Infrastructure Politics Roads Toronto Walking

Zero vision in suburban Toronto


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.

Election Maps Politics Toronto

Mapping the council races in Ward 22 – Scarborough-Agincourt and Ward 23 – Scarborough North

I continue the mapping of Toronto’s 25 council races by taking a look at two Scarborough wards.

Ward 22, Scarborough-Agincourt, was a battle between two right-leaning incumbent councillors, Norm Kelly and Jim Karygiannis. Ward 23, Scarborough North, was one of only two wards that didn’t have a councillor running for re-election.

Ward 22

Ward 22, Scarborough North, pit 77-year old council veteran Norm Kelly against 63-year old council rookie Jim Karygiannis. They share similar politics (both are centre-right councillors, and both are former Liberal MPs), but have different styles. Ward 22 is bounded by Victoria Park on the west, Midland Avenue on the east, Highway 401 on the south, and Steeles Avenue on the north.

Norm Kelly was first elected to municipal politics in 1974 as an alderman on Scarborough council and a Liberal MP between 1980 and 1984. He returned to Scarborough council in 1994 and has served on Toronto City Council since the 1997 amalgamation, and was a reliable ally on council for mayors Mel Lastman and Rob Ford.

Under Mayor Ford, Kelly was named deputy mayor in August 2013, only a few months before council stripped Ford of most of his powers as his personal scandals deepened. Kelly assumed most of the mayor’s responsibilities and served admirably.

Despite his personal popularity and his right-leaning credentials, Kelly was left outside new mayor John Tory’s inner circle. Instead, Kelly, who became better known as “@norm” spend his time boosting his social media presence, getting into Twitter spats on behalf of rapper Drake, and pitching merchandise. His millennial-baiting “6 Dad” act was cute for a short time, but became increasingly irritating, especially as his hip social media presence contrasted with his conservative politics and his denial of climate change.

Jim Karygiannis was a Liberal MP from 1988 to 2014, and had a reputation as a socially conservative Liberal. Despite being a sitting MP, he chose to resign and run for city council, perhaps feeling out of place in a more socially progressive caucus. Karygiannis’ first term on council was unremarkable, but he is known as a community-oriented councillor, responsive to local needs (though I very much disagreed with his response to the death of a young boy in his ward after he was struck by a car on a residential street earlier this year).

Kelly was disadvantaged by the fact that part of his old ward, Ward 40, was not included in the new Ward 22 (the area south of Highway 401 and north of Ellesmere Road), while the entirety of Ward 39, Karygiannis’ turf, was part of the new ward. On the east side, the boundary shifted slightly eastward, from the GO rail corridor to Midland Avenue.

In the end, Karygiannis won with 46.8 percent of the vote to Kelly’s 37.0 percent. Karygiannis placed first in all but three polls in former Ward 39, and also 9 polls on Kelly’s old turf. The “6 Dad” finally got his long-overdue retirement.

2018 Election - W22
Poll-level map for Ward 22

Ward 23

Ward 23 was one of only two council races that didn’t have a councillor seeking re-election (the other was Ward 19). Chin Lee, who represented the area for many years, resigned early this year to run for provincial office as a Liberal, and was replaced by an appointed councillor. Though Lee lost, he did not seek a return to municipal politics, unlike his colleague Shelley Carroll.

The new Ward 23, located north of Highway 401 between Midland Avenue and Neilson Road, encompassed almost the entirety of former Ward 41 and the western third of former Ward 42, previously represented by Neethan Shan.

Among those running in Ward 23 were Cynthia Lai, past president of the Toronto Real Estate Board; Maggie Chi, who worked as a constituency assistant in Councillor Lee’s office; Felicia Samuel, who ran for the New Democrats in the 2018 provincial election. Lai had run in the 2014 election against Chin Lee, placing second with 23.0 percent of the vote.

In 2018, Lai won, getting 27.0 percent of the vote in a crowded field of eleven candidates. Chi placed second, with 20.0 percent of the vote. Samuel came in third. Lai and Chi did best in the northwestern part of the ward, where a large segment of the population identifies as Chinese-Canadian. Samuel did well in former Ward 42, especially in Malvern. Maggie Chi placed first in only three polls, but she was the second-place candidate in most polls that picked Cynthia Lai.

I was expecting to see Felicia Samuel do better because of her impressive run for provincial office in the same area. That was a bit of a disappointment.

2018 Election - W23Poll-level map for Ward 23

Full Results

Ward 22 Scarborough-Agincourt
Candidate Total votes Percentage
Jude Coutinho 234 0.9
Jim Karygiannis 12593 46.8
Norm Kelly 9944 37.0
Michael Korzeniewski 660 2.5
Roland Lin 2789 10.4
Vincent Lee 597 2.2
Jason Woychesko 90 0.3
Ward 23 – Scarborough North
Candidate Total Votes Percentage
Ashwani Bhardwaj 1259 6.1
Maggie Chi 4137 20.0
James Chow 1487 7.2
Dameon Halstead 391 1.9
Anthony Internicola 254 1.2
Sheraz Khan 453 2.2
Cynthia Lai 5589 27.0
Mahboob Mian 335 1.6
Neethan Saba 2808 13.6
Felicia Samuel 3702 17.9
Sandeep Srivastava 273 1.3