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Roads Toronto Urban Planning Walking

Deadly by design: Warden and Comstock

On Thursday, July 21, 2022, at 3:10 PM, a 38-year-old man was standing at a street corner in Scarborough, waiting for a signal to safely cross to the other side. Before he even had the chance to enter the intersection of Warden Avenue at Comstock Road, a driver of a 2009 silver Kia minivan heading south on Warden struck a 2012 red Lexus, whose driver was making a left turn from Warden to Comstock.

Aerial view of the collision, courtesy of CTV News. The Kia minivan struck a 38-year-old man waiting at the corner before plowing into a fence protecting a vacant lot.

When the two vehicles collided, the Kia minivan sped into the southwest corner, striking the pedestrian and a metal pole that held a pedestrian signal button, before plowing into a fence. The man standing at the corner died soon after being rushed to hospital.

A week after the deadly collision, I visited the intersection. On the southwest corner of Warden and Comstock, a roadside memorial was set up with flowers and a wooden cross. A temporary wooden pole held up a new pedestrian “beg button” for walkers to get across Warden Avenue. The Kia’s path into the sidewalk and the fence was very much visible, though all debris from the collision was cleaned up.

Appeal to witnesses following a deadly collision at Warden Avenue and Comstock Road

The collision was still being investigated. While the Toronto Police were looking for witnesses to the collision, an investigator from Aviva Insurance was also looking for witnesses; several notices were taped to nearby traffic poles.

Without knowing all the facts of the collision — which are unlikely to be reported in the news media — it would be fair to assume that speed and/or inattentive driving were at fault, but the design of the intersection — as well as Warden Avenue and Comstock Road themselves — are also to blame.

Comstock Road runs east-west several hundred metres south of Eglinton Avenue in an industrial and commercial area known as Scarborough’s Golden Mile. The area was developed in the early 1950s as Toronto was rapidly growing during the post-war boom. The Golden Mile along Eglinton Avenue east of Victoria Park Avenue was a hub of industrial and commercial activity. Toronto’s first major postwar shopping centre, Golden Mile Plaza, opened in 1954 and was visited by Queen Elizabeth in 1959. New factories opened, producing Inglis and Frigidaire appliances, Volkswagen Beetles, and mechanical components at SKF. (The Frigidaire plant later produced GM vans.)

In designing the post-war suburb, pedestrians were an afterthought; Scarborough’s Golden Mile area was built for car producers and for car drivers.

In the 1990s, many of the factories gave way to new big-box retail developments that catered to car drivers with huge parking lots and store entrances facing those asphalt plains. The roads, too, catered to drivers, with wide lanes, long distances between traffic signals, and generous turning radii at intersections.

Looking north on Warden Drive from Comstock Road, where there is a right-turn lane, two wide through lanes, and a left turn lane facing south, with no centre median. Note the red light camera facing south.

At Warden and Comstock, these design choices are immediately apparent. Though Warden has a posted 50 km/h speed limit, there is otherwise nothing to slow drivers down on this busy roadway. Through lanes are built wide to accommodate industrial truck traffic. There are right and left turn lanes at each cross street and a centre left turn lane in between intersections. I also noted red-light enforcement cameras facing the southbound and northbound lanes of Warden at Comstock, indicating that the city is aware of safety problems caused by red light runners at this intersection.

A right turn slip lane from southbound Warden to westbound Comstock has a wide turning radius that allows for speedy right turns, but leaves a tiny island of concrete for pedestrians to take refuge.

The tiny island of concrete left by a right-turn slip lane on the northwest corner of Warden and Comstock

On Comstock itself, a busy industrial road, a sidewalk is only provided on one side of the roadway. East of Warden, the sidewalk is on the south side of Comstock, while west of Warden, the sidewalk is found only on the north side. Well-worn desire paths indicate that despite the lack of sidewalk, there are lots of pedestrians trying to make their way to nearby businesses.

No sidewalk on the north side of Comstock Road, looking west at Warden Avenue

Though the Golden Mile area shifted from industrial uses to automobile-centred commercial uses in the 1990s, the arrival of the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT will bring about yet another transformation of Scarborough’s gateway. New mixed use developments, with highrise residential towers, will eventually replace the big box stores, with several proposals already in the advanced planning stages.

Planning notice on Eglinton Avenue, west of Warden Avenue, at an existing “SmartCentres” retail site

Though Eglinton Avenue has already seen a reduction from six to four traffic lanes to make room for the LRT (unfortunately, new bike lanes are merely painted, and not protected) nearby streets will need to be made safe for pedestrians and cyclists. It is not enough to lower speed limits without ensuring motorists drive safely; this is best done through traffic calming measures and built cues that signal to drivers that they are entering a residential area.

Until roads like Warden and Comstock are redesigned, the Golden Mile area will continue to be hazardous to people walking and cycling through the urbanizing neighbourhood.

Looking east on Eglinton in the Golden Mile district

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