Categories
Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

Deadly by design: The East Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road

Roadside memorial to a three year old boy at The East Mall and  Montebello Gardens,
near Burnhamthorpe Road, Etobicoke

On Tuesday, August 11, just after 11AM, a father and his two children were attempting to cross The East Mall north of Burnhamthorpe Road. They were crossing from the west side of the minor arterial street, where there is the main entrance to a long term care home, to the corner of Montebello Gardens, a short residential street on the east side.

As the three pedestrians were crossing, an 81-year-old woman driving a black SUV turned left from Montebello Gardens to go south on The East Mall, crashing directly into the family.

All three pedestrians were rushed to hospital. A three-year-old boy was soon pronounced dead, while a seven-year-old girl was taken to a trauma centre. The driver remained on scene. It is not certain if charges will be laid.

The three-year-old’s death came only a day after the Toronto Star’s Ben Spurr reported that 2020 has been the safest year for pedestrians and cyclists since at least 2007. There were 63 collisions resulting in serious injury or death in the period from January 1 through July 1, down from an average of 99. The decline can be explained by considerably reduced traffic since COVID-19 lockdowns began in mid March, and by fewer pedestrians on city streets.

As traffic picks up with the loosening of restrictions and as people go out for strolls and exercise for physical and mental health, the need for improved road safety and a commitment for real Vision Zero implementation, especially in Toronto’s suburbs, remains crucial. The area near where the young boy was killed last week just shows how much further we need to go.

TTC bus stop on The East Mall, north of Keene Avenue

I visited The East Mall on a sunny Friday afternoon. I took the 111 East Mall bus from Kipling Station to Keane Avenue, the first stop north of Burnhamthorpe Road. The bus stop has a nice, clean shelter and a large concrete pad, but no where safe to cross the street. On the other side, there is a southbound stop for buses heading towards Cloverdale Mall and the subway, and Burnhamthorpe Collegiate Institute, a high school specializing in programs for mature students and adult learners.

The intersection of The East Mall and Keene Avenue, looking north. Burnhamthorpe CI is behind the southbound bus stop A sign warns drivers of a winding road, with an advisory speed of 30 km/h.

A signalized pedestrian crossover exists further north, in front of West Glen Junior Public School, but the next TTC stop, at Capri Road, is at yet another unsignalized intersection. The distance between Burnhamthorpe Road to the south, and the pedestrian crossover is over 550 metres, and neither designated crossing is visible from Keene Avenue nor Montebello Gardens due to the winding nature of The East Mall.

This part of Toronto has seen plenty of tragedy this year. The Eatonville Care Centre was one of several long term care homes where the Canadian Armed Forces were deployed due to deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 amidst poor working and sanitary conditions documented by CAF medical staff. Forty-two residents died during that outbreak.

Eatonville Care Centre, with the roadside memorial in the background

The presence of a long term care home, a library branch at the southeast corner of The East Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road, two nearby schools, and a large Loblaws supermarket and pharmacy on the southwest corner should have made this area a priority for improved, safer road infrastructure. Speeds along The East Mall are much higher than the posted 40 km/h limit, while the winding, roadway limits both drivers’ and pedestrians’ fields of vision. There should be no excuse for such long distances between safe pedestrian crossings, especially with the vulnerable populations living in this area.

Though the driver who killed the three-year-old boy was carelessly turning from a side street, and not speeding along The East Mall, another tragedy is inevitable without significant changes. Meanwhile, The East Mall is similarly laid out south of Burnhamthorpe, where there are older rental towers and townhomes and new condominium towers going in, yet nothing is done to calm traffic along a winding, busy street.

Though the intersection of The East Mall and Burnhamthorpe Road is signalized, it is also a dangerous intersection to cross. Burnhampthorpe Road widens to four westbound lanes leading towards Highway 427, while wide turning radii make it easy for motorists to turn right at all four corners. Drivers, rushing on and off Highway 427 take little notice or care for pedestrians, as I experienced trying to cross the street.

