The health of people is determined by the health of the city they live in. We are calling on the 2022-2026 council to make our city streets safer for people of all ages and abilities by taking the 10 priority actions listed below:
In 2017, the City of Toronto adopted Complete Streets Guidelines, a set of policies for designing streets that consider the needs of the people who use them, whether they’re driving, walking, cycling, taking transit, or using mobility devices.
Complete Streets projects in Toronto include Bloor Street West, Danforth Avenue, Midtown Yonge Street, and Shuter Street. They have taken years of community advocacy, stakeholder consultations and many committee and council approvals to prove their merit on a case by case basis. The data are clear: Complete Streets incentivize local shopping and dining, create a healthy and vibrant public realm, and provide safe and active alternatives to driving as well as transit relief.
Despite the evidence supporting Complete Streets, many streets are still being resurfaced and reconstructed based on the old standard that prioritizes the movement of motor vehicles, leaving residents without even the opportunity to voice their wishes during public consultations to choose a Complete Street design.
We are calling on the City to establish its own Vision Zero safety checklist of street design standards which must be followed when a road is reconstructed or repaired, and during active road construction projects. All road projects should also use accessibility as a baseline design requirement to ensure they will work for people with disabilities. In all construction zones that occupy road or sidewalk space, a safety checklist should include creating temporary bike lanes, sidewalks and safe detour routes, rather than obstructing safe infrastructure for people walking or riding bikes without providing safe alternatives.
Photo from John Matychuk on Unsplash
Traffic calming is the deliberate slowing of motorized traffic by making physical changes to the street design such as adding speed humps or narrowing lanes. Traffic calming has been proven to reduce collisions in both number and severity, yet implementation in Toronto occurs on a project-by-project basis which is time-consuming and confusing. In May 2018, City Council delegated authority of Community Councils to waive onerous petition and polling requirements, yet barriers to implementation remain. Restrictive technical warrants and a model that is based on a reactive, complaints-driven process continue to impede the implementation of traffic calming initiatives across the city. Toronto needs to continue to reform and streamline its traffic calming process to be implemented equitably across all wards.
Speed kills. A pedestrian struck by a driver travelling 50 km/h is five times more likely to die than if they are hit at 30 km/h. Implementing a lower city-wide default speed limit is a critical component in preventing traffic fatalities. In 2015, Toronto and East York Community Councils approved the reduction of all local roadways with speed limits of 50 km/h and 40 km/h to 30 km/h.
As part of the City’s Vision Zero 2.0 Road Safety plan, speed limits on all local residential roads in the rest of the city (North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke) should be reduced to 30 km/h by 2025. In 2019, the City instituted the first phase of its Speed Management Strategy for arterial roads where the majority of serious injuries and fatalities occur, by reducing the speed limit on approximately 250 km of major arterial roadways to 50 km/h, which remains a dangerous speed that leads to fatalities in 85% of collisions. In 2020, the second phase saw the speed limit on 250 km of minor arterial and collector roadways reduced from 50 km/h to 40 km/h. While design changes are needed to increase compliance, a citywide speed reduction would be a meaningful step toward implementing Vision Zero principles consistently across the city.
Photo courtesy of Jason Ng on Unsplash
People walking and using mobility devices are among the most vulnerable road users. Collisions and deaths involving pedestrians are disproportionately happening in Toronto’s inner suburbs where wide arterial roads with fast moving traffic dominate the streetscape. We are calling on the City to fulfill the promise made in 2017 to redesign our streets to eliminate the threat of being killed or seriously injured in a collision.
Interventions that provide the most impact in improving safety and accessibility include:
- Ensuring every road in Toronto has a sidewalk with a minimum of 2.1 metre pedestrian clearway and installing raised crosswalks and curb extensions for visibility and safety at all major intersections
- Providing safe loading areas for WheelTrans and vehicles with accessibility permits
- Limiting the distance to 500m for people to walk between signalized crossings, including TTC stops, all of which must have a signalized crossing
We’ve seen a significant increase in people taking up cycling in Toronto as a healthy, affordable and convenient mode of transportation, particularly in parts of the city where there are safe and connected bike lanes. The city has nearly 5400 km of roadways but as of 2021, just 4% (~200km) have on-street bike lanes. Vast areas of Scarborough, Etobicoke, and North York have virtually no safe cycling infrastructure.
