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.