Toronto

Beefed-up safety zones: Part of the city's plan to protect kids as back to school looms

In a year that's seen a string of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, the city is taking a multi-pronged approach to ensure the way to school is safer, and also encourage more kids to walk or bike to school.

New signs, increased enforcement and education, but no Elmer

New road signs — including flashing lights and road markings and other infrastructure improvements — are part of the Active and Safe Routes to School pilot project. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

While parents are getting their kids ready for back to school next week, city staff are also busy with preparations in some neighbourhoods.

Work being done by city staff include painting zebra strip crossings on streets, and installing LED "watch your speed" signs in school zones.

We're bringing road safety back to the classroom, not specifically Elmer the Safety Elephant.- Roger Browne, manager of the Traffic Safety Unit

The new road signs — including flashing lights and road markings and other infrastructure improvements — are part of the Active and Safe Routes to School pilot project, one component of the City of Toronto Vision Zero Road Safety Plan.

A string of deadly pedestrian accidents this year, including a five-year-old girl killed in a school parking lot in North York, and an 11-year-old boy struck and killed near Kennedy Public School in Scarborough, have the city prioritizing school safety this back to school season.

The pilot project this fall involves five schools: Samuel Hearne Middle School, Oakridge Junior Public School, Humberwood Downs Junior Middle Academy, Morrish Public School and Holy Child Catholic School.

It's hoped that making the trip to school safer will encourage more children to walk or bike to school said Roger Browne, manager of the Traffic Safety Unit for the city.

"There's a number of reasons why parents choose to drive their kids versus walking to school, but one of the key things obviously is the route itself has to be made safe and so this is one of the key aspects of this initiative," he said.

"One of the measures to improve the route to school would be those watch your speed signs basically directed towards drivers to make drivers aware that this is a key route that there's going to be a lot of kids and parents walking and biking to school."

Roger Browne, manager of traffic control and safety systems for the City of Toronto, says city staff are busy preparing for back to school with its Active and Safe Routes to School pilot project, one component of the City of Toronto Vision Zero Road Safety Plan.

In June, the city's transportation committee approved the designation of areas around Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District School Board as Community Safety Zones.

That would increase enforcement and penalties in the zones and signage warning drivers — including  "Watch Your Speed" signs.

"Our mandate is to basically get Watch Your Speed signs installed at every school in the city," said Browne. "So it's not so much a case of whether or not your school's going to receive a sign. It's a case of when."

Browne said city staff were installing the signs at a rate of 20 schools per year, but that's been increased to 80 schools per year.  

Along with new signage, road markings, and fines being doubled in the neighbourhoods around schools, the new safety zones will allow the city to start installing cameras for automated speed enforcement or photo radar as allowed by the Safer School Zones Act, passed by the previous provincial government.

But along with engineering and enforcement, the city would like to re-introduce an educational component.

"The other side to this is that we are working very closely with Green Communities Canada, the school boards, and Toronto Public Health to develop the teachers tool kit," said Browne. "So in the month of October we're basically going to be reintroducing road safety within the school programs."

But don't expect to see the return of Elmer the Safety Elephant — the caring pachyderm who once spread such sage wisdom to children in Ontario as "Look both ways before you cross."

"A lot of people commented to me that yeah 'Whatever happened Elmer the Safety Elephant?' So, in a manner of speaking, yes we're bringing road safety back to the classroom, not specifically Elmer the Safety Elephant, but certainly in a 2018 kind of way, in a manner that really kind of relates to kids today," said Browne.

TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said the city's initiative helps to enhance the TDSB's own traffic safety efforts and we fully support the steps being taken by the city to promote active transportation around its schools. (John Lesavage/CBC)

The Toronto District School Board approves of bringing a road safety curriculum back, and it fully supports the steps being taken by the city.

"We hope to see this work expanded to more schools in the months and years ahead," said TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird in an email to CBC Toronto.

"In the meantime, we continue to work closely with the city, Toronto Police, Toronto Public Health and other partners to not only increase the visible safety measures around schools, but also better incorporate traffic safety into the classroom."

About the Author

Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.

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