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Promoting Toronto’s Pedestrians

A new advocacy group aims to make the city's streetscape more pedestrian-friendly.

In Toronto’s transportation hierarchy, pedestrians have a low ranking. Our public conversations tend to be about roads, transit, and sometimes cycling, but rarely do we stop to discuss the state of things for those who walk—which is to say, just about all of us. That’s not because there’s nothing to discuss though: the list of obstacles facing pedestrians on Toronto’s sidewalks and streets ranges from dangerous crossings to unlit underpasses to poor sidewalk snow removal. The list of missed opportunities—of places that could be inviting for residents on foot but just aren’t—is even longer.

The City of Toronto used to have a Pedestrian Committee, which provided advice to city council on how to improve things. It was one of many citizen advisory bodies that was not established by city council this term, many believe because newly installed Mayor Rob Ford didn’t value the kinds of priorities those committees had.

Now, a new volunteer group is in the process of being formed to fill that void.

About 80 people filled a meeting room at Metro Hall on Wednesday night for that group’s first meeting. Organized by pedestrian activists Michael Black, Roger Brook, and Dylan Reid (former co-chair of the Pedestrian Committee), the session was intended to gauge interest in the volunteer organization, and settle on some particular issues the group could pursue. Attendees also cast ranked ballots for the group’s name, which will be revealed shortly.

Black told the audience that City Hall’s inhospitable attitude to pedestrian issues and the rash of pedestrian deaths last year inspired him to form the organization. One of his goals is to build a broad conversation about how Torontonians move around the city, and he hopes that the new group will work other local advocates: “Strategically, we represent just one branch of sustainable transportation,” he pointed out. If the group presents a united front with organizations like Cycle Toronto and TTC Riders to improve Toronto’s streetscape, he says, hopefully all those advocates together can shed the stigma of being “special interest groups.”

Brook also presented a slide show that called attention to some of daily challenges pedestrians face, and highlighting poor design decisions made with little thought for the convenience of those on foot. Among the examples were the CityPlace pedestrian bridge (whose lengthy access ramps could be eased with the installation of staircases) and recent subdivisions near the Rouge River in Scarborough, where endless barriers make walking anywhere near-impossible.

Grouped around tables, attendees were asked to discuss their pedestrian issues. Among the recurring themes was the notion of sidewalks as social space, where people often display more civility toward each other than in the competitive road space. Lack of adequate sidewalk space was seen as obstacle to stopping to talk while walking, as the narrow paths can induce the pedestrian version of road rage among those in a hurry. Also discussed: providing space for seniors and others with mobility issues, better snow clearance, improved suburban street crossings, avoiding polarization in transit debates, promoting the health benefits of walking, and feeling blamed for causing accidents.

There was a strong sense that “war on the car” rhetoric has placed pedestrians at the bottom of the pecking order. Participants at one table observed that past plans devised by the City and defunct advocacy groups were good but were never acted upon. Obstructions like Astral Media’s poorly placed street furniture also provoked anger. As one attendee put it: “give pedestrians what’s best, as opposed to what’s left.”


  • Kate Roberts

    It’s not gravy, it’s safety.

    Ford should think about how his “war on the car rhetoric” has dramatically affected the safety of transit users, cyclists and pedestrians in this city, it’s getting nasty out there and motorists need to be reminded constantly that they’re not alone on the road in their one ton vehicles.

    And yah, another pedestrian was hit yesterday, badly, at Queen and Bathurst;

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      He doesn’t care. He. Doesn’t. Care.

  • bambam

    as a pedestrian, my biggest problem is cyclists using the sidewalks. Several times i’ve even seen cyclists using the sidewalk when there is an available bike lane. Other than in times of heavy snowfall, on an everyday basis i am almost run over by a cyclist using the sidewalk. I don’t understand why police aren’t cracking down on this. They had that whole j-walking crack down, why not a cyclist on sidewalk crackdown? I understand if it’s an adult cycling with a child, or towing them behind in those child’s carriers, but everyone else should use the road or the available bike lanes. I feel it’s called a sideWALK and a crossWALK for very specific reasons. It’s dangerous for both the pedestrian and the cyclist. A crash will injure both the pedestrian and the cyclist. The new bike lanes on sherbourne are also a problem for pedestrians and transit users. Several times people have almost been clipped getting off the bus because the cyclist doesn’t stop for the doors (there are signs along the bike lane to stop for open doors, similar to stopping for streetcars) or, the cyclist shoots up onto the sidewalk (which in the majority of places along sherbourne the bike lane is level with the sidewalk) to avoid people boarding the bus, but then gets in the way of pedestrians using the sidewalk. Whoever approved these bike lanes clearly didn’t think things through properly and thought more about the cyclist crying about losing the lanes on jarvis than the pedestrian.

    • Kate Roberts

      The lanes on Sherbourne were badly planned and are constantly being used as parking spaces, the lanes on Jarvis should not have been removed – if this is where your pain points as a pedestrian are, you have only Mayor Ford and city council to blame for taking away the lanes and putting in sub par ones that force cyclists into your path.