An Uber/Lyft driver in a red Nissan sedan and a Land Rover SUV driver turn left from The East Mall to Burnhamthorpe Road towards Highway 427 after the advance green signal disappears and the walk signal turns on, with me starting my crossing

While motorists are treated to generous geometries and easy turns, pedestrians are only an afterthought, despite the library, supermarket, offices, and several bus stops used by TTC and Mississauga bus routes. Meanwhile, a new townhouse complex on the northwest corner will add even more pedestrians to this area.

The intersection of Burnhamthorpe and The East Mall encourages high speeds, with pedestrians only an afterthought

This part of Etobicoke is simply unforgiving of pedestrians and cyclists — it is one of only a few parts of the city where no ActiveTO measures have been introduced and where the local councillor, Stephen Holyday, has demonstrated consistent opposition to safe and effective active transportation measures. Holyday describes himself as taking “a tough stance against congestion-causing initiatives” such as bike lanes and the King Street Transit Pilot. He was only one of two councillors to vote against the ActiveTO bike plan in May.

If we value lives, support healthy lifestyles, and are deeply committed to Vision Zero, central Etobicoke will need to see big changes.

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 Ontario Roads Walking

Room to share: How cities can make physical distancing work

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Blackfriars Bridge open to pedestrians and cyclists in London, Ontario

For my latest TVO article, I spoke with Councillor Shawn Menard in Ottawa, Councillor Rowena Santos in Brampton, and Ryerson University epidemiologist Anne Harris about how cities in Ontario are reallocating road space for pedestrians and cyclists during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, or why they may be hesitant to do so.

In Brampton, five kilometres of new bike lanes, proposed in that city’s new transportation plan, were quickly approved as part of its response to COVID-19. This benefits both pedestrians and cyclists by reducing conflicts on sidewalks, reducing congestion on city paths, and recognizing that cycling is an increasingly important mode of transportation.

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Cyclists on Howden Boulevard, Brampton

In Ottawa, despite resistance from the the mayor and council, Shawn Menard, who represents an urban ward just south of Parliament Hill, was able to temporarily close two lanes of traffic on a narrow bridge on a major retail street, and worked with the National Capital Commission to re-allocate a section of parkway for active transportation.

Meanwhile in Toronto, the mayor and medical officer of health were resistant to increasing calls for sidewalk expansions in congested urban areas, including where queues formed to enter grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, and LCBO outlets.

This was one of my favourite articles I have written so far. 

 

Loblaws queue on Church Street
Queue on Church Street at Carlton to enter Loblaws supermarket

With Walk Toronto, I have been involved with pushing the City of Toronto to take action, especially in pinch points where store queues, construction barriers, and other obstructions have made it difficult — if not impossible — to safely practice physical distancing when walking or cycling for essential purposes, or even getting a little bit of fresh air or light exercise in dense urban areas.

The good news is that ten problem areas — including the intersection of Carlton and Church — have finally been identified for curb lane closures, with potentially more on the way. This is a timid first step, made after weeks of advocacy, but it is welcome.

Categories
Brampton Cycling Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

How to reimagine our streets during a pandemic

Queen Street West, late March 2020
Nobody’s going to be flocking to the streets during a pandemic

In an interview with local news station CP24, Mayor John Tory said that the city was considering implementing one-way directional traffic on city sidewalks as part of a response to COVID-19. This idea was considered as a measure to ensure physical distancing on Toronto’s sidewalks.

The mayor, however, does not support the alternate solution of increasing the amount of road space given to pedestrians and cyclists. With traffic on major routes such as Yonge, Queen, and Bloor reduced, and most businesses closed, it would be easy to provide additional space for pedestrians without causing traffic congestion. According to the mayor, “it could have the unintended effect of attracting more pedestrians to busy areas, something the city is actively trying to discourage right now.”

That’s ridiculous.

With businesses closed, no patios to linger at, and no programming (unlike at any other street closure, whether it be Taste of the Danforth, Open Streets, Pride Week, or Buskerfest), pedestrians will not be attracted to linger and crowd sidewalks in dense urban neighbourhoods. However, they will be able to walk to work, get to essential services, exercise the dog, or get some fresh air, without having to dodge other people or sidewalk barriers, such as construction scaffolding.

