The compelling case for forcing Toronto’s drivers to slow down
Toronto’s roads are the most perilous in the country for pedestrians. The solution is simple, smart and anathema to an already gridlocked city: make drivers slow down
On November 6, 2014, Erica Stark, a 42-year-old mother of three young boys, drove her Kia Rondo to her Scarborough dealership to have its winter tires put on. She brought along Zella, a black Lab she was training to be a guide dog for the hearing impaired. While the tires were being changed, she took Zella for a walk westward along Gilder Drive, a quiet street lined with low-rise apartment buildings. As they reached the first set of lights, at Midland Avenue, a minivan veered onto the sidewalk, hitting a light standard, colliding with Stark and sending her flying several metres. A nearby construction worker rushed to help, cut off the purse straps tangled around her neck and held her as she died.
Stark was the 24th of 31 pedestrians to be fatally struck by a vehicle in Toronto in 2014. As of May 1 this year, there have already been 15—a rate that, should it continue, would result in a yearly total of 45, and possibly more, since the numbers tend to spike in fall, when days are shorter.
It’s a price other cities aren’t paying. On a per capita basis, if you regularly walk or bike to work in Toronto, you’re twice as likely as Montrealers and three times more likely than Vancouverites to be hit by a vehicle. The culprit: Toronto’s love affair with the car—a phenomenon that has become abundantly clear to me as a parent.
My kids’ school, Davisville Public, sits mid-block on Millwood, between Mount Pleasant and Yonge. Without a street corner, stop sign or designated crossing, kids walking to school thread their way through drop-off traffic at their peril. On his first day of school, my four-year-old son surveyed the tangle of cars and asked, “Where are we supposed to cross?” I had no answer. I called Transportation Services. To warrant a crosswalk, we needed 200 pedestrian crossings over eight hours. They sent a staff member to stand on the curb and count. He tallied 180. Crosswalk denied.
I requested a crossing guard. This being the domain of the TPS, a police officer visited and counted the number of unaccompanied children: one. When I told him that children no longer walk alone to school precisely because it’s unsafe, he scoffed and said that our situation was “paradise” compared to some other Toronto schools. Crossing guard denied.
The principal proposed a Kiss ’n’ Ride program in which parents stand on the curb in front of the school and escort children out of cars and into the school— facilitating traffic flow but creating another incentive to drive to school (in the end, not enough parents volunteered). In a self-perpetuating cycle, parents who opt for the “safer” choice of driving kids to school make walking an ever riskier proposition. My son is reminded daily that pedestrians are second-class citizens, roads are to be crossed fast and wherever possible, and Elmer the Safety Elephant is out of touch with reality.
Determined to find a solution, I made a deputation before then-chief Blair and the Police Services Board, requesting that they re-examine the policy for allocating crossing guards. After 10 months, the board came back with six proposals. Among them was that a committee be created to review denied applications for crossing guards. So far, no such committee exists. It’s been nearly three years since I made my first inquiries, and there’s been no change at Davisville Public. At this rate, I’ll be pleased if my grandkids have the pleasure of safe crossing in front of their school.
Or maybe tragedy will accelerate the process. In an unexpected moment of candour, a police officer confessed to me that nothing is likely to change on Millwood until a child is killed. The officer cited the death of Georgia Walsh, the 7-year-old girl who was hit and killed while crossing an intersection in Leaside in July 2014. Residents had been clamouring for a solution for years. A month after Walsh was hit, the city implemented a right-turn-on-red restriction at the corner where she died.
If there is one measure guaranteed to reduce pedestrian deaths, it’s slowing cars down. When a pedestrian is struck at a speed of 50 kilometres per hour, the fatality rate is 85 per cent; when the speed is lowered to 40, it’s 25 per cent. In separate reports in 2012, Ontario’s chief coroner and Toronto’s chief medical officer recommended that the city-wide limit drop to 40 kilometres per hour, and on residential streets to 30. Denzil Minnan-Wong, then-chair of the public works committee, suggested that the CMO find another line of work.
The trouble is that most drivers ignore the posted limits, no matter what they are. What needs to change is the penalty system. In Ontario, demerit points are only issued when a driver exceeds the limit by 15 kilometres per hour or more, and the financial penalty is hardly prohibitive: the fine for going 25 over the limit in Toronto is $93.75. In Switzerland, drivers caught speeding by 25 kilometres per hour over the limit are charged 20 days’ worth of income. And driving 50 kilometres per hour over the limit in a Swiss city can land you in jail for a year or more. It might sound draconian, but it works. The country has one of the lowest road fatality rates in the world, at just four per 100,000 people.
