Year In Review 2018: Toronto’s Vision Zero road safety plan hits a roadblock

Mayor John Tory has failed to acknowledge that the solution to our road safety crisis is a radically different approach to city-building, and not yet another education campaign that puts the onus on vulnerable road users

Forty-four people walking or cycling died on our streets in 2018 – and every single one of these senseless deaths could have been prevented. 

More than two years into its Vision Zero Road Safety Plan, Toronto is heading in the wrong direction.

Other cities are making real progress toward achieving zero road deaths by designing streets with the most vulnerable in mind. That includes lowering speed limits (to 40 km/h on arterials and collectors, and to 30km/h on residential streets), widening sidewalks, reducing street crossing distances, broadly implementing speed safety cameras and building protected bike lanes on main streets. 

We’ve heard Mayor John Tory decry the deadly state of our streets and agree that we’re in a state of emergency, but fewer than 10 kilometres of painted bike lanes were added in 2018.

Why isn’t Vision Zero working?

Toronto’s Vision Zero plan takes a “data driven” approach to road safety to identify hot spots and take action. But what happens when all of our major streets are dangerous? Without city-wide measures, Toronto’s street by street approach looks random and piecemeal. It’s like driving a car while only looking in the rear-view mirror. 

Hitting the reset button

Other cities are actually designing our streets so that a momentary lapse in attention doesn’t lead to tragedy. Vision Zero is a revolutionary road safety paradigm. It recognizes that humans are fallible and will make mistakes. But it takes the risk out of the roadway. It sets out to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on our streets by redesigning them for people, moving at human speeds. Who can argue with that? 

The Mayor hasn’t acknowledged that the solution is a radically different approach to city-building, and not yet another education campaign that puts the onus on individuals. Yes, behavioural change is an important piece of the puzzle, but alone it won’t reverse the deadly trend we’re seeing.

The key to success

When it comes to our work as cycling advocates, it’s hard to stay positive. 

In 2018, about three kilometres of painted bike lanes were added to the cycling network (the longest segment just over one kilometre). This follows seven kilometres in 2016 and 10 kilometres in 2017 (not counting upgrades). The revised Bike Plan calls for 525 kilometres of bike lanes over the next 10 years. At the pace we’re going, we won’t get there until about 2050.

We celebrated improvements outside the downtown core in Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park, but without any infrastructure on busy Overlea Blvd., these neighbourhoods remain cut off from the rest of the city. Similarly, there were upgrades on the York University campus, but again nothing on the major arterials that students have to navigate to get to campus. 

Making the case for protected bike lanes that will allow people to ride safely and confidently on our main streets continues to hinge on motorists’ needs for parking and whether vehicle travel times will be affected.

A growing chorus for change.  

Torontonians know we need bold change to solve our road safety crisis. And that showed at the ballot box. We’ve never elected so many councilors who want to build protected bike lanes on main streets in their wards, from Councillor John Filion’s continued effort to push for a new vision for Yonge, to Councillor Ana Bailão’s support for extending the Bloor bike lanes west and Councillor Paula Fletcher’s commitment to bike lanes on the Danforth.

Yet we also have councillors like Gary Crawford who don’t want bike lanes, despite an alarmingly high percentage of traffic collisions in their ward. Our road safety crisis won’t solve itself. This kind of status quo thinking is getting us nowhere fast.

Jared Kolb is executive director and Sarah Bradley is communications manager at Cycle Toronto.


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