Toronto

At least 58 people died on Toronto's streets this year — a 'failure' for Vision Zero, advocates say

Toronto is still failing to meet its Vision Zero goal, as at least 58 people were killed on the city's roads and 183 more seriously injured in 2021.

The city defends its long-term road safety plan, saying 'sustainable results are often not immediate'

Road safety advocates continue to call on the city to do better — four years after Toronto officially launched the road safety plan with the goal of zero traffic-related deaths and injuries. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Toronto is still failing to meet its Vision Zero goal, as at least 58 people were killed on the city's roads and 183 more seriously injured in 2021.

The deaths include a beloved couple killed by a speeding driver on Parkside Drive and a teenager struck by a driver at a crosswalk near her Scarborough high school.

And just this week, six pedestrians and a driver were raced to hospital after a crash sent an SUV flying onto a downtown sidewalk. Their injuries aren't yet included in the city's statistics.

Road safety advocates continue to call on the city to do better — four years after Toronto officially launched the road safety plan with the goal of zero traffic-related deaths and injuries. 

"Our Vision Zero program is essentially a failure," said Jessica Spieker, a Friends and Families for Safe Streets spokesperson. 

Jessica Spieker has been advocating for safer streets ever since she was struck and seriously injured at Bathurst Street and Eglinton Avenue in Toronto. (Angelina King/CBC)

She continues to endure chronic pain and a brain injury after she was struck by an SUV in 2015 while riding her bike to work. 

"When you've been on the inside of road violence and you understand how painful and devastating it is to survive a severe injury or to lose your spouse, to lose a child, the lifelong agony is overwhelming — especially in comparison to how easy it is to prevent this human carnage," Spieker said.

City points to projects completed in 2021

The city has made some progress this year by making bike lanes permanent, issuing thousands of tickets through its photo radar cameras and making small tweaks like giving pedestrians advanced walk signals.

The transportation services division told CBC News it has also reduced speed limits on local roads in Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough, installed 350 school safety zones and piloted left-turn speed bumps in eight intersections, among other initiatives.

The city defended its Vision Zero efforts in a statement, saying it is a long-term plan and "sustainable results are often not immediate."

"The success of Vision Zero depends on long-term behavioural, cultural and structural changes — both for the city and for the public as well," it said.

In response to stunt driving becoming a serious issue on emptier roads, the province toughened penalties in June. Opposition NDP MPPs are pushing the government to go further and pass Bill 54, it's proposed "Protecting Vulnerable Road Users Act."

At least 25 pedestrians killed

There was a moment of hope in 2020 that Toronto's roads were overall becoming safer, said University of Toronto urban planning Prof. Matti Siemiatycki. Fewer people were driving and walking due to the pandemic lockdowns and fatalities dipped to 40, the lowest since 2011. 

This year also began with lockdowns and lower numbers — just four people died in the first three months of the year, according to the city's data. That started changing in June. Since then, at least four road users have died every month. 

Among those fatalities are 25 pedestrians, one cyclist and 32 drivers, passengers and motorcyclists. 

University of Toronto Prof. Matti Siemiatycki says the city's made only incremental changes to improve road safety, when transformative measures are what's needed. (University of Toronto)

"What's actually happened this year has been a rebound," Siemiatycki said. "It's showed us that what is going to really be required is a much more significant transformation and one that will take both technical expertise and political will." 

The inner suburbs like Etobicoke and Scarborough in particular need to be redesigned for pedestrian and cyclist safety, with a focus on protecting those most vulnerable road users like seniors and children, he said.

Up until now, Vision Zero measures have been incremental or sometimes "one step forward, two steps back," when widespread change is actually required, said Siemiatycki. That means narrowing not just some roads, but most roads and to add more and longer traffic lights not just downtown but in the surrounding communities, too, he suggested.

Dylan Reid, a Walk Toronto spokesperson, said the rising fatalities are telling.

"It's the volume of traffic that's the key determiner, not just for pedestrians, but cyclists and drivers as well in terms of injuries," he said. "It also tells us Vision Zero is not really making a difference." 

The city needs to make school zones safer including blocking off streets to car traffic and redesigning roads to encourage kids to walk, Reid said. He also supports city-wide automated speed enforcement. Right now Toronto relies on 50 of these cameras.

With files from John Rieti

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