Toronto drivers need to 'recalibrate' expectations of speeding through city, says former planner

Toronto's former top planner warns that bad driving is compromising the "overall liveability" of the city.

Jennifer Keesmaat says increase in pedestrians and cyclists in the city means drivers must slow down

Former top planner Jennifer Keesmaat says cars blocking intersections and crosswalks is a common sight in Toronto, putting pedestrians in precarious positions. (John Rieti/CBC)

Toronto's former top planner warns bad driving is compromising the "overall liveability" of the city.

Jennifer Keesmaat told CBC Radio's Metro Morning the high number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in 2018 proves Toronto's streets are unsafe, and suggests the city has a serious culture problem.

Even more frustrating than being stuck in traffic is when divers don't follow the rules of the road -- the ones who proceed to the middle of the intersection and just wait there blocking traffic until the light turns green again, or the ones who are turning left and ignore the fact the light has turned red. One proposed solution? Red-light cameras. Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto's former Chief Planner, weighs in. 5:56

Keesmaat says drivers still expect to drive quickly through the city, even as growing density has resulted in a huge increase in the number of pedestrians and cyclists.

"We need to recalibrate," Keesmaat said.

The former planner made the remarks after a Toronto Star column suggested putting red light cameras at every intersection, with the goal of preventing the "Toronto stop" — when drivers try to get through intersections and wind up blocking crosswalks.

Metro Morning heard from several drivers who blame pedestrians crossing with just seconds left on the countdown clock, but Keesmaat says pedestrians shouldn't be blamed in these situations." 

"Give me a break … that isn't even close to the crux of the problem here," she said.

While she doesn't encourage crossing at the last minute, Keesmaat says the difference is that pedestrians don't endanger anyone by doing so. Meanwhile, drivers blocking crosswalks create "precarious" situations for pedestrians — especially for children and seniors.

City adding to Vision Zero efforts

Keesmaat is calling on the city to be more aggressive with its Vision Zero program, which aims to eliminate all traffic-related deaths.

Council has voted to accelerate the program several times, however there are still calls to do more.

The city launched its "Vision Zero Challenge" on Tuesday, which will look for new designs to improve safety on city streets.

Just a day later, a cyclist was killed in the city's east end, and on Thursday, police announced that a senior who had been struck while crossing Lawrence Avenue in North York on Tuesday morning had died in hospital.

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.

With files from Metro Morning

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