Furthermore, enforcing one-way sidewalks — the city’s only other idea — would be extremely difficult to enforce. It would  only increase the distance pedestrians would have to walk to get to work or essential services. It would go against centuries of practice, and it would encourage less-safe midblock crossings. It would be especially cumbersome for seniors and pedestrians with disabilities. 

While Toronto continues to do nothing to protect vulnerable road users during a pandemic, other cities — including Montreal, New York, Vancouver, Denver, and Oakland— have closed entire roads to better serve pedestrians and cyclists in parks and dense urban areas. Closer to home, Kitchener and Brampton have also taken steps to to assist active transportation during this unprecedented time.

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King Street, Downtown Kitchener

A decade ago, King Street in Downtown Kitchener was reconstructed with new lighting, street furniture, trees, and a rolled curb separating the narrow street with sidewalk and street parking and loading areas, which were separated from the pedestrian area by removable bollards. As a response to COVID-19, most of the parking spots were blocked off, with the bollards moved towards the roadways, quickly and easily expanding the pedestrian zone. With new residential development in Downtown Kitchener, several portions of the regular sidewalk were covered with scaffolding. The widened pedestrian clearway made it easy and safe to get around the barriers, allowing pedestrians to practice physical distancing.

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Bollards moved close to the street, and parking banned. It’s much easier to get around the construction scaffolding.

Meanwhile, in Brampton, where sidewalk crowding isn’t usually a problem, the city government went ahead with a plan to close the right lanes of Howden Boulevard and Vodden Street — four-lane collector roads through residential areas — to install temporary bike lanes. This will provide a five-kilometre bikeway across the city between Etobicoke Creek and Chinguacousy Park, crossing Highway 410 at a safe location.

Installing temporary lanes makes it easier in the future to make the lanes permanent — Vodden and Howden could use road diets after all — which could connect three north-south ravine paths and connect Downtown Brampton with Bramalea City Centre. City Council — including Mayor Patrick Brown — is committed to improving the city’s rather poor active transportation infrastructure.

Brampton Temp Bike Lanes
Temporary bike lanes coming to Howden Blvd. in Brampton

While Toronto continues to drag its heels on providing safe spaces for its residents to walk and bike while being physically distant, its peer cities — and even one of its suburbs, are leading. One can only speculate about the reasoning behind Mayor Tory’s reluctance to do more.

Categories
About me Politics Toronto Walking

On right turns, advocacy, and civic democracy

DeputationOn 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.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

Deadly by design: Supertest Road

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On Tuesday, January 21, a 26-year-old woman was struck and killed by the driver of a tractor-trailer at the corner of Supertest Road and Alness Street in North York. According to police, the truck driver was making a right turn from Supertest south to Alness when he hit the pedestrian.

Last week, I paid a visit to the intersection, located in an industrial area off Dufferin Street, just south of Steeles Avenue. It was immediately apparent that pedestrians are an afterthought in this part of the city, and tragedy was inevitable.

The intersection of Alness and Supertest, with a makeshift memorial on the southwest cornerThe intersection of Alness and Supertest, with a makeshift memorial on the southwest corner

I took the 105 Dufferin North bus from Sheppard West Station and got off at Supertest Road before walking west towards Alness Street. I pressed the beg button to cross Dufferin, but it did not work, so I crossed with the solid “don’t walk” sign. At least I had enough time to cross before traffic on Dufferin got the green light. With a bus stop at the intersection, G. Ross Lord Park to the east, and a busy supermarket on the southwest corner, there is no excuse for a malfunctioning pedestrian signal. In fact, the walk signal should appear by default.

As I walked westward on Supertest, the lone sidewalk on the south side of the street came to an end at an industrial driveway about halfway between Dufferin and Alness. With the snow, I was forced to walk on the street, which was busy with cars and trucks. Without any sidewalk, anyone using a wheeled device would also be forced on the street.

