Making Toronto Safer for Pedestrians
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Making Toronto Safer for Pedestrians

How improving infrastructure for drivers, walkers, and cyclists can make our streets more pedestrian-friendly.

About three times a day, a pedestrian and a vehicle collide in our city. This month, three of those collisions resulted in pedestrian deaths. While no policy response can undo the pain any of these tragedies have caused, pedestrian fatalities are on the rise and it’s time we followed the lead of cities taking steps to make taking steps safer. These include New York City, London, and Vancouver, each of which has established a target of zero pedestrian fatalities.

We should as well. About 5 per cent of people walk to work in Toronto. That’s about three times higher than the number who cycle, and it’s rising as city development intensifies. Factor in that at some point in almost everyone’s day they are a pedestrian, and the need to broaden our transport debate to include every mode of transport becomes clearer.

It becomes clearer still when you consider that last year, 40 pedestrians died on our streets, compared to 12 drivers and four cyclists. That’s the most pedestrian fatalities in more than a decade, and this year already eight have been killed.

Two issues arise from this, I believe. Are there ways we can start to make walking safer, especially for senior citizens, who represent more than half of pedestrian deaths? And can we have a debate about how people get around that’s inclusive, reflecting that our city moves in many ways: on foot, by wheelchair and bicycle, on the TTC, or by car?

For the last four years, the answer to the second question has been no. We’ve fallen into the false debate in which improvements made for people who walk or cycle, drivers automatically lose. It’s a false debate because nobody is a driver all the time, and there are ways we can reflect the city we now are without creating losers.

Take, for example, Eglinton Connects. As the Crosstown LRT, which will be underground for parts of Eglinton, is built, there’s a plan to create a complete street. Its sidewalks will be wider, allowing for better people space, which will help businesses. It will also include bike lanes.

Jennifer Keesmaat, the City’s chief planner, says it will increase the street’s carrying capacity because buses currently on the street will be replaced by LRT below. I’ve been to the public consultations on this promising idea, and know the neighbourhood wants it. Some of my fellow mayoral candidates agree, but others—Rob Ford and John Tory—don’t. They define traffic as cars only, and fail to consider that Eglinton is one of the places in the city where pedestrians outnumber cars.

We need to help everyone get around better. This includes drivers, but must also include pedestrians. I released specific ideas in early May to make walking safer.

Chief among them is allowing neighbourhoods to reduce speed limits on side streets by up to 10 kilometres per hour. New York City started doing this in 2011. We should copy the idea, and empower communities to act on a broader scale to make their streets safer.

We should also simply make intersections safer by using common-sense fixes. These include longer cross times, which would be especially helpful to seniors who need more time to cross the street. Better lighting at intersections would help, too, considering pedestrian deaths tend to rise in November and December when there are fewer daylight hours.

And the way we build intersections needs to change, too, by incorporating common-sense ideas such as right-angled curbs. Curved curbs help cars turn faster, leaving less time to look around. If they are square-edged, the vehicle has to slow down, giving more time for both driver and walker to see each other and prevent problems.

But discussions such as this are hard to have in a context that pits one mode of transportation against another. In a city in which people get around in many ways, it’s time for a more holistic approach to transport planning—like the one we see on Eglinton Avenue.

Too often, however, straw men derail steps forward. We saw this in Scarborough, where Rob Ford helped undermine support for world-class, above-ground rail by pretending it would run on a road. We see it in the discussion around Eglinton Avenue. We can do better, by reflecting our city as it is, and improving all ways people get around instead of pitting one mode against another.

Olivia Chow is running for mayor. Her pedestrian policy was released on May 2, and can be seen here.


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