Toronto

Majority believes Toronto's not doing enough to make streets safer, survey suggests

More than 400 people were killed while walking or cycling on Toronto's roads over the last decade — and a new survey suggests a majority of residents don't believe city officials are doing enough to make streets safer.

70% say city not doing enough, 80% support building more bike lanes

Various road safety advocates are ringing alarms about the need for more action from council, including Sean Marshall from Walk Toronto, left, Keagan Gartz, executive director of Cycle Toronto, Gideon Forman from the David Suzuki Foundation and Jessica Spieker, a spokesperson for advocacy group Friends & Families for Safe Streets. (Paul Borkwood/CBC Toronto)

More than 400 people were killed while walking or cycling on Toronto's roads over the last decade — and a new survey suggests a majority of residents don't believe city officials are doing enough to make streets safer.

The finding comes from a poll of roughly 800 randomly selected Toronto adults, commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation and provided to CBC Toronto.

Close to 70 per cent of respondents believe the city "is not doing enough," while nearly 90 per cent say they're concerned about road safety, the results show.

The survey also found roughly 80 per cent of people back the city building protected bike lanes — including 75 per cent of those who say a car, not a bike, is their main mode of daily transportation.

"People have really started to realize that having mobility options, and having predictable safe space, actually works for everybody," said Keagan Gartz, executive director with cycling advocacy organization Cycle Toronto. "And they want to see more of it."

For Danforth Avenue specifically, which will see a council-backed bike-lane pilot project this year, the survey showed 67 per cent of people support adding a cycling route.

"We need to connect the bike lanes," stressed Gideon Forman, climate change and transportation policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation. "Just like you have a network for cars."

The survey was conducted by EKOS, using random recruitment over nine days in January, and has a margin of error associated with the total sample of +/- 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Jessica Spieker, a spokesperson for advocacy group Friends & Families for Safe Streets, wasn't surprised by the survey's findings suggesting there's a high level of public concern — which, for her, hits particularly close to home.

One morning in 2015, while she was biking through an intersection, the personal trainer was T-boned by a driver turning left. The crash left her with brain and spinal injuries, ongoing aches and pains, and mental health impacts.

More needs to be done to build protective infrastructure city-wide to prevent anyone else being injured or killed, she said.

"It's amazing how many Torontonians are in favour of the measures we haven't done yet, that would actually move us closer to zero deaths on our streets," Spieker added.

Vision Zero remains small chunk of long-term budget

Since launching its Vision Zero road safety initiative in 2016, the city has invested tens of millions in measures such as road redesigns, signal changes, close to 300 red light cameras and more than 200 safety zones.

Toronto's 2020 operating budget, which is still being debated before council gives a final stamp of approval in February, also includes investments in an education campaign, a Toronto police enforcement pilot project, a school crossing guard program, and automated speed enforcement — otherwise known as photo radar.

"We've funded it, we've implemented, we've rolled out, but we've got to give it more money and implement faster," said Coun. James Pasternak, chair of council's infrastructure committee, which oversees Vision Zero.

More than 400 people were killed while walking or cycling on Toronto's roads over the last decade, according to Toronto police data. (David Donnelly/CBC)

But he acknowledged there's currently a "backlog" of requests for crosswalks and safety zones.

"Not enough resources are going into the back end ... I think we have to give more money to the prep and deployment in the back rooms to make sure this stuff comes out faster," Pasternak continued.

Sean Marshall, a spokesperson for pedestrian advocacy group Walk Toronto, said there hasn't been enough movement on road safety initiatives, with more than 40 pedestrians killed in 2019 and during the year before.

"We've already had two pedestrian deaths this week — one in Brampton, one in Toronto — and those were both hit-and-run collisions," he said. "And it's going to happen again, and it's going to happen all over the city."

As for the city's 10-year capital budget, city officials say there is a nearly $58-million funding boost to implement Vision Zero over the next five years.

But, in the context of the entire capital plan, the initiative remains a minor budget line compared to other priorities. 

'We've got to give it more money and implement faster,' says James Pasternak, chair of council's infrastructure committee, which oversees Vision Zero. (Paul Borkwood/CBC News)

If approved by council, the capital budget for transportation services would allot $157 million for Vision Zero implementation over the next decade, along with $127 million for Toronto's cycling network — which totals just six per cent of the entire $5-billion pie.

Rehabilitating the Gardiner Expressway, in contrast, is expected to cost $2.2 billion, which makes up 44 per cent of the decade-long plan.

"For a tiny fraction of that, we could build out bike lane networks across the city," Forman said.

He noted the survey results suggest just over 40 per cent of people city-wide say a car is their main mode of daily transportation, compared to 56 per cent who use other means, be it taking transit, cycling, or walking.

"So we should be putting more money into those things and relatively less into things like the Gardiner Expressway," Forman added.

Yonge Street redesign projects in the works

The survey also found high levels of support for two transformative Yonge Street initiatives which will be hot topics this year at city hall: the polarizing Transform Yonge project in North York and the Yonge Tomorrow project downtown.

In 2018, council shelved the staff-recommended Transform Yonge plan despite backing from high-profile city builders and advocacy groups. It aimed to narrow the street from six lanes to four between Sheppard and Finch Avenues, while also adding wider sidewalks and bike lanes.

Mayor John Tory was among those backing a pricier plan that would maintain the existing lanes of traffic but still widen sidewalks, while moving bike lanes to nearby Beecroft Road.

The new survey suggests more than 80 per cent of people support the Transform Yonge plan, though additional options for other plans, or just keeping the status quo, weren't part of the question.

The debate is expected to come back to council by this spring, while the sweeping plan for a stretch of Yonge farther south will be up for debate this summer.

'To beautify a street, to transform it to prioritize pedestrian activity ... it's all things people in the neighbourhoods are talking about,' says Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam. (Paul Borkwood/CBC News)

That Yonge Tomorrow proposal involves studying how to modernize the stretch from King Street East in the south, to just past Davenport Road in the north, by potentially widening sidewalks for pedestrians, boosting access for cyclists and transit users, and adding patios, planters and gathering spaces.

According to the survey results, 72 per cent of respondents are in favour of the changes.

"To beautify a street, to transform it to prioritize pedestrian activity ... it's all things people in the neighbourhoods are talking about," said the area's councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam.

The high level of support for safer streets city-wide shows the need for more city investment into staffing levels to actually implement Vision Zero, she added.

"It shouldn't take five or six years to get a speed bump. It shouldn't take five years to get a stop sign," Wong-Tam said.

"If you don't have the staff to do the work, if you don't have the staff to spend the money to get the outcomes you're looking for, then all the strategies and plans ultimately fall short."

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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