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Toronto’s Bad Year for Traffic Fatalities

Toronto had its worst year for traffic fatalities in nearly a decade—especially for pedestrians—and nobody's quite sure why.


Click on any icon on the map to learn more about the incident that occurred there.

For a while last year, it looked like Toronto would continue to see lower rates of traffic-related deaths. From 2009 to 2012, the city had reduced its number of traffic fatalities significantly, and it seemed like those rates had stabilized. In the first six months of 2013, Toronto was on pace to tie its 2011 record low of 36 pedestrian, vehicle, motorcycle, and cyclist fatalities.

The second half of 2013, however, was much worse.

There were 45 traffic fatalities in the last six months of 2013—more than in all of 2012. The 2013 total of 63 traffic fatalities was an increase of 43 per cent over 2012, and the number of pedestrian deaths shot up 67 per cent. For the first time since 2004, there were more traffic fatalities in Toronto than homicides.

The City’s transportation division is now analyzing collision and fatality data to try to discern any patterns, but it is very difficult to determine what may have led to this spike. Public works committee chair Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East) told us that “We have insufficient data to identify the root cause of it.”

As City staff continue to work on the question of causes, we put together some preliminary numbers (not all 2013 data is available yet) to get a better sense of the fatalities themselves—how they are distributed across types of accidents, segments of the population, and parts of the city.

The most glaring finding: it’s pedestrian deaths in particular that are on the rise.

Both pedestrian and vehicle fatalities are down from a peak in 2002, but vehicle fatalities are way down (34 to 12) while pedestrian fatalities are down much less (50 to 40), and after a dip a few years ago they are growing again—last year, they spiked quite sharply. Over the same time period, the number of traffic collisions has declined by 33 per cent, from 18,000 in 2002 to 12,000 in 2010 and 2012. Drivers continue to enjoy increasing safety, which municipal officials attribute to improved vehicle standards, red light cameras, and a decrease in drinking and driving.

traffic fatalities by category

Last year’s data also highlights some more general features of traffic fatalities. The most vulnerable demographic, as you might expect, is seniors. Though they make up 14 per cent of Toronto’s population, senior citizens accounted for 60 per cent of pedestrian fatalities in 2013. Potential reasons for this include slower reaction time to cars, poorer eyesight, and a more difficult time in recovering from collisions. Contrary to what the police have suggested about pedestrians in general, it is unlikely that this demographic is hard hit because they are distracted by their smart phones.

Geography plays a role, too: only 15 per cent of pedestrian fatalities last year occurred in the downtown core. Instead, wide arterial roads with high speed limits—think Steeles, Finch, and Eglinton—accounted for most of the deaths. The four cyclist deaths in 2013 also occurred on unfriendly roads, none of which had a bike lane.

Co-founder of Walk Toronto and pedestrian advocate Dylan Reid is quick to point out solutions that could reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities in Toronto. One example: “zebra crossing” crosswalks (like the one in the photo above) are easy to implement and create safer intersections, as their visibility reduces collisions. Toronto implemented a zebra crossing policy in 2006, to phase in the crosswalks as intersections are resurfaced, but Reid would prefer a faster rollout.

Stephen Buckley, the general manager of transportation services for the City of Toronto, agrees that while 1,000 intersections were converted to zebra crossings in 2013 (up from 300 in 2010), it is a project that could be accelerated. “I don’t think I’m satisfied with what we’re doing on that front,” he told us. “I have a lot of our pedestrian realm folks that are giving me reports for suggestions on things, and I’d like to get us to a point where we’re doing effective approaches in effective locations.”

Buckley points to other ways we can improve safety, such as changing curb radii to force cars to make more deliberate turns, and reduce the distance pedestrians need to cross to get from one side of the street to the other. However, these kinds of improvements will have to be made slowly, as the City replaces and redesigns its existing intersections; it only reconstructs about one per cent of transportation infrastructure each year. To this end, the municipal government is focusing on its worst intersections first. In the meantime, they have also changed the intervals on some of Toronto’s most at-risk intersections to be 100 rather than 90 seconds, to give pedestrians (and especially seniors) more time to cross.

But these smaller changes may not be enough without a bigger and more controversial change. The 2012 Ontario Coroner’s review of pedestrian deaths revealed that 67 per cent of pedestrian fatalities occurred on streets with speed limits above 50 km/h, and only 5 per cent were under that limit (the rest could not be determined). Despite this, when Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer of Health recommended a reduction in Toronto’s speed limit to improve health outcomes, he had his job threatened by the mayor on his radio show. Minnan-Wong also dismissed the report, derisively advising Dr. David McKeown to get a job in the transportation department.

Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s), chair of the Board of Health, believes that there’s a viable, incremental approach to reducing speed limits. He’s pushing for speed limits in school zones to be lowered to 40 km/h, and is disappointed in the lack of a political will to make difficult choices. “Some might be tempted to say that seniors should be more conscious. But I think the onus should be on the system to react, not place the burden on the individual.”

Comments

  • eastegg

    The map above is a really helpful resource. It would be great to see analysis of the numbers crunched by time of day and season. There definitely is a visibility problem, especially in the fall and winter months, where motorists have a much harder time seeing pedestrians and cyclists.

    Before anyone jumps to conclusions about the point I just made, I’m not trying to make an excuse for drivers or blame pedestrians and cyclists for getting hit.

    We need lower speed limits, but until that happens, drivers need to slow down, regardless of the existing speed limit, if conditions warrant it. Unfortunately people drive like it’s their god given right to drive at or above the legal speed limit at all times, or proceed when a light is green or turn right on red, even if someone happens to be crossing the road. More traffic calming devices like speed bumps might help too.

  • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

    The insufficiency of data, which Denzil Minnan-Wong has the ability to rectify, means that his and the mayor’s opinions are not easily falsifiable, and thus more effectively obstruct improvement.

  • thinkplease99

    Why do they say it isn’t because of texting/phones? All of those near misses we see on a daily basis would suggest that it’s having an impact on accidents, either because the driver or pedestrian is distracted.

    • Talbot

      They said that the incidents involving seniors (which are 60% of all incidents) are not likely a result of smartphones.

  • Kels

    Wonder how many were the result of J-walking? I see it all the time….people crossing the street illegally and there’s a proper crosswalk 50yds away.

  • TorontoistEditors

    Was a reference to the spike in 2013, specifically – no easily identifiable changes were made that would explain why pedestrian fatalities in particular went up so dramatically.

  • dsmithhfx

    For the real scoop on traffic fatalities, see the report just out on vehicular air pollution in Etobicoke…

  • dr_kiwano

    It’s the summer of the car! We need to ban sportscars, which are only designed to break speed limits! Where’s Michael Bryant to stand up and call for this ban? Oh, wait…

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    It’s interesting that there don’t seem to be clusters, which I think rules out static road conditions (problem areas, insufficient light, that sort of thing). But I wonder how they correspond to road work, construction that takes over sidewalks, etc.

  • Vlad

    Nobody looks at the psychology of the driver. I see it all the time. Driver is stuck in a traffic jam for 15 minutes. Finally sees open space, the reaction is still dull from waiting, feeling of freedom overwhelms, right foot slams on the gas. At that point, it’s very easy to overlook something. We need proper traffic management. Ban left turns 7am-9pm where there isn’t a designated lane. Ban street parking on throughstreets if there’s 2 lanes or less in each direction. Introduce all-way crossing for pedestrians, then 30 seconds of green light for each direction of cars with no pedestrian crossing. Alternatively, introduce a right-turn arrow same as there are left-turn arrows, even for 10 seconds, when pedestrians aren’t allowed to cross. This way you will lower the mood swings for the drivers, the 10 minutes of waiting and 2 minutes of freedom, when drivers get the urge to squeeze everything out of those precious moments. Oh and, seriously increase enforcement of handheld device laws. The amount of people I see daily looking down while driving is staggering.

  • ThisAintCanada

    “Nuts, nuts, nuts!!!” – faux-Mayor Rob Ford.

    Dr. McKeown “should stick to his knitting!!!” – Ford-appointed PWIC Chair, Denzil Minnan-Wong.

    And yet you say no one knows why we again find the actively mobile in this city at elevated risk?

    IMPEACH PWIC4

  • b_newman

    Additionally, a good number of the victims are 60+. One answer to the rise– an aging population.

  • mz

    Where you cross the road influences injury severity.

    There was a study by researchers at Sick Kids published in 2012 in Injury Prevention that looked at the influence of where you cross on injury severity.

    This study was a population-based analysis of collision data between 2000 and 2009 in Toronto. During that time there were 9575 pedestrian-vehicle collisions.

    The two types of crossing locations assessed were (1) crossing at mid-block with no traffic control and (2) crossing at signalized intersections.

    What they found was that pedestrians suffered greater injury severity – that is, fatalities or injuries requiring hospital admission – when they crossed at mid-block (without right-of-way) compared with crossing at signalized intersections.

    Here is the paper: http://www.med.mcgill.ca/epidemiology/hanley/tmp/Applications/CrossingRoadInj%20Prev2012Rothman.pdf