New council needs to shift gears on 'piecemeal' Vision Zero plan, road safety advocates say

While a city councillor is touting 'aggressive' action on the file, advocates say bolder changes are needed to reduce deaths on Toronto's streets.

City cites 'aggressive' action, but advocates say bolder changes needed to reduce deaths

The latest numbers from Toronto police show there have been 63 deadly collisions so far this year — one more than 2017 — with 38 pedestrians killed. (John Rieti/CBC)

Calls to boost funding and speed up the city's Vision Zero efforts are on the agenda for Thursday's continued council meeting, but advocates say it's just the latest example of a "piecemeal" approach to road safety that's not reducing the number of dead.

The latest numbers from Toronto police show there have been 63 deadly collisions so far this year — one more than 2017 — with 38 pedestrians killed.

"We need to pause and take a look at the plan itself ... Why is it these numbers are not coming down?" said road safety advocate and CycleTO executive director Jared Kolb.

A new member motion from Coun. Jaye Robinson, who helped spearhead the Vision Zero initiative since its inception in 2016, aims to build on the work already in motion.

She's calling for more funding to speed up the efforts to eliminate road deaths, including the accelerated implementation of all remaining school safety zones by the end of 2019.

The package of six recommendations also calls for improvements to the city's school crossing guard program, new partnerships with Toronto research centres for data collection, and exploring the creation of a year-round process to expedite installing traffic calming measures.

Robinson also wants the city to meet with the team behind Waze — a popular navigation app that's well-known for directing drivers into winding routes to avoid traffic and road closures — to figure how to reduce the dangers of diverting traffic onto local roads.

So far, council has implemented the Vision Zero plan "aggressively," she writes in the motion, citing multiple funding increases and accelerations of various initiatives, including hundreds of safety zones.

"Given the numbers we're seeing, I felt it was important to make sure it was on the first official agenda of our new term," Robinson said this week, adding the city needs to keep being "proactive."

'Let's see the progress'

Kolb sees it instead as "random and piece-meal."

"I'm worried we don't have nearly enough city-wide measures here that are communicating clearly to drivers that their behaviour needs to change," he said.

Graham Larkin, executive director of national advocacy group Vision Zero Canada, said a bolder approach is needed than the "scatter-shot" recommendations heading to council, be it "these 1950s ideas like adding more crossing guards, or these futuristic ideas like talking to Waze."

He also questioned the push for more data collection, given the breadth of data on deaths and injuries that already exists.

Robinson, however, said getting the latest numbers is a key part of the plan. City staff are working closely with Toronto police to identify hot-spots, and to review and analyze the numbers to see not just deaths, but near-misses as well.

She also noted Toronto is years behind cities like New York in its implementation of Vision Zero. The U.S. city created its program in 2014, two years ahead of Toronto, and has since hit an all-time low when it comes to traffic fatalities.

Gil Penalosa, founder of Toronto-based non-profit 8 80 Cities, said Toronto needs to follow the lead of other municipalities and take a more comprehensive approach than the safety zones and road-by-road speed and design changes currently being implemented.

Seattle's city council, he noted, passed a law last year to drop speed limits by five miles per hour across the city on both residential streets, which went from 25 to 20 miles per hour, and major arterials, which went from 30 to 25 miles per hour.

In Toronto, 8 80 Cities, CycleTO and other organizations pushed for a similar change in their headline-making #BuildTheVisionTO report earlier this year.

The coalition called on council to implement a city-wide default speed limit of 30 km/h on all residential streets and 40 km/h on all arterial and collector roads. 

Among their other recommendations? A streamlined traffic calming process, sidewalks on every street, safe and connected bike lanes in every ward, and a ban on right turns at red lights.

Larkin said if councillors want to make concrete change this term, they should implement those "credible" recommendations across the city, with a particular focus on areas like Scarborough where the death rate is particularly high.

"Stop making excuses," Larkin said.

"You've been doing this since 2016 ... Let's see the progress, let's see the numbers."


Lauren Pelley

Senior Writer

Lauren Pelley is a Senior Writer for CBC News who covers health and medicine, including the COVID-19 pandemic. She's based in Toronto. Contact her at:


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