Categories
Roads Toronto Walking

Deadly by design: Keele Street and Calvington Drive

On Sunday, June 7, Olivia and Julia Sarracini were crossing Calvington Drive at Keele Street. It was 12:15 in the morning. The walk sign turned on, and the two sisters, aged 17 and 19, entered the crosswalk, walking north. Behind them, the driver of a black SUV waited for southbound traffic to clear the intersection before turning left, directly into the two young women, who were already halfway across the intersection.

Julia suffered leg injuries and was sent to hospital. Olivia, who was just finishing Grade 12, was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the SUV did not stop, but fled westbound on Calvington Drive.

Two days later, Toronto Police arrested 46-year-old Shawn Ramsey. He was charged with two criminal offences: fail to stop at the scene of an accident causing death and fail to stop at the scene of an accident causing bodily harm.

The driver was definitely at fault for striking the two women, who were walking with the right of way and all due care necessary. But it remains quite possible that if the motorist remained at the scene that night might only be facing minor Highway Traffic Act charges. (Without a vulnerable road users’ law, justice for pedestrians and cyclists injured or killed on Ontario’s streets is terribly inadequate.) Yet road design and a poor transportation network in Toronto’s inner suburbs played a significant role here.

Memorial for Olivia Sarracini

This section of Keele Street provides a link between Highway 401 and Humber River Regional Hospital to the south, and Finch Avenue, York University, and several industrial areas to the north. Downsview Park is just to the north of Calvington Avenue, and along with the large parkspace, new residential development is well underway, with more planned.

The area around Keele and Calvington was developed in the 1950s and 1960s, though visages of the old village of Downsview can be found close by, towards Wilson Avenue to the south. Between Wilson and Sheppard, Keele Street is five lanes wide, with a centre left-turn lane. Traffic is heavy throughout the day and evening, with many trucks headed to and from industrial lands and nearby construction sites. Even in heavy traffic, motorists regularly exceed the 50 km/h speed limit.

Pedestrians are provided only with narrow sidewalks, close to the road. These sidewalks are not separated from strip plaza parking spaces. Despite a major hospital, nearby elementary and secondary schools, a library, Downsview Park, and urban intensification taking place in the area, there are no cycling facilities. Cyclists, therefore, usually take the sidewalk. While cyclists avoid heavy traffic on Keele’s narrow lanes, they infringe on the little bit of space given to pedestrians.

Strip plaza across Keele Street from Calvington Avenue

Calvington runs west from Keele, with a strip plaza and gas station on the east side of the intersection. Though most traffic off Calvington turns south, pedestrians are prohibited from crossing at the north side, lest they slow down left-turning motorists off of Calvington. Furthermore, an advance left turn signal gives priority to northbound motorists turning on to Calvington from Keele, though the advance signal is only triggered by a queue of several left-turning vehicles.

Though neither the advance signal nor the crossing restriction were factors in the collision on June 7, they are just further reminders of who the streetscape was designed for.

Pedestrians are prohibited from crossing at the north side of the Keele and Calvington intersection. Note the sidewalk cyclist, likely headed to nearby Downsview Park.

Soon after Olivia Sarracini’s death, Councillor James Pasternak moved to request a traffic safety review of the Keele and Calvington intersection at the June 16 meeting of North York Community Council. Pasternak suggested that street lighting, traffic signal synchronization, traffic signage, and “the feasibility of installing advance green traffic lights” be included in the review.

The trouble with that motion is that it too narrow. There are dozens of similar intersections in Toronto’s post-war suburbs. The intersection already has an advance green traffic signal. I would suggest that a review of the whole district is necessary in the the context of new and upcoming urban development, poor access to Downsview Park from the south and west, and inadequate and unsafe active transportation infrastructure. Nearby Highway 401 and the GO Transit Barrie Line both create significant barriers to pedestrians and cyclists in the area.

Olivia Sarracini was killed and Julia Sarracini was injured by a dangerous and callous driver who did not have the humanity to stay and offer assistance and take responsibility. This tragedy shouldn’t warrant a narrow safety review. Without changing the built environment, tragedies like these will continue.

Categories
Brampton Cycling Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

Pylons are not enough: how to make a quiet street

Pylons and Quiet Street signage left in the gutter, Crawford Street, Toronto

Toronto took its time recognizing the need for pedestrian space during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t until late April that the mayor and the medical officer of health considered limited curb lane closures to accommodate crowded sidewalks in front of supermarkets, drug stores, and other essential businesses.

But those curb lane closures — called CurbTO — later expanded to ActiveTO, which includes hundreds of kilometres of “Quiet Streets” for pedestrians and cyclusts and regular weekend road closures on Lake Shore Boulevard and Bayview Avenue. By June, CurbTO and ActiveTO were joined by CafeTO — which would expedite restaurant patio licences and even allow temporary patio space in parking lanes — as well as CampTO and SwimTO, programs to safely open up public pools and day camps for the summer.

Most significantly, new cycle tracks and bike were approved by a wide margin at Council in May, including the entire stretch of Bloor-Danforth between Runnymede Road and Dawes Road.

Map of ActiveTO Quiet Streets, weekend closures, and new cycling routes

Through the weekend road closures are closed off with metal barriers and enforced by police, the Quiet Streets are protected only by pylons and temporary signage. On Shaughnessy Boulevard, one of the first Quiet Street implementations, pylons were removed by angry motorists. Elsewhere, residents rearranged pylons to block half the street, doing more to discourage through traffic.