Toronto has taken some steps to make the roads safer for pedestrians. Since 2000, the city has painted “zebra markings” at more than 1,000 intersections, installed 77 red-light cameras and lengthened traffic light intervals at some of the most hazardous junctions. But none of these measures has had a lasting effect on the number of fatalities.
In March, councillor Jaye Robinson, the public works chair, introduced a motion recommending that Toronto consider a comprehensive road safety plan. Among her proposals was Vision Zero, a Swedish program that lays out a suite of measures including wider sidewalks, better barriers, improved oversight of vehicle and road maintenance, and, yes, lower speed limits. Sweden adopted Vision Zero in 1997 and has seen a steady decrease in traffic fatalities, even as its traffic volume rises—a by-product of a growing economy. Sweden’s roads are now the world’s safest.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio launched Vision Zero in January 2014. So far, he has made 25 miles (40 kilometres) per hour the default limit, installed 120 school-speed-zone cameras and 400 speed bumps, and increased the size of sidewalks and pedestrian islands. New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton vowed, “We will be just as aggressive in preventing a deadly crash on the street as we are in preventing a deadly shooting.” That’s the kind of chutzpah Toronto needs. In the last two years, there have been 71 pedestrian deaths in Toronto and 49 fatal shootings. Ask yourself: which do we hear more about?
34 thoughts on “The compelling case for forcing Toronto’s drivers to slow down”
Drivers could care less about anyone’s safety if it delays them 2 minutes. And then they have the gusto to accuse pedestrians and cyclists of not following the rules of the road.
It’s not about Torontonians’ “love affair with the car.” It’s about a combination of urban/suburban sprawl, an outdated public transit system and generally poor urban planning that drives people (pun intended) to use a car.
I walk everywhere but understand why so many people would need cars here. Public transit (particularly subway and rail) isn’t extensive enough and too many people live too far away from downtown — neither of which are attributes Montreal or Vancouver share.
if Switzerland is 4/100k, and GTA had 45/6.0 million, our rate is 0.75/100k, sooo….
why have townhouse with garges and thrn park on the street doesnt make sense!
Actual population of Toronto is around 2.5 million and I believe the article is only using stats for the city proper. Having said that then the rate of deaths is 1.8/100k for Toronto which is still far below that of Switzerland which they claim is one of the safest in the world.
I’d also like to know why this article makes it seem that every single fatality is the drivers fault? I can’t even begin to tell you how many people walk right out into traffic and if it wasn’t for my quick reflexes they would also be a statistic. My own anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that a lot of pedestrians believe cars can not hurt them when they get hit or else they wouldn’t walk out into traffic or cross without looking.
woah, 6 million people died in Toronto last year?
Problem easily solved. Toronto is a capital city and the Road Safety Office at the World Health Organization wants Canadians to be comfortable with law abiding streets. They feel this is long overdue.
Toronto needs law abiding streets, which will lead to ethics among the provincial civil servants employed by Ontario. The current freewheeling phenomenon is both lawless and unacceptable.
The way to get the public to enjoy law abiding behaviour in traffic, is to examine the families who are ignoring the law. When the youth look at the adults behaviour on the street, they see mass lawlessness. If these youth realize law abiding capital city streets are vital, they will enjoy a wonderful future. If they join the freewheeling adult world, then their future is hampered by illegal behaviour.
Every Fathers Day, the parents of Toronto enjoy going through stop signs, speeding etc. with their kids. Talk to your parents. Have a family intervention. With Canada enjoying its 150th birthday soon, the law abiding streets of Toronto has a whole new meaning for the residents of Ontario, who hope the civil servants will stop breaking the law.
Yeah the comparison doesn’t add up. Namely, they’re comparing a country to a city. Switzerland had a population of 8 million in 2013. If it’s 4/100k then it would mean it’s approx. 320/8 million which is well higher than 45.
This is an opinion piece, with an overly-exaggerated image too. What parent teaches their kid to cross the street illegally on their bike? What type of people would have a conversation on the road blocking a parking space, with their backs to oncoming traffic? Why is the lady driving have her torso out the car and is hand signalling that she’s turning right?
The incident in the opening of this article lacks a confirmed report about the cause of the accident. You simply used Erica Stark to illicit an emotional response from readers. Did the driver of the mini van have a medical episode? Were they speeding? Were they distracted? Were they under the influence? Was there a mechanical failure with the steering, accelerator or brakes?
There are several instances of you displaying what makes the rest of Canada dislike Torontonians, entitlement.
