On Wednesday, March 11, I deputed to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee at Toronto City Hall in support of a motion by Councillor Mike Layton to have city staff examine and report back on expanding right turn on red (RTOR) restrictions in the City of Toronto.
Though I had the time and willingness to attend the committee meeting and speak to city councillors, I attended on behalf of Walk Toronto, and the motion was primarily written by my colleague Daniella Levy-Pinto, with input from myself and several other steering committee members.
I found myself much more relaxed deputing this time, especially compared to my deputation late last year to the Toronto Police Services Board. Taking a continuing education course on public speaking and presentations helped, as did increased confidence, and a less intimidating environment.
Fellow advocacy group Friends and Families for Safe Streets’ Jess Speiker spoke first to the motion, at 21 minutes; I speak at the 26 minute mark.
We argue for blanket RTOR prohibitions, rather than simply at selected intersections, for several reasons. red A citywide or neighborhood ban of right on red would eliminate the cost of creating, installing, maintaining, and replacing prohibition signs at each intersection. Too many signs create a visual overload. Furthermore, eliminating right turns on red only at selected locations is problematic in terms of predictability: some vulnerable road users will have difficulty determining what rules are in place at a particular intersection; Montreal, New York, and Mexico City already prohibit right turns on red. It’s time that Toronto seriously debate the idea, and work towards implementing such a ban.
Meanwhile, while the city has implemented leading pedestrian signals at many intersections, their effectiveness is limited by allowing right turns during the leading pedestrian signal, when the red light is still on. Montreal, which has a slightly different implementation, allows through traffic, including cyclists, to proceed with the first few seconds of the walk signal, while turning vehicles must wait.
Though the Infrastructure and Environment Committee adopted Councillor Layton’s motion, it also passed amendments proposed by Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong. Minnan-Wong’s amendments asked for, among other things, a report on the impact that Vision Zero measures have on traffic conditions, and how those traffic delays and congestion have increased stress on drivers.
So, by the deputy mayor’s logic, congestion and traffic safety measures are causing drivers to be aggressive and that is why pedestrians and cyclists continue to be killed on our streets.
Wednesday made for a good lesson on the challenges of grassroots advocacy and participating in local democracy. Recently, City Council voted to increase security at city hall by requiring all visitors to submit to bag searches and metal detector scans, hardly a friendly sight at Toronto’s seat of governance, originally designed to be a welcoming place for all people. Although the committee meeting started at 9:30 AM, it broke for lunch at 12:30, before getting to Councillor Layton’s motion. That meant that I had to leave for lunch, line up again and go through security, before speaking around 2:00 PM. Any citizen with a day job or other commitments wishing to participate in local democracy is at a disadvantage.
But I am glad I had the time and opportunity to speak up for something important.