TORONTO – Advocates, politicians and members of the public are demanding Toronto make its streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians after a string of recent deaths highlighted just how dangerous the city’s roads can be.
Two cyclists and a pedestrian were hit and killed by vehicles in three separate incidents in just the past week, bringing the city’s total number of such fatalities this year to three cyclists and 17 pedestrians, according to Toronto police.
Those figures were up from two cyclist deaths and 12 pedestrian fatalities by this point last year. In 2016, by June, there had been 21 pedestrian deaths and no cyclist deaths.
For 29-year-old cyclist Connor Gregory, who said he has been struck by a vehicle three times on his bike and has had three more collisions with car doors, the fear of a fatal brush with motor traffic weighs on him every time he hits the road.
“On an almost daily basis, there are situations that are fairly dangerous,” he said.
“With the news last week, a lot of people were expressing just sort of being fed up with the lack of response that there’s been to road safety.”
Advocacy groups like Cycle Toronto, meanwhile, have said the recent deaths have highlighted the need for the city to take action.
Toronto’s mayor said he’s been horrified by the recent deaths and pledged an additional $13 million Friday to the city’s Vision Zero road safety plan, a five-year project adopted in 2016 that aims to reduce traffic-related deaths and serious injuries. The funds would bring total investment in the project to $100 million, his office said.
“Any death on Toronto streets is absolutely unacceptable, no one should lose their lives in this way,” John Tory said. “The deaths of pedestrians and cyclists on our roads continues to be an issue which has been particularly troubling and, I’ll admit, very frustrating to me.”
Tory also promised other measures that include enhancing bike lanes along ten cycling corridors and installing zebra markings at up to 200 intersections.
But critics say road safety in the city is reaching a crisis point.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” Cherise Burda, executive director of Ryerson University’s City Building Institute, said of the recent deaths.
“It’s so sad, and it’s so unnecessary. We have the tools to change.”
City leaders have dragged their feet or rejected road safety measures outright in the past, often in the name of protecting drivers, she said.
“Most of streets are designed for cars, and this worked in the post-war world where we wanted to sprawl and (have) everybody get around in their car, but our streets are incredibly congested now and it’s really hard to get around,” she said.
There were 43 pedestrian deaths and one cyclist death recorded in 2016 according to Toronto police. By the end of last year there were 36 pedestrian and four cyclists fatalities, according to police, who track only incidents on public roadways, and define traffic fatalities as ones in which the vehicle involved was moving or “ready to move.”
As Toronto continues to grow, it will have to redesign its streets for better mobility, Burda said, noting that the Vision Zero plan needs to be efficiently carried out.
“You can’t have a Vision Zero plan and not implement it and say that it’s failing,” said Burda, who uses multiple modes of transport, including bikes, to get around Toronto.
“You have to actually implement it. And we’re not doing that.”
Toronto has areas where sidewalks have been widened and protected bike lanes have been added, but the overhauled areas are often not connected to each other, making it hard for cyclists or pedestrians to get from one part of the city to another safely, Burda said.
On the other hand, Vancouver – where there has been only one cyclist death since the start of 2016, and only four pedestrian deaths so far this year – has committed to continuous bike routes throughout the city.
“The evidence shows that when you build the infrastructure, the cyclists come,” said Burda. “Imagine if you had a safe network of segregated bike lanes. So many more people would cycle.”
Coun. Mike Layton said Vision Zero’s infrastructure and public education initiatives – which last year included launching school safety zones, upgrading intersections and adding red-light cameras – have moved too slowly, due to a lack of funds granted up-front.
“If we’re going to make the streets safer for all road users, something’s got to change our infrastructure and something’s got to change with our attitudes towards other road users,” Layton said.
“People are travelling too fast, they are too distracted and that’s leading to the accidents that we are seeing. That on top of our infrastructure (must change). It’s not one or the other. It has to be both.”
Like many road safety issues brought to city council, increasing resources for Vision Zero was met with strong opposition he said.
Last year’s ultimately successful motion to make permanent the Bloor Street Pilot Project – which saw bike lanes added to a section of the city’s busiest east-west streets – was a particular flash point.
“Every inch of paint, every bollard on the road was a fight,” he said. “And it was a fight with fellow councillors. It was pushing the community to look at the change as something that will in fact save people’s lives.”
— with files by Adina Bresge