1. You say Toronto has a love affair with the car, as a simple throw-away statement that gets made frequently by disconnected politicians and media alike. The majority of drivers in the city do not live in the city. They come from outside the city because they can not afford to live there. The Greater Toronto Area has a dependency on the car because of poor urban planning and a 1950s-based transportation infrastructure, that never expected the road to be full of SOVs (single-occupancy vehicles).
2. You say your kids go to Davisville public school and you walk them there. After a quick search on realtor.ca, I’ve found the average price of a single detached home in that area is 1-3 million dollars. Do you work a 9-5 job? Do you sacrifice your mornings and early evenings with your children to commute to/from work? Do you find that you’re used to having influence on the local politicians or know people who do? Are you one of those people who’ve probably contributed to the elitism of owning property in Toronto and forced others outside of the upper-middle class, not just outside of your neighbourhood, but outside of the area code?
3. Based on your website and self-biography, you haven’t spent your entire life here in this city. You’ve had the luxury of working and travelling abroad with the ability to write for various newspapers, such as Corporate Knights. Yet, a lot of your writing has a disconnect from reality or is all opinionated.
4. You think that there’s only one cause for these problems. In fact there are many.
You can say Toronto has a love affair of being entitled and hypocritical instead. Of complaining about things, but also being guilty for making the problem worse themselves.
Who am I? I’m someone who grew up in a Toronto suburb. I’ve driven downtown since I was 16. I’ve lived downtown as well. I’ve biked, took the TTC and walked to school then eventually work. I currently live in Hamilton which also has many issues with speeding, traffic-related fatalities and a growing population.
In MY opinion, the following are causing this entire mess, not the speed limits:
– Events in the city, especially film shoots.
– Construction projects; road work, condos, renovations and Pan Am stuff.
– Tourists. Local, GTAers and out-of-towners.
– Drivers who drive UNDER the speed limit. Driving 15 km/hr under the speed limit is the same ticket as going 15 km/hr OVER. They’re just as likely to cause an accident and grid-lock as someone going over the speed limit.
– DISTRACTED DRIVING. I can’t stress this more than enough. I’ve seen people on the road who look drunk only to pass them and see that they’re staring at their phone screen. This is both on city streets and highways going full-speed.
– Cyclists and pedestrians who don’t know the basic rules of the road, due to under-education. (Hand signals, where to cross a street legally, what side of the road to walk/jog/run on).
– Many many more that include people who are just plain stubborn or ignorant.
If you want any credibility to anything you write, I suggest for next time, refer sources and provide relevant data. This is probably why you couldn’t get a crosswalk made for your street, because you thought others would probably do that for you.
Apples and oranges. Road fatality rates include all deaths, not just pedestrians.
Everyone who shares roads – drivers, cyclists, pedestrians – need to pay more attention to others beyond themselves. http://torontomyway.blogspot.ca/2011/07/pay-attention.html?m=1.
“…especially film shoots”? I believe you are the one who is not dealing with reality here. Lots to write but saying verylittle, my friend……..
Toronto 31 deaths per (let’s say, a very conservative population estimate) 2,500,000 people
Switzerland: 4 deaths per 100,000 people = 100 deaths per 4,000,000 people
How the hell is Switzerland safer than Toronto when triple the # of pedestrians have died in its streets?
The solution is quite simple. Speed bumps. Those new, big portable ones that seem to be popping up randomly. Should be mandatiry in all school zones, side streets. My kids are grown but drives me crazy when young men (and yes, its only young men) feel the need to be cool by speeding down my crescent – how is that cool?
No. What needs to change is enforcement. Toronto has a laughable tendency to keep making new laws rather than enforcing the laws already on the books. We don’t, for example, need lower speed limits- we need to enforce the limits we have! Just today I was yelled at for going 45 in a 40 zone – much too slow for the yutz behind me. But I was deliberately staying behind the dude veering all over the road as he stared at his lap.
Meh, some parents won’t be happy until their kids are wrapped in bubble wrap.
I always told my kid to forget about vampires, werewolves and aliens. If he dies as a child it will be from a car. I also told him that, as an only child, I don’t have a backup. This isn’t a video game where you get an extra life. It seems to work. I’m not going to coddle him and destroy his independence.
I live in Spain but a couple of years ago I visited Toronto when my father went into the North York General Hospital. As my very extended family stood around his bed making small talk somebody asked me where I was parked. I told him that I had got the bus. In a chorus everybody said: ‘the bus?’. It turned out that nobody standing around the bed could even remember the last time they had got a bus. I decided not to mention that I got the bus only because it was raining and that the day before I had walked some three miles to the hospital.
