5 cities Toronto could copy to improve road safety

Mayor John Tory's aim is to bring pedestrian fatalities to a halt, but Toronto has some catching up to do with many cities embracing a Swedish program to eliminate road deaths.

15 U.S. cities use Vision Zero, a Swedish initiative to reduce street fatalities

Mayor John Tory wants to bring pedestrian fatalities to a halt, with zero by 2021. (Nicholas Boisvert/CBC)

Sixteen pedestrians have been killed on Toronto streets in 2016.

That's 16 more people than John Tory would like. His aim is to bring those pedestrian fatalities to a halt, with zero by 2021.

But Toronto has some ground to make up when it comes to pedestrian safety measures.  Cities across Europe, North America and the Caribbean are already working toward complete pedestrian safety with Vision Zero, a Swedish program to eliminate road deaths.

"Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society," is the guiding principle of Vision Zero plans, meaning there can be no cost too great for safe streets.

Here's a look at how five other cities implemented the traffic safety plans.

1. Edmonton

Canada has not embraced the Vision Zero initiative like the United States. At least 15 cities in the US have adopted Vision Zero, including New York and San Francisco.

Edmonton remains the first and only major Canadian city to adopt Vision Zero this year. One of the hallmarks of its plan is to add signals on left and right turns and reduce neighbourhood speed limits from 50 and 45 km/h to 30 km/h or less on some streets. Edmonton's Office of Traffic Safety said pedestrians have a 90 per cent chance of surviving a collision if the vehicle is going 30 km/h or less, but only a 10 per cent chance of surviving if the vehicle is traveling over 50 km/h.

2. Vancouver

Vancouver adopted the Transportation 2040 Plan to increase walking and cycling by making sidewalks and bicycle lanes safer. The most visible of its measures is the engineering of what's known as pedestrian bulges, extensions of curbs into the road at intersections.  

In addition, Vancouver has incorporated better signals, lighting and wider sidewalks in its 2040 urban transportation plan.

3. San Jose

In 2014, there were 42 deaths on the streets of this northern California city. Officials investigated each crash through a variety of metrics, but ultimately focussed on three.

Location: Four major streets were identified as having the highest frequency of fatalities and severe injuries in recent years. All measures to make streets safer were focussed on these corridors.

Age: The median age of pedestrians killed was 55, and 10 fatalities involved persons between the ages of 65 and 92. The city installed enhanced crosswalks, with increased green light times for pedestrians to make sure older citizens had the time to cross the street.

Lighting: The majority of street fatalities happened in the dark. The city upgraded its street lights from "yellow" sodium vapour lights to brighter and more energy efficient "white" Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lights. About 37 per cent of San Jose's streets — 19,000 in total — were retrofitted with brighter lighting.

4. Los Angeles

In southern California, most traffic crashes occur on highways, including Los Angeles vast system of freeways. But that affects the safety of pedestrians and cyclists as well, according to the city's Department of Transportation. The city has adopted a plan to coordinate with the state highway system to make sure traffic flows off freeways safely into neighbourhoods.

And when cars do come off the freeway into a residential neighbourhood, they likely encounter so-called continental crosswalks with two-foot-wide stripes painted perpendicular to the direction of traffic. The city said these markings demonstrably improve the visibility of crosswalks and are more effective in prompting drivers to consistently yield the right-of-way to pedestrians.

L.A. is also creating safer, lower-traffic routes for school busses and increasing data collection on when and where crashes happen.

5. Stockholm

New York's Vision Zero program, which began in 2014, is a 10-year, $1.2-billion plan to reform traffic laws, policing and streetscapes to improve safety.

San Francisco's Vision Zero initiative has a focus on transparency — easily accessed data on traffic safety and tracking city vehicles — and policy measures to bring its pedestrian fatalities to zero by 2024.

The model for all these cities, however, is Stockholm, capital of Sweden. While that country's population grows and the number of cars on its streets balloons, its road fatalities are decreasing. It has been cut in half since the adoption of Vision Zero in 1997.

The plan puts an emphasis on humans. It states that safety is paramount and death is preventable. But it also allows for mistakes, and aims to make sure human error does not end in death.

Sweden has managed this feat by rearranging its streets and increasing policing around offences like drunk driving. For instance, roads in Sweden have low city speed limits, speed bumps, physical barriers that separate cars from bikes and oncoming traffic, pedestrian bridges and well-marked crossings accompanied by flashing lights.

Toronto is currently looking at a Vision Zero-like plan in response to its traffic safety, but that doesn't mean the Swedish model will not make an appearance in southern Ontario. At the end of May, the Mississauga Cycling Advisory Committee presented a report urging that city to adopt Vision Zero in full.