Road safety advocates slam city's 'ludicrous' $80K investment in Queen Street towing blitz
Pilot project running 6 to 8 weeks, mayor says city needs to 'keep people moving'
With a more than six-week towing blitz launching on Queen Street on Monday, road safety advocates are questioning the investment by the city and Toronto police in parking enforcement while road deaths are still a "huge crisis."
Announced on Friday, the pilot project will run for six to eight weeks during rush hour on Queen Street between Fallingbrook Road to the east and Roncesvalles Avenue to the west, with tow trucks relocating illegally parked vehicles to certain side streets instead of far-off lots.
While tickets are still being handed out to anyone caught breaking the law, the towing fees normally paid by those drivers will be waived. Instead, the city is footing the bills through the project's $80,000 budget.
Given Toronto's growing population, there's increased pressure on the city to "keep people moving in different ways, and to keep them safe," Mayor John Tory said at the announcement on Friday. "We have to find new solutions all the time."
But road safety advocate Gil Penalosa, founder of non-profit organization 8 80 Cities, said this project is about traffic flow, not a safety solution.
"Why even bother with parked cars that will not kill anyone, when drivers [in] moving cars are killing and injuring people all over the city?" Penalosa questioned.
So far this year, 28 pedestrians have been killed on Toronto's roads, continuing the city's trend of a double-digit annual death toll.
The city's Vision Zero program, a multi-million dollar, ongoing plan to end all road deaths, has included various strategies to protect vulnerable road users — including lowering speeds on certain streets throughout the city, boosting safety zones with enhanced pavement markings and signage, and reviewing areas for road design improvements.
More enforcement is also crucial, argued Jess Spieker, a spokesperson for advocacy group Friends and Families for Safer Streets.
She questioned the benefit of the city's new towing pilot, saying while it makes things easier for drivers to get around, it doesn't affect anyone outside a car.
Spieker also said spending city dollars while waiving the towing fee for drivers is a "ludicrous" approach.
"People have chosen to park illegally, and you're just moving them and waiving the towing fee?" she questioned. "You're simultaneously saving them the trip to the impound lot, and the impound lot fee. It's not really going to have the deterrent effect the mayor might be going for."
Advocates call for more road safety enforcement
The time and cash investment in the pilot would be better spent on police enforcement around speeding, drivers blocking crosswalks, or other road safety concerns, Spieker said.
"We're not seeing much in the way of enforcement of traffic safety in school zones, seniors safety zones, and areas where pedestrians and cyclists are being hit, injured, and even killed," echoed Sean Marshall, co-founder of pedestrian advocacy group Walk Toronto.
He questioned why the pilot isn't taking a place in an area with a cycling route like College or Harbord Street — where cars pose a safety risk to cyclists by blocking bike lanes.
When it comes to illegal parking, city numbers do show Queen Street poses a particular challenge for police.
In 2018, close to 11,000 parking or stopping violations were issued and around 2,400 vehicles were towed during the rush hour period.
While speaking to the media on Friday, Tory said the towing pilot could be made permanent if it successfully speeds up the flow of cars and transit vehicles.
"And we're going to, of course, combine that with automated speed enforcement, red light cameras — all of which we're significantly expanding," he added.