Naomi Buck, you could have saved a lot of time by stopping after the first paragraph and changed the title to ‘Another person dies, struck by distracted driving. ‘
And as far as having a crossing guard at your kids school: sure that would be nice so would having a million dollars, however the reality is that it might not happen.
Your REAL defense/ solution and one that will be rewarding ten-fold is teaching your child to look both ways before crossing the street, be defensive about it, put down his smartphone(if they don’t have one yet they will) and care for his life and not have that ignorant attitude that every damn pedestrian has.
Drivers are people, they make mistakes, are irresponsible and it is just as much a pedestrians responsibility to be careful and co-exist in this ecosystem.
Best of luck.
Along many homes in my hood are “Slow down children at Play” signs on the front lawn. The biggest irony is the fact there are NEVER any visible kids at play because parents don’t let them outdoors anymore. There used to be ball hockey galore, now nothing. The number of cars on driving by hasn’t changed, nor has the number of speeders.
GTFO of my way!
Davisville public school’s main entrance (not legal address) seems to be Davisville where there is, in fact, a crosswalk. Millwood on the other hand has speed bumps. In either case it’s 150m between the centre of the school building and Yonge street and 400m to Acacia Rd – so hardly midblock.
Unless you live on Millwood on the block immediately opposite the school you should be more than capable of crossing to the correct side at an intersection during your journey. I’ll grant that if you do live right across from the school then walking to the corner and back does seem annoying but it’s really not a big deal.
There’s lots of schools with unsafe streets and unsafe intersections in Toronto – this just doesn’t seem to be one of them.
I am a Torontonian who lived in Abu Dhabi, UAE for 7 years. And I am shocked at how wonderful driver are here!! In the UAE you take your life in your hands even crossing at a street light. No one cares about pedestrians let alone bicycle. I have had to re consider my entire driving habits now that I’m back. I need to look every way and I have been surprised that most pedestrians NEVER look to see if they’re safe. Assuming this is nuts.
look at townhouse are built in neighborhoods they have garages but they park on the street!
Did you know that ball hockey on the street is illegal in much of Toronto
Yes I did and the games were in driveways. B-ball too. But I guess the laws don’t help!
We had a similar situation in our nabe Denied a crosswalk but after a 12 year old died installed a traffic light
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Seeing as I was cut off twice by two separate female drivers in their early 20’s yesterday, I believe you are mistaken.
Speed bumps are a good idea, but not cheap. In my neighbourhood, drivers are constantly looking for ways to avoid them, either by steering into the middle of the road or coming as close to the curb as possible.
People in a Canadian-type democracy have a tendency to do the opposite of what they are told. They (we) are entitled, Smug,you know. So let’s start with an appeal to the individual’s better nature rather than the ‘I caught you’ approach. How about road signs, frequently placed, that say “Pedestrians Move Slower Than You” or “Walking used to be fun. Remember?” or “If you hit a pedestrian, he/she was there FIRST!” or “Are you still a kid? Pedestrians are just older kids.” and where the speed limit is 60km/hr “See anyone on foot?Are you looking?”
I see those signs in Leaside and some areas north of there. As a driver, I appreciate being reminded to slow down but I know what you mean about not seeing kids outside.
At our elementary school, I started up a walking school bus program and a kiss n ride at the school using parent and student volunteers after having conducted surveys with the community. Interestingly, through our research, we learned, among other findings, that the vast majority of families lived easily within walking distance to the school but that parents wanted to drive their children so that they could continue on to their workplace, or tennis club. It wasn’t about the kids but their own needs.
canada sounds like a 3rd class country with somewhat dumb and unneeded laws for things that simply require common sense and logic.
Cant wait to go back to my home country and raise my kids like 1st class citizens in Pakistan. As a kid, I went to school in Pakistan and my driver made sure me and my siblings were dropped right in front of the school kid, in fact, all drivers did that, something thats probably gonna land u in jail in canada and Pakistan is not even a so called “Developed” country. Canada on the other hands claims to be developed and preaches the rest of the world on human rights and human welfare and what not but the cold hearted people of this 3rd class country really need to look into their own matters and solve their own matters before they pointing fingers at others. I mean for God’s sake, most families here are miserable and cant even send of their kids to school properly.
I mean whats the point in living here in constant fear when i cant even assure myself of my child’s safety while dropping them to school. Im sorry but my kids will be dropped right in front of school entrance if they will go to school in canada otherwise im moving back to Pakistan.
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