End of sidewalkThe only sidewalk on Supertest Road comes to an end halfway between Dufferin and Alness

With my smartphone, I recorded my walk along the curb towards Alness Street, avoiding the snowbanks, debris, and motor traffic. It was not a pleasant walk.

The intersection of Supertest and Alness is a signalized intersection, with pedestrian signals and crosswalks on all four sides. Alness has a through sidewalk, but only on the east side of the street. The intersection is surrounded by a scrapyard on the southwest corner, a bank on the northwest corner, and warehouses to the east. The missing sidewalk on the south side Supertest east of the intersection resumes west of Alness.

The traffic lights are on a timer, and walk signals automatically appear, so there are no beg buttons at Alness and Supertest. What I noticed during my visit is that motorists will regularly rush to get through an amber signal, sometimes running a red. Truck drivers make wide right turns. Though the area is not pedestrian friendly, I did note several pedestrians in the area, running errands at the bank or walking to and from several of the nearby businesses.

Truck turning from Supertest to Alness

Finally, I noted the sharrows, the signed bicycle route on Supertest Road, and the TTC stop on the north side. The cycle route is supposed to connect G. Ross Lord Park on the east side of Dufferin to Flint Road to the west and south to the Finch Corridor Recreational Trail, but it’s not an enticing place to bike. Meanwhile, the TTC stop, for the limited-service 117 Alness route, is inaccessible without a sidewalk leading to it.

Looking west on Supertest RoadLooking west on Supertest Road, with the sharrow, TTC stop, and bike route sign on the right

Everything about this industrial intersection was designed to fail pedestrians and cyclists. Last week, it did exactly that.

Categories
About me Cycling Toronto Walking

Survey says… Torontonians demand safer streets

IMG_3729A mock-up of a re-imagined Danforth Avenue, Summer 2019

Yesterday, I met with fellow road safety advocates Keagan Gartz, executive director of Cycle Toronto, Gideon Forman from the David Suzuki Foundation, and Jessica Spieker, from Friends & Families for Safe Streets. The occasion was to publicize a new poll commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation that gauged Torontonians’ support for action on road safety as well improvements to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, including two projects planned for Yonge Street — YongeTOmorrow  in the Downtown Core and Transform Yonge in North York.

Almost 90 percent of Torontonians are concerned about road safety, with close to 70 percent responding that the city is “is not doing enough.” Furthermore, 72 per cent of respondents are in favour of the changes planned for Yonge Street, and 80 percent of respondents want the city to build more protected bike infrastructure.

On behalf of Walk Toronto, I was quoted by CBC journalist Lauren Pelley in her report, quoting the number of pedestrians killed in 2018 and 2019, noting “two pedestrian deaths this week — one in Brampton, one in Toronto — and those were both hit-and-run collisions. And it’s going to happen again, and it’s going to happen all over the city.”

These poll results indicate an appetite for change. Hopefully Toronto City Council will take notice.

Categories
Brampton Roads Transit Walking

Why transit users shouldn’t beg to cross the street

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With consistently high ridership growth over the last few years, Brampton Transit has proven to be one of the Canada’s greatest transportation success stories. The Flower City has proven that transit can be successful and popular in North American suburbs.

Despite the success at improving transit and building ridership, Brampton has also prioritized motor traffic at intersection, making it unnecessarily difficult to cross the street at major bus stops. The intersection of Vodden and Main Streets, just north of Downtown Brampton, illustrates this problem.

If the beg button is pushed in time, the walk signal to cross Main Street will appear for just seven seconds before the countdown begins, giving just 11 seconds to cross five lanes. Anyone who misses that light will have to wait over two minutes to legally cross.

What Brampton — and cities like it — should do is remove the beg buttons at transit stops with the assumption that pedestrians will want to cross. It’s just one step towards building a transit culture and attracting new riders.

I write more about this problem in Bramptonist.