We are calling on the City to accelerate the implementation of the Cycling Network Plan, with the goal of allocating 20% of all road km with a network of high-quality, protected bike lanes across all wards of the city by 2030. This could be achieved by:
- Streamlining City Council processes for approved projects in the Cycling Network Plan
- Ensuring all road reconstructions require a Complete Street by default design
- Setting publicly transparent completion targets for the Cycling Network Plan including a regularly updated progress dashboard on the City’s website
- Increasing staffing, funding and operations to meet accelerated targets
Municipal planning policies and priorities with regard to school location, land use, and infrastructure can influence children’s choice of travel mode to school. Planning the location of schools near urban density is important to reducing the distance children need to travel to get to school. Policies and priorities supporting the Active School Travel Act improve the health of school-aged children by encouraging them to be more physically active on a daily basis. Key policies and priorities should change the design of streets to provide increased protections for children. Examples include:
- Prioritizing safe crossings, traffic calming, and restricting car access in front of schools except for those with accessibility needs
- Funding cycling and pedestrian education in all schools across Toronto for students in grades 5 and 9, including a skills checklist to share with parents
- Expanding the community safety zone review radius to 3 km (from 1km) around all school zones
- Supporting long term funding for the City’s Active & Safe Routes to School Program as part of the Vision Zero Road Safety Plan
The most effective solution to improving road safety is to build streets that are safe by design, not by relying on police enforcement. The Toronto Police Service has acknowledged they have engaged in racist practices and violence toward Black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities. The safety of some road users should not come at the expense of the safety of others.
Cities across North America such as Berkeley, New York City, Minneapolis and Chicago, have been increasingly moving toward replacing on-the-ground police enforcement with community led alternatives and automated speed enforcement (ASE). While evidence in the US has shown that ASE has been effective in traffic speed enforcement and reaching more people with fewer resources than traditional on-the-ground police, it can have disproportionate impacts on racialized communities if not properly planned and executed. Improving the safety of all users equitably includes reducing the harm inflicted on racialized people who receive the disproportionate majority of traffic stops.
We would like to see the City further its commitment to improving road safety equitably by:
- Having a fully operational civilian Traffic Agent Program that manages traffic in place of Paid Duty Police Officers for all public events and road closures
- Championing transparent public reporting tools for traffic safety concerns (e.g. parking in bike lanes, unsafe construction zones, snow clearance concerns), and using data collected to inform policy solutions
- Developing a strategy and plan for the use of ASE cameras that is used in conjunction with Vision Zero and Complete Streets goals, with equity goals such as setting a sliding fee structure for fines, not concentrating ASE cameras in low income communities, and regular public reporting on ASE data
Pedestrian Mall in Downtown Calgary
The City of Toronto has encouraged people to walk and bike for more trips through successful programs like Open Streets TO, ActiveTO major road closures, Yonge Tomorrow pedestrian priority areas, and weekend car-free pilots in High Park. Studies from ActiveTO demonstrated that these programs did better at encouraging women, people from equity deserving communities, as well as people of all ages and abilities to participate. However, in the last term of council these programs became increasingly intermittent and the most popular program (ActiveTO on Lake Shore West) was cancelled. These need to be scheduled on a regular basis, as has been done in other cities such as Ottawa’s Gatineau Parkway which is reserved for active use every Saturday and Sunday morning.
During the pandemic, travel patterns changed significantly with many residents working and going to school remotely. With a return to fully in-person and hybrid workplaces and schools, there is an enormous opportunity to shift travel patterns to take more trips by bicycle, electric and e-assist bikes, by walking, and by taking transit. Safe and convenient infrastructure is needed to fully capitalize on the opportunity to shift people’s mode of transportation and meet the City’s TransformTO target to have 75% of all trips under 5 km taken by transit and active transportation by 2030. We are calling on candidates to support initiatives that promote alternatives to driving in order to fight congestion, support healthy and active lifestyles, and reduce car dependency in our city.