Toronto

How the death of a teenaged cyclist could help lead to a re-imagined Avenue Road

The death of an 18-year-old cyclist on Avenue Road last month has given new urgency to a plan to revamp the busy thoroughfare, safety advocates and local politicians say.

New re-design proposal envisions fewer cars, more pedestrians

Albert Koehl, of the Avenue Road Safety Coalition, says parts of Avenue Road are more like a highway than a city street. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC)

The death of an 18-year-old cyclist on Avenue Road last month has given new urgency to  a plan to revamp the busy thoroughfare, safety advocates and local politicians say.

The plan, which doesn't have an endorsement — or funding — from city council, would see traffic lanes reduced from six to four on Avenue Road between Bloor Street and St. Clair, sidewalks widened dramatically, with trees, benches and public art added as well. 

"The narrow sidewalks in places are so narrow that they're essentially a mountain pathway," said Albert Koehl, co-ordinator of the Avenue Road Safety Coalition, a community group that sponsored the new street plan.

"The city's own studies show that about 85 per cent of people exceed the speed limit. And if you look at parts of the road, it really looks like a motorway. It's six lanes," Koehl said. 

The east side of Avenue Road north of Davenport, at the entrance to Ramsden Park, as it appears now. (Brown and Storey Architects)

Cyclist Miguel Escanan was killed in August when he was hit by a truck on Avenue Road just north of Bloor Street. 

The plan, conceived by Toronto's Brown and Storey Architects Inc., also contains an option to add bike lanes, Koehl said, but "our priority was getting wider sidewalks."

As for the possibility of complaints from motorists, Koehl said the safety plan shouldn't surprise anyone.

"The irony is that our plan that we've proposed is completely consistent with the city's plans about getting people to walk and cycle more, getting people out of cars," he said.

"It's consistent with the city's climate emergency declaration. It's consistent with the city's Vision Zero (to reduce traffic-related deaths) policy. So our plan is consistent with what the city says it wants for our streets, but isn't doing."

The Brown and Storey plan goes to a virtual public meeting on Monday evening.

The entrance to Ramsden Park, on the left, in the coalition's new plan for Avenue Road. (Brown and Storey Architects)

The city compiled a safety report on Avenue Road in 2017, including a plan to make it safer, he said, but local community groups felt the city's rehab strategy didn't go far enough.

When their suggestions fell on deaf ears, the groups formed the Avenue Road Safety Coalition, and earlier this year asked Brown and Storey Architects to put together a more comprehensive plan for a safer, more welcoming street.

Avenue Road look north from just noerth of Dupont. This stretch of the road is six lanes wide and and is rife with speeders, according to Koehl. (Mike Smee/CBC)

That plan was completed this past spring and presented to city planners. The firm's blueprint calls for a 240 per cent increase in sidewalk area, and the addition of 580 new trees, according to the report's summary.

"We didn't get any response," Koehl said.

Avenue Road looking north from Davenport, as it appears now. (Brown and Storey Architects)

But Coun. Mike Layton, who represents the area, told CBC Toronto he is in favour of the plan, and has asked city staff to give the coalition any help it needs in bringing its ideas to fruition.

"It's a beautiful plan and it's a beautiful vision for the street," Layton said.

"Now we have the difficult job of taking an idea and realizing how it might work in reality, given the traffic patterns in the neighbourhood, given the amount of space available ... How can we maximize the public realm while allowing vehicles to move through? That's a pretty delicate task, but we're ready to undertake it."

He said questions of cost have yet to be tackled.

Avenue Road looking north at Davenport under the new proposal. (Brown and Storey Architects)

"That's always something that we have to factor in, which we don't quite know yet," Layton said. 

"We know Avenue is not a safe street and we need to be paying to build safer streets in our city," he said.

"Some of it involves putting up red light cameras. Some of it involves trying to slow down speeds other ways. Some of it's going to involve moving those curbs, creating an environment that makes it safer for all road users. And we have to be prepared to pay for that."

Both Layton and Koehl said the teenage cyclist's death last month on Avenue Road has brought new attention to safety concerns on the street.

Police officers on bikes patrol Avenue Road, near the spot where a cyclist was killed last month. (Mike Smee/CBC)

"Sadly, we see that we're getting a lot more attention from politicians after the death of Miguel Escanan, and we wanted to avoid that kind of situation," Koehl said.

"We wanted to get ahead of things and say, 'Look, this street is dangerous by all of your metrics. Do something about it. And here's a plan.'"

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