In Kensington Market, pylons were moved by drivers onto the sidewalk, creating additional barriers to pedestrians, especially those with disabilities.

Clearly, pylons are not enough.

While I was in Brampton recently, I noticed a more effective approach. On Scott Street, just east of the city’s downtown core, a narrow bridge was closed to motor traffic in order to provide a quiet and safe crossing of Etobicoke Creek to connect two sections of the Etobicoke Creek Trail. Instead of moveable pylons, rigid plastic bollards were bolted to the roadway, with a compliant “road closed” sign posted in the middle.

Closely spaced yellow bollards on Scott Street

Signage approaching the closed bridge was also also quite clear.

Road closed sign on Scott Street

I also noted that bolted bollards were also used to mark the interim bike lanes on Vodden Street and Howden Boulevard at every intersection, precluding their use by through traffic. On that early weekday afternoon, only one vehicle was illegally parked in the lane along the entire four-kilometre route. Not one pylon was out of place either.

While Brampton was one of the first cities in Ontario to implement improved active transportation infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has done little else since. However, Brampton has an ambitious new active transportation master plan to fix many gaps in its cycling infrastructure and expand its paths system; hopefully it will able to accelerate parts of its plan as Toronto is now doing.

But what Brampton did right was putting in effective barriers and signage to protect its temporary walking and cycling routes. This is something Toronto could learn from.

Categories
Brampton Toronto Transit

Sorry, bus full: riding transit during a pandemic

Brampton Transit bus on route 502 Zum with “bus full” displayed

On Thursday, I took the subway for the first time since Ontario declared a state of emergency in March. I entered Queen Station at 9:45 that morning, and rode to Wilson Station. The subway ride north was noticeably quiet, and I had a good choice of seats, even though most were marked as restricted for physical distancing.

Empty subway train northbound on Line 1, June 11, 2020

On my return home, at 4:00 PM, the subway was busier, but still quiet enough to take a seat in the middle of the train, while just about everyone had a non-restricted seat through the downtown core. That never happened prior to March 13.

As I am used to crowded subway trains — even on Sunday mornings — my first subway rides in months proved to be a surreal experience. Though as most passengers were wearing face coverings and keeping distance, it felt safer and more comfortable than many of my recent supermarket trips.

Platform edge marker, Queen Station

Though subways are mostly empty, and streetcars pass through downtown with only twenty percent of their normal ridership, things are very different on the buses. In Toronto, Brampton and Mississauga, vehicles regularly bypass crowds of waiting passengers while displaying a “sorry bus full” sign.

Miway bus full on Hurontario Street, on the same corridor as the Zum bus pictured above

Back in March, I mapped the TTC’s most crowded early morning routes. These ten routes were generally located in Toronto’s suburbs, serving employment lands and neighbourhoods with lower incomes and higher proportions of racialized persons. Brampton and Mississauga, which also have large food production and warehousing industries and significant immigrant and racialized populations, are experiencing similar problems with crowding.

All buses only allow passengers to enter through the rear doors, with many seats marked restricted with paper signs similar to those on the subway. The area behind the driver is closed off as well. While the TTC expect riders to tap their Presto cards at the rear or pay by cash or ticket at a subway station, Brampton, Mississauga, and other systems are permitting free rides for now.

A typical TTC bus contains only 33-36 passenger seats; an articulated (“bendy”) bus has 46. The TTC operators’ union instructed its members to allow only 10 customers aboard a standard bus (though the operator has discretion), and 15 aboard an articulated bus. Transporting that few people on each bus is unsustainable, and with tens of thousands of essential workers relying on the TTC to get to work — many of those jobs difficult and poorly-paying — it’s yet another inequity laid bare by this pandemic.

Crowding on ten TTC bus routes in late March 2020

With loosening restrictions, the demand for transit has already begun to increase. By early July, local transit agencies will require all passengers to wear masks or face coverings. At the same time, passengers will be directed to enter buses through the front doors, while reinstating mandatory fare payment.

Meanwhile, Brampton Transit — which was operating on a modified weekend schedule since March — is restoring some of its weekday service on Monday June 15 to meet re-surging demand, while Mississauga increased service levels on June 1. Brampton, Mississauga and Toronto will require masks or face coverings on transit starting July 2.

While Brampton plans to hand out 100,000 free non-medical masks to its transit users, the TTC plans to give out one million disposable masks, specifically targeting lower-income neighbourhoods where transit demand remains high.

Poster in the TTC subway with instructions on how to make a no-sew fabric face covering.

Front-door boarding and mandatory mask use will help with some of the capacity issues on buses. Offering free masks is a welcome acknowledgement that many who have taken transit may not have money or time to purchase or make their own face coverings. (The TTC has instructions on how to make rudimentary masks posted in subway stations.)

Even then, bus capacity will continue to be limited to ensure physical distancing, and buses will likely still pass by crowds of waiting customers.

While central Toronto benefits from walkable neighbourhoods, existing and new cycling infrastructure, and subways and streetcars with more capacity to spare, suburban residents will still have to rely on buses. Though I see mandatory mask use as a necessary step towards mitigating the risk of viral transmission, I fear it may not be enough for those who work at hospitals and clinics, food plants and warehouses, and grocery stores, restaurants, nursing homes, and daycares.

Bus riders deserve better.