph than in the 1980s, they are mostly operated by GO Transit, all leading east towards Brampton and Mississauga. GO Transit rail service has improved, but it is still geared towards Toronto-bound commuters. Getting between Guelph and Hamilton by bus requires a transfer at Square One in Mississauga.

I wrote about these gaps before on my own blog and for TVO. I will be speaking more about them — and possible solutions to the problem — on Saturday.

Intercity bus links in Midwestern Ontario in 1983 and 2019.
The 1983 map is an excerpt from Ontario Intercity Guide published by Ontario Ministry of Transportation; the 2019 is an edited version of the same image. 

Other speakers at the Transit Summit include representatives from TTCRiders, TransportAction, and officials from the City of Guelph and Guelph Transit. The summit and town hall will be held at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Downtown Guelph on Saturday November 9 from 12:00 to 5:30 PM.

You can register on TAAG’s website until Friday November 8.