Lights out on Dundas-Sterling changes

Stopgaps are failing to address hazards at problem corner three years after cyclist's death


“Infamous” might be a charitable word for Dundas and Sterling.

Mention the intersection to veterans of the #bikeTO community and they’ll bring up bad infrastructure, dense industrial traffic and a white-knuckle cycling experience that feels like one big game of chicken.

Sharing tight space with multi-tonne, multi-axle vehicles makes some avoid it altogether and forces others to bike on the sidewalk. The southern terminus of the West Toronto Railpath at Sterling and Dundas adds a steady flow of pedestrian traffic, an added hazard for bikers.

Jenna Morrison’s death was supposed to change all that.

But two years and four months after the young mother’s death under the wheels of a truck and four months after city-approved infrastructure changes were put in place, black garbage bags still cover the newly installed bike-crossing lights.

“The bottom line,” says Liz Sutherland, ward captain for Cycle Toronto’s Ward 18 division, “is that the death of a cyclist has not prompted the kind of conscientious response from the city we would have hoped for.”

The bags covering the bike lights are the result of “a programming chip error,” says Braden Root-McCaig, executive assistant to area councillor Ana Bailão.

Although Root-McCaig says repairs should be completed in the next few weeks, the “faulty” lights are just one of a handful of issues that make the changes to Dundas and Sterling less than ideal.

The new lines drawn on the pavement across Dundas directing bikes to eastbound bike lanes are already so badly faded, they’re hardly noticeable.

“There has been no visible action on the longer-term improvements to cycling safety at the Railpath-Sterling access point,” says Sutherland.

Improvements at the interesection were meant to be included in a strategy to eventually extend the Railpath south to Queen West, Sutherland says. The changes laid out by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee didn’t even include a safe crossing to the College Street bikeway.

But Sutherland says. “Any significant improvements were rejected by the city.” New consultations originally scheduled for last year are now tentatively coming in April.

“The whole thing is flawed,” agrees cycling advocate Hamish Wilson, a regular attendee at Public Works Committee meetings, especially after Morrison’s death.

The road “geometry” at Dundas and Sterling is perilously tight, a long-standing problem made worse by what Wilson calls “wilful blindness” at City Hall.

Cycling advocates have long pushed for a bike lane on the west side of Sterling, and it was identified as a priority in the 2001 Bike Plan. It seemed to work well when the Urban Repair Squad swooped in and painted a metre-wide track near where Morrison was hit, but that experiment only lasted as long as it took the police took to get there. Its short-term positive impact was clear, though: motorists didn’t just give cyclists more room they respected the space.

But there is still no vehicle exclusion zone on the west side of Sterling, so cars and trucks continue to make right turns to go west on Dundas perilously close to the curb.

An existing vehicle exclusion zone on the east side of Sterling, on the other hand, seems out of place. It has the effect of pushing vehicles making right turns onto Sterling from Dundas into the path of cyclists crossing from the Railpath.

To be fair, the electrical glitch with the bike traffic lights is neither unusual nor malign. But the introduction of those lights is a stop-gap measure that fails to address fundamental problems with the intersection.

Civic indifference at City Hall is a hallmark of the Rob Ford era. Hence, improvements at Dundas and Sterling were perfunctory, meant mostly to mollify critics.

Real, systemic infrastructure issues are being ignored. And, Sutherland adds, increased heavy traffic in the area because of the Metrolinx Georgetown South Project makes this a more urgent problem by the day.

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