Toronto Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker plans to introduce a motion to city council to have staff look into pedestrian safety at intersections, in response to a Global News investigation.
Global News reviewed pedestrian accident data at Toronto intersections, comparing it to the number of pedestrians who use each intersection every day. This created a ranking of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians in the city. Most of these intersections are in the suburbs.
At the top of the list is Markham Road and Tuxedo Court, in De Baeremaeker’s ward of Scarborough Centre.
De Baeremaeker said he was “shocked” and “alarmed” upon seeing Global News’ map of dangerous intersections. “I’m looking at my house on a map right now. There’s a whole bunch of blue dots around it,” he said.
“Looking at Markham Road and Tuxedo Court, you and I can sit here and say, people will be hurt in this intersection this year.”
De Baeremaeker said he plans to take action on pedestrian safety at the intersections highlighted by Global News. “I’ll speak at council to move a notice of motion, asking staff to respond directly to the report and what actions can be taken to increase safety at all of these, especially those at the very top,” he said. He expects to speak on Wednesday, June 15, 2011.
An urban planner was less shocked by the results. “I’m not at all surprised that they are suburban intersections,” said Paul Hess, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto.
“Not only are there quite a few pedestrians, which your data also shows, but those intersections tend to be very large streets, they’re designed for fairly fast travel. Many of them are posted at 60 km/h. And many of them have very wide turn radiuses, which means that the cars can go very fast around the corners, and that’s all by design,” he said. “Not only does that create conditions for people to get hit, it creates conditions for them to be injured significantly or killed.”
Dr. Alison Smiley, with Human Factors North, an organization that specializes in road safety issues, agrees that the design of suburban intersections increases the likelihood of pedestrians being struck by vehicles. “The intersections tend to be wide, so people are exposed over a larger distance to the risk of being hit by a car,” she said. “Because they’re wider, there’s less lighting when you actually get into the centre, so visibility is perhaps more of an issue than it is downtown.”
“The streets are designed very much for cars, even though there are lots of pedestrians and transit users who have to cross the street,” said Hess. He said that drivers are getting cues, such as wider roads and buildings set very far back from the roadway, that lead them to believe they do not need to look out for pedestrians.
To make intersections safer for pedestrians, you therefore need to redesign them so that drivers are more aware of pedestrians, said Hess. “If you have the political willpower and a little bit of money you can do it. Making them narrower, bringing buildings to the street when you can,(…) anything you can do to alert drivers that this is not a place where you can drive fast.”
“There are areas where we need to make that decision and say, these streets are shared, and we should share them in a way that makes everyone safe. And part of the tradeoff may be that it slows down traffic a little bit, and that’s a political decision, and it doesn’t seem like one we’re willing to take right now,” he said.
Simply urging pedestrians to cross at lights will not be enough, said Hess. “We live in a city. People wear dark clothes, people cross in the middle of streets, people drive too fast. We all behave in certain ways, so we need to find ways to design the environment to both accommodate and also modify to some degree how people behave.”