Canada·SAFER STREETS

80% of pedestrian deaths so far in 2019 are older adults, seniors

More than 80 per cent of the pedestrians killed on Toronto's roads so far this year are older adults or seniors, police data shows. It's the latest example of a troubling trend in cities around the world, and local road safety advocates say it points to the city's failure to protect vulnerable road users.

More needs to be done to protect vulnerable pedestrians, road safety advocates say

More than 80 per cent of the pedestrians killed on Toronto's roads so far this year are older adults or seniors, data from Toronto police shows. It's prompting some local road safety advocates to question the success of the city's Vision Zero efforts, including the creation of 'seniors safety zones.' (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

More than 80 per cent of the pedestrians killed on Toronto's roads so far this year are older adults or seniors, data from Toronto police shows.

And while it's just the latest example of a troubling trend found in cities around the world, local road safety advocates say it points to the city's failure to protect vulnerable road users through Toronto's Vision Zero plan to eliminate road deaths.

"We are an aging society," stressed Coun. Josh Matlow, council's seniors' advocate. "Given that demographic change, we need a city that's age-friendly, that's safe."

So far in 2019, 27 pedestrians have been hit and killed by drivers of various types of vehicles, according to the latest police figures. Of those, 22 were people aged 55 and over — 81 per cent of the total — including 15 who were seniors aged 65 and up, making up more than half of all those people killed.

Recently, Salauddin Chowdhury, 65, was the victim of a deadly crash that happened in Scarborough Tuesday evening, while a 97-year-old man died after he was hit by a car while crossing the street in a different area of Scarborough more than two weeks ago.

Road safety advocate Amanda O'Rourke, executive director of non-profit 8 80 Cities, wasn't surprised by the latest figures, but did call the high number of older adults being killed "alarming."

"Older adults are more vulnerable on our roads and are more likely to be victims of road violence ... and this is a trend we've known for a while," she said.

'Signage doesn't go far enough'

City officials address this vulnerability in the Vision Zero plan, which notes roughly 870 seniors were killed or seriously injured through collisions with vehicles between 2005 and 2016 throughout the city.

The latest version of the plan lowered speed limits on various streets across the city and aims to improve dozens of "senior safety zones" through enhanced pavement markings and signage, analyzing pedestrian crossing times at traffic lights to make sure the lower walking speed of older adults is accounted for, and reviewing areas for road design improvements.

"The city's focus on designating these 'senior safety zones' with signage doesn't go far enough ... Signage has very little effect on driver behaviour," O'Rourke said.

Salauddin Chowdhury had four children and eight grandchildren. Family members identified him as the victim of a fatal crash in the area of Danforth Avenue and Pharmacy Avenue Tuesday evening. (Submitted/Emma Anwar)

Jess Spieker, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Friends and Families for Safer Streets, wants to see more concrete changes to drop speeds more broadly across Toronto and build out more design-based protection for older residents coping with less mobility.

One Quebec study, for instance, looked at the higher risks for elderly pedestrian injuries at street crossings and found "providing shorten crossing distance or longer crossing timing, may increase the convenience of walking for elderly populations."

Spieker stressed that kind of change is beneficial, not just in city-designated "seniors safety zones," but on all roads.

"Seniors don't live in weird, old-people ghettos in special pockets of the city," she said. "They live everywhere."

Toronto has aging population

Matlow said proactive changes are crucial because over the next two decades, roughly one in five Toronto residents will be over the age of 55.

"Our Vision Zero initiative in Toronto is a really good start but it hasn't gone anywhere as far as the Vision Zero initiatives in many other cities in North America and around the world," he added. "We have a dearth of enforcement on our streets, both in personnel and technology."

City of Toronto data shows the locations where older residents were killed or injured by vehicles between 2010 and 2016.

Sgt. Brett Moore, a spokesperson on traffic matters for the Toronto police, said the force is struggling to hammer home the message to both pedestrians and drivers that they need to pay attention, particularly if they're getting older and dealing with slower reaction times.

"Nobody starts their day thinking it's going to happen to them," he said. "What we're asking folks to do is ... just to be aware of risks related to our roads."

But Spieker said for older pedestrians, it's not their behaviour that needs changing, but the way Toronto's roads work.

"The design of our streets is deadly and it needs to be fixed as quickly as possible," she said.

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

City Hall reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca

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