As drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians continue their battle for their share of Toronto’s streets, a recent petition outlines fifteen sensible recommendations for improving safety and usability. We support these proposals and the broader ambitions of the #BuildTheVisionTO campaign.
Anyone who has tried to navigate the streets of Toronto has their own story that sticks out. From the obstructed intersections, to the near misses, to the regular shouting matches, or worse, the experience of getting from point A to point B along our city’s streets can be a harrowing, draining, and dangerous process.
So far, the city’s half-hearted efforts to improve the safety and usability of our streets have failed. Even the additional funding announced in June will not be enough, particularly where ambitious projects are regularly scaled back and delays are commonplace.
Ward 21 cannot afford to wait. My conversations with residents and my own experiences suggest that there are numerous ‘hotspots’ across the ward that require greater attention and new approaches to how we manage traffic — in all of its forms. The map below represents just a sampling of these issues that I have heard thus far, which will only increase in importance as the ward continues to grow.
I will be a strong advocate for improving the conditions on our streets, believing that their vitality is crucial to the vibrancy of our communities and the city overall. In thinking about how to address this issue, I see the #BuildtheVisionTO campaign by the Toronto Centre for Active Transport (along with 8 80 Cities, Cycle Toronto, Friends and Families for Safe Streets, and Walk Toronto) as an excellent starting point for the type of transformation we need.
The campaign outlines “15 municipal election priorities” for improving safety on Toronto’s streets. I would categorize many of the proposals as “no-brainers” and clear opportunities to immediately improve how our streets function. The list of these proposals that we strongly support include:
- Simplifying applications / approvals for traffic calming measures, particularly targeting elementary school zones (proposals #2/3)
- Building sidewalks on every street being reconstructed and ensuring they have a minimum 2.1 metre width on arterial / collector roads (#4/5)
- Accelerate the building of the Cycling Network Plan, protected bike lanes on main streets, and connected routes between neighbourhoods (#6/7/8)
- Increase use of safety cameras (#9) — note that I believe there is an opportunity for police to more vigorously enforce traffic laws as well
- Implement controlled crossing at all bus and streetcar stops — particularly where distances between signals are large (#11)
- Support the implementation of Complete Streets guidelines, the Yonge Street transformation plan, and the Open Streets Program (#12/13/15)
Beyond the above, however, there are several proposals that we support in principal, but have questions or concerns regarding their implementation.
One such case is the recommendation to reduce speed limits (proposal #1). A city-wide default speed of 30km/h on residential and 40km/h on arterial roads is an important life-saving change that I support, but will need to be flexible to exceptions where the appropriate case can be made. Lakeshore Boulevard East may be a good example, where the TCAT proposal would see its speed limit decrease from 60km/h to 40km/h — which may not be appropriate given its role in East-West traffic, at least until the Harbourfront Communities reach scale. There are also questions for how “minor arterial” or “collector” streets fit in the plan (per the map below, they have characteristics of both major arterials and residential streets, but are not explicitly covered by the TCAT recommendations).
Banning of vehicle right turns on red lights (proposal #10) is another potentially life-saving tool given the significant share of incidents that they cause. Unlike speed limits, however, it feels more appropriately applied in known hotspots rather than as a default rule — particularly in a community like Ward 21 where the density and movement of traffic varies widely (e.g., between the residential neighbourhoods of Corktown to the commuter-clogged streets in St. Lawrence). I will continue to study other jurisdictions who have implemented the ban (such as Montreal and New York City) to see what we can learn and whether there are additional measures that could be paired with the proposal to make it more compelling for Toronto(e.g., advance right turn signals or other measures to ensure traffic flow).
A final proposal to highlight for additional thought is the recommendation to match New York City’s per capita funding for road safety (proposal #14). We wholeheartedly agree that Toronto’s spending to date has been inadequate, but using the cost incurred in other cities as a benchmark feels like an oversimplification of a highly complex issue. Plenty of factors go into cost differentials between cities — from the conditions and historical maintenance of the roads, to scope of social and economic activities they support — that makes them difficult to compare. I would prefer a Made-in-Toronto solution that benchmarks against the global outcomes we want to achieve, and determines the costs of doing so.
Regardless of some of the caveats listed above, in all, TCAT’s fifteen proposals are an important starting point for the conversation about our streets in this next election. Clearly, there are many highly local solutions needed for Ward 21 — from better maintenance of intersections, to the redesign of convoluted crossings, and more —that will have to be part of the solution as well.
But beyond any of ideas listed above, the key ingredient will be in the approach. Improving Toronto’s streets is not about specific tactics of urban planning — we would have solved many of these issues long ago if it were — but rather a commitment to doing what’s right and an ability to listen to our streets’ many users on their needs.
I certainly have that commitment, and am excited to continue the process of learning and listening in the months to come.
All comments, questions, or additions are welcome. Thanks to Ward 28 Bikes and Nancy Smith Lea of the Toronto Centre for Active Transport for the helpful clarifications on the research behind the proposals!