'Streetcar safety murals' could be coming to Toronto streets

Chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat hopes to make an innovative NXT City road mural proposal a reality in hopes of beautifying Toronto streets and increasing safety for exiting streetcar riders.

Chief city planner hopes to make this year's winning NXT City proposal a reality

This year's winning NXT City Prize idea proposes "streetcar safety murals" on the road space between sidewalk stops and streetcars to help keep exiting passengers safer. (NXT City)

"Streetcar safety murals" — colourful artwork painted on the road space between sidewalk stops and streetcars to help keep exiting passengers safer — could one day grace the streets of Toronto.

A proposal for the innovative road murals is the winner of this year's NXT City Prize, and chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat said she's already reached out to the non-profit organization to help make the idea a reality.

The concept is the brainchild of Lucas DeClavasio and Andrew Patterson, co-owners of Toronto-based agency Wysp Creative.

"I always see people on bikes, people on cars, driving right by those open doors — and it makes me nervous when I see people stepping out and a car brushing by them," DeClavasio said.

"So I thought there must be a way to combine the creative community in Toronto and make the TTC a safer place."

"Through extra visibility and public service announcements, Streetcar Safety Murals is a cost efficient, community-supporting initiative," reads the winning NXT City proposal. (NXT City)

Keesmaat, who led the jury review for NXT City this year, told CBC Toronto she was struck by the idea's simplicity, and said she's never seen anything like it before.

"It's about beautification, it's about elevating the importance of transit, but it also has a very important safety role to play," she explained.

"You can imagine having that visual distraction of the right of way is important for slowing people down."

A boost for streetcar safety

So how would it work?

"At select stops on the busiest routes, the road space between the sidewalk and the streetcar, stretching the length of the streetcar, will be covered with a mural," reads DeClavasio and Patterson's winning proposal.

"The mural will bring awareness to the safety zone where cars are not supposed to enter if the streetcar's doors are open."

Streetcar safety has been an ongoing issue in Toronto. Earlier this year, a young girl was hit by a car after stepping off a streetcar near Dundas Street East and Parliament Street.

And this summer, Toronto police ran a three-day safety blitz with the goal of making commuters more cautious — while ticketing drivers passing by open doors.

Passing a stopped streetcar comes with a $110 fine and three demerit points.

Andrew Patterson (left) and Lucas DeClavasio (right), co-owners of Toronto-based agency Wysp Creative, developed an award-winning proposal for streetcar safety murals. (Supplied by Lucas DeClavasio)

"Even when the doors open on streetcars, that stop sign is hard to see… we think a big space painted on the ground could be easier to see as cars approached," said DeClavasio.

The street car safety mural winner was announced at Friday night's NXT City Summit & Awards Ceremony, beating out other finalists including an app for augmented art in the subway system and a proposal for "bike lines," a colourful wayfinding system for cyclists.

NXT City connects Toronto's young leaders with city builders, and its annual $5000 prize gives a platform to people with fresh ideas about the city's public spaces.

Winners have the opportunity to work with a project team established to support and roll out the project, if it's feasible.

The next steps

With Keesmaat's support, the streetcar mural project should be in the works soon, though the game plan and time line aren't yet clear. "We'll start working on this right away," Keesmaat added.

There's the potential to enlist other local organizations to move this forward, noted Christine Caruso, co-founder and director of NXT City.

She said the organization would like to see it piloted in a few locations to see how feasible it is large-scale.

While it's also not clear who would deliver the concept — be it a local Business Improvement Areas, or a public art program — Keesmaat said the "overwhelmingly positive response" she's already seen bodes well.

"It's a powerful, impactful idea that can be implemented inexpensively," she said.