 

Categories
Roads Toronto Walking

Islington Avenue: deadly by design

IMG_6266-001Memorial to 77-year old Pasquina Lapadula in front of her apartment building on Islington Avenue north of Finch

On Thursday, November 29 at 6:30AM, Pasquina Lapadula left her Islington Avenue apartment building and crossed the street in front of her home. Soon after stepping out, she was struck and killed by the driver of an SUV traveling northbound. The driver then fled the scene. Sadder still, drivers passed the scene without stopping to help.

Toronto police are looking for a dark coloured SUV with bright headlights and fog lights. They have yet to find the driver and lay charges.

According to the Toronto Star, 37 pedestrians have been killed on Toronto’s streets. Of those, 24 were 60 years old or over. Since 2007, 410 pedestrians were killed on Toronto’s streets; 238 of those were aged 60 or older. November 2019 was an especially deadly month; Lapadula was the third older pedestrian killed in Toronto in just three days.

Though blame can be laid at the driver, who despite having ultra-bright headlights and fog lights, struck Lapadula and sped away afterwards, this part of Islington Avenue, like many other suburban roads in Toronto, is deadly by design.

IMG_6283-001Islington Avenue looking south from Aviemore Drive towards Finch Avenue

The collision took place at Aviemore Drive in Humber Summit, in Toronto’s northwestern corner, near the boundary between the former cities of Etobicoke and North York. The area was developed in the 1960s and 1970s, when automobile-centric planning was at its peak.

Islington Avenue is five lanes wide between intersections, including a striped middle lane that turns into left turn lanes at intersections. Sidewalks are separated by wide boulevards, and there are long distances between traffic signals.

The road has a slight curve north of Finch Avenue, with a hill down towards the East Humber River at Finch. From Aviemore Drive, it is a 220 metre walk south to the crosswalk at Finch Avenue and 430 metres north to the traffic signals at Milady Road. Just south of Aviemore Drive are entrances to Gord and Irene Risk Park and Recreation Centre and Rowntree Mills Park.

As the speed limit is unposted on this section of Islington Avenue, by law, vehicles may only go a maximum of 50 kilometres per hour. However, the road design encourages speeds far greater than the limit.

IMG_6299-001TTC bus stopped in bay in front of Pasquina Lapadula’s apartment building

As on Don Mills Road north of Finch, TTC buses stop in bus bays instead of on the street itself. These bus bays were not designed for the benefit of transit, but instead for the convenience of private motorists. Buses stopping get out of the way of traffic, and then must merge back in. (A law requiring other motorists to do so exists, but is never enforced.)

Everything about the road design is designed for high vehicle throughput, with little consideration for pedestrian safety.

IMG_6248-001Islington and Finch Avenues

It is true that Pasquina Lapadula could have walked 220 metres down to Finch Avenue, and depending on her destination, another 220 metres back up the hill. The traffic signals and painted crosswalks would have provided additional safety. But the intersection of Finch and Islington itself is problematic.

The intersection sits on a large viaduct over the East Humber River. Right turn slip lanes are found on the southwest and northeast quadrants, allowing right-turning traffic to pass by quickly while requiring pedestrians to cross an additional lane of traffic governed only by a yield sign. Buses on Finch stop at bus bays at the far side of the intersection, further lengthening the distance pedestrians must cross.

IMG_6255-001Slip lane from Finch to Islington

I was frustrated when two Toronto councillors advocate giving out reflective armbands for pedestrians to wear, especially as one of those councillors opposed road safety initiatives in her own ward. I was angered the Toronto Star’s editorial board ignore city data, their own reporters and columnists, and pedestrian and cycling advocates to back those two suburban councillors.

This was especially tone deaf given the Toronto Police Service’s abandonment of traffic enforcement, the epidemic of pedestrians being killed in the last two years, and the disturbing number of hit-and-runs. Armbands would not have saved Pasquina Lapadula’s life when she was confronted by the driver of a speeding SUV, with blindingly bright headlights and fog lights.

This is why we need real Vision Zero measures like lower speed limits, more safe pedestrian crossings, road re-engineering to slow down vehicles, complete streets, and effective police enforcement.

Categories
Infrastructure Politics Roads Toronto Walking

Zero vision in suburban Toronto

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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.