Toronto

Sister successful in effort to get traffic light installed at Etobicoke intersection where brother died

The city is building a new traffic light in Etobicoke at the site where a man was killed three years ago. The moves comes after a sustained lobbying campaign by the victim's sister.

'It’s my way of making something good come out of a really horrible situation,' says victim's sister

Laura Hayes stands on Islington Avenue where her brother was struck and killed by a car in 2015. The city is now building a pedestrian-controlled traffic light at the site. (Ryan Patrick Jones/CBC)

The city is building a new traffic light in Etobicoke after the sister of a man who was killed there mounted an advocacy campaign to preserve her brother's legacy.

"I've been waiting for this day since he died," said Laura Hayes, the sister of Jamie Hayes, who was killed in October 2015 after being struck by a car driving south on Islington Avenue near Holgate Street. He was on his way to a friend's house at the time.

It was Laura Hayes' lobbying efforts that convinced city council to approve the traffic light over the objections of the city's traffic department.

Jamie Hayes, 20, was crossing the road in Etobicoke's Richview area when he was fatally struck in October 2015. (Submitted by Laura Hayes )

Devastated by the loss and convinced she could prevent something similar from happening in the future, Hayes mounted a sustained campaign to have a crosswalk built at the site of her brother's death.

"It's my way of grieving for him," she said. "It's my way of making something good come out of a really horrible situation."

Construction of the new pedestrian-controlled traffic light on Islington Avenue near Deerfoot Road started on April 9 and is expected to finish in early June. The estimated cost to the city is $150,000.

"As soon as it's installed I'm going to go up there and be the very first person to push that button and stop all of that traffic," said Hayes.

The installation comes as pedestrian fatalities are on the rise in Toronto despite the launch of  Vision Zero, a five-year, $87-million project focused on reducing traffic-related fatalities and injuries on Toronto streets. Jamie Hayes was one of 39 pedestrians killed in Toronto in 2015. The next year, 43 pedestrians were killed, the highest number since 2005.

City recommended against new light

Jamie Hayes was on his way to a friend's house when he decided to cross Islington Avenue, a busy thoroughfare in the city's Richview area. The closest traffic signals to where he was hit are 225 metres to the south at Summitcrest Drive or 280 metres north at The Westway.

Laura Hayes believes a nearby TTC bus stop between the two traffic lights tempts passengers to cross mid-block. She said she has seen schoolchildren cross the busy stretch of Islington Avenue on multiple occasions.

Laura Hayes (centre) with her brother Jamie (right) and sister Heather. (Submitted by Laura Hayes)

A May 2016 report from the director of transportation services for Etobicoke, Nazzareno Capano, recommended against installing a traffic light at the location because it did not meet the minimum requirement of 250 illegal crossings per day.

"At the time when we measured the warrants there wasn't enough pedestrian volume that would have triggered the installation of a traffic signal," said Capano.

Undeterred, Hayes went door to door and collected 250 signatures on a petition calling for the installation of a pedestrian crosswalk. She eventually won the support of Coun. John Campbell (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre), who brought forward a motion for a new light, rather than a crosswalk, to the local council on Laura Hayes' behalf.

Hayes made an emotional appeal to councillors at a meeting of the Etobicoke York Community Council in September 2016.

During her appearance, Hayes showed councillors a picture of her brother while she told his story and cited statistics about the risks to pedestrians in Toronto.

A memorial for Jamie Hayes at the site where he was struck by a car on Islinton Avenue. (Submitted by Laura Hayes)

The local council voted 9-2 in favour of installing a traffic signal. Then the matter went to Toronto council, which also passed the motion, said Campbell.

In April 2017, Campbell put forth a motion to change the location of the new light from Islington Avenue and Deerfoot Road to 25 metres south of Deerfoot Road to make accommodations for the nearby TTC stop.

Legacy light

Campbell credits Laura Hayes' hard work for the success of the campaign.

"It was really Laura who has been pushing for it and advocating for it," said Campbell. "If she had not been advocating for it, nothing would have happened."

Campbell admitted he doesn't normally push for new traffic lights based on the request of an individual.

Years down the road people are going to forget why it's there but I will forever know why it's there.- Laura Hayes, sister of Jamie Hayes

"I'm not one that is generally in favour of installing stop signs or traffic lights or speed humps or traffic calming where it's not warranted," said Campbell. "But I think we might want to rethink where we place lights so that people can make safe pedestrian crossings."

As for Hayes, she sees this traffic light as a permanent reminder that her brother's death was not in vain.

"Years down the road people are going to forget why it's there," she said. "But I will forever know why it's there."