Pedestrian deaths rising despite Toronto's Vision Zero pledge

The councillor leading Toronto’s Vision Zero effort says it’s been a tragic year for pedestrians, but suggests bad weather should get more blame than city hall.

2018 off to a deadly start for pedestrians, prompting calls for city hall to do more

Toronto is on pace to see more than 60 pedestrian fatalities in 2018, despite its Vision Zero goal of eliminating all road deaths. (John Rieti/CBC)

The councillor leading Toronto's Vision Zero effort says it's been a tragic year for pedestrians, but suggests bad weather should get more blame than city hall.

Coun. Jaye Robinson, who heads the initiative to eliminate road deaths, says the city is working aggressively on its plans to make streets and school zones safer. However, even the mayor says there is more to do, especially after the death of 11-year-old Duncan Xu, who was struck by a vehicle near his Scarborough school.

Robinson calls that incident — the 10th pedestrian fatality of 2018 — "absolutely heartbreaking," but suggests it's not indicative of the overall state of road safety in this city.

Robinson told CBC Toronto that in 2017 the city was "trending in the right direction."

"We have had a very rough beginning to 2018 because we've had a very rough winter," she said.

However the introduction of Vision Zero, a five-year, now $87 million project, has yet to make a big difference when it comes to the number of pedestrian deaths. Toronto is currently on pace to see more than 60 pedestrian fatalities, which would set a grim new record.

YearNumber of pedestrians killed
201431
201539
201643 (highest number since 2005)
201742
201811 (city on pace for 66 deaths)

Robinson says she's hopeful things will "level out." But former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat isn't waiting for the final tally to warn pedestrian deaths in this city are a "crisis." Meanwhile Mayor John Tory expressed his dismay as well, telling reporters: "we cannot have this carnage continue."

Coun. Mike Layton says if Tory is serious about that, he should bring a motion to the March council meeting that puts more capital money toward speeding up Vision Zero work. That could go toward adding traffic lights, or just hiring more staff to address problem spots that people have already reported.

"People are worried for their own personal safety, and they shouldn't have to be. You shouldn't have to wake up and be afraid to leave your house and walk down the street because you may get in an accident or get hit," he said.

"There's a lot we can do."

Tory open to spending more

The city says there were 921 pedestrians killed or seriously injured between 2011 and 2016. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)

City statistics show 921 pedestrians have been killed or seriously injured from 2011 to 2016. Those victims have disproportionately been seniors, although this year two children have been killed. Thousands more pedestrians are struck by vehicles every year, although many escape with minor injuries or none at all.

Transportation staff point to a list of measures the city's taken since 2016 as evidence the program is working. But council has voted to accelerate it three times, and now Tory says he is open to spending more on Vision Zero and will be talking with staff about how to accomplish that.

"We're still not doing enough," he said.

To get a sense of the challenge, one city goal is adding a series of warnings — from road paint to flashing signs to signs that warn drivers to watch their speed — to school zones. It costs $25,000 per school, and the city's initial goal was to get 20 schools done per year.

Layton says part of the challenge may be staffing, noting even an application to add speed bumps to a street can take years.

City officials confirm there are staff members working on Vision Zero, according to the transportation services division, while employees from other departments are also working on certain projects.

City should focus on redesigning roads, expert says

A city-supplied slow down sign stands near the school of Duncan Xu, an 11-year-old killed while crossing a Scarborough street this week. (Tina MacKenzie/CBC)

Nancy Pullen-Seufert, an American Vision Zero expert based at the University of North Carolina, was in Toronto for a conference on this topic this week. She says the cities that have the most success at reducing pedestrian deaths redesign dangerous roadways with the following aims:

  • Separating pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.
  • Slowing traffic down.
  • Protecting pedestrians as they cross the street.

Pullen-Seufert also points out that it's not always enough to put up signs or warn motorists not to speed.

"If we only focus on behaviour that is going to be the slow train for us," she said.

That's not stopping Tory from issuing a warning to the city's drivers.

"They must do more to pay more attention, closer attention, and be more careful, because this is a big city with a lot of kids and seniors trying to make their way around," he said.

About the Author

John Rieti

John Rieti covers city hall and city issues for CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country in search of great stories. Outside of work, catch him running or cycling around, often armed with a camera, always in search of excellent coffee.

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