      • bambam

        my pain is cyclists constantly almost hitting me because they are on the sidewalk, not just on sherbourne, but all over the city. and yes, sherbourne is a mess and the lanes are terrible, they should have kept that raised curb in between the road and bike lane throughout the length of sherbourne to stop cars from being in it rather than having it pop up in random places. Kind of just seems like the construction crew ran out of cement or something to continue the curb throughout the length of sherbourne. but if there is a car in the bike lane, the cyclist should cautiously use the road to avoid the parked vehicle, not the sidewalk. sidewalks are for pedestrians, roads are for vehicles – whether a car, a scooter or a bike they shouldn’t be on the sidewalk. There is also a great deal of slow-moving elderly pedestrians on sherbourne, and bikes quickly popping out of the bike lane onto the sidewalk could really injure an elderly person who can’t get out of the way. I am greatly afraid of riding my bike on the road, even in a bike lane, yet i still do it because i am fully aware that me riding on the sidewalk is dangerous to both pedestrians and me as a cyclist. Also, it comes down to just being a decent human being to not purposely do something that may endanger others around you. But clearly, most people in Toronto have no sense of common decency for those around them. I would bet in Toronto i would have more of a chance of being hit by a cyclist on the sidewalk than being hit by a car running a light.

        • John Spragge

          You’d lose your bet. Cyclists shouldn’t ride on the sidewalk, period. Cyclists can and should obey all (actual) highway traffic laws. But cycling and pedestrian accidents accounted for about two deaths and one serious injury in three years, while in one period of January 2010, motor vehicles killed pedestrians at a rate of one per day for fourteen days straight.

      • torontothegreat

        By that logic, on pedestrian sundays cars should just use the sidewalk too.


        There is absolutely no need for a vehicle of any kind to use the sidewalk.

  • SRC

    Cyclists needs roads too. Cars have them, roads are designed to force drivers to obey the laws. People drive cars, people ride bicycles, they will all behave the same under the same conditions. Until cyclists have their own roads you will never see an improvement in their driving habits.

    • swen

      No matter if you have 1 person or 10 crammed into 1 square meter they will not pull knifes and start stabbing each others.So that comment about “not having roads” is a crap.Problem is education and prevention.Toronto police is not interested in managing traffic in Toronto. If every cyclist is treated as driver is (accountable to their actions and to pay fines) and if every cyclist was behaving like driver and obey laws of the roads and regardless of right of way do show some respect of larger vehicles there will be no fatalities…So instead behaving like thugs maybe cyclist should use their brains and get along.

  • Joanne

    Shouldn’t the committee’s highest priority be for the safety of the numerous pedestrians that have to walk under the Gardiner? People who live on the Harbourfront have no other choice.

  • Brian Young

    There’s another component to this. The massive growth of monster condos has absolutely devastated Toronto’s streetscape. Concrete and glass have replaced the multitude of small shops which, if nothing else, gave a humanity and lively variety to each sidewalk that is now made bleak and sterile (my immediate example is the NW corner of St.Clair and Bathurst, but there are hundreds of others, many much worse). Some say we should allow time for small businesses and community facilities to take root and flourish. I doubt this will happen without some encouragement from City Hall. I really can’t see our present Mayor, reading behind the wheel of his car, would even be aware this might be a problem.

    • Kate Roberts

      I work in Liberty Village and the condo towers are booming up, completely surrounding us, taking away the light and any space that would make the neighborhood an actual neighborhood – there’s little else around here, very few boutique stores, bars, restaurants etc. to make it a place you’d ever want to hang out in. And more relevant to this conversation – there are very few sidewalks – that’s right, like NO sidwalks – especially on East Liberty Street – making it both dangerous and unaccommodating to pedestrians as you have to jump onto the street constantly just to get from point A to B. (I’ve almost been hit by motorists around here several times regardless of how careful I am)

  • me

    3 dangerous issues: Cyclists on sidewalks, snow/ice build up on sidewalks, Sandwich boards, locked up bicycles and patios turn sidewalks into cluttered obstacle courses

  • lo

    I think it is good that pedestrian issues are being raised and the conversation is getting started. I like the “notion of sidewalks as social space.” It starts to address the broader issue of public space which is lacking in this city.

    However, despite the statement to avoid polarization – I thought the article was written in a fairly polarizing manner, especially the last sentence. I think its unfortunate that these issues frequently seem to reduce to an argument of “us against them.” Maybe talking more generally about “streetscape” instead of just “walking” would be a less aggressive way to discuss these issues.

  • NorthBelle

    My quality of life is affected and not in a good way, especially in the summer (after waiting for our long winter to end). Why? Because I cannot walk on the sidewalk for fear of getting hit by extremely fast-moving cyclists behind me, in front of me, and to the side of me. And how about people who cycle through the crosswalk? This is so common place now that it is is considered normal. Bottom line? As a pedestrian, I feel as though I have no rights.