Toronto council voted Tuesday to reduce speeds on dozens of stretches of road around the city as the latest step in its road safety plan, after a debate that coincided emotionally with the city’s most recent pedestrian death.
The city’s Vision Zero plan – which aims to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on the roads – was introduced in 2016. Activists have long criticized it for being timid, and councillors have repeatedly expanded the program’s scope and funding.
At a marathon council meeting that will continue Wednesday, municipal politicians supported “Vision Zero 2.0,” which alters speed limits, designates community safety zones and paves the way for a pilot project expanding safe routes to school, amid other measures.
“We know that speed kills,” said Scarborough Councillor Michael Thompson, whose part of the city is particularly plagued with traffic fatalities. “People are getting killed. People are dying on our roadways."
Another of those deaths happened even as the debate was going on. According to police, a woman on foot was killed when hit by a city garbage truck in the area of Don Mills and Steeles. Investigators believe the woman was walking across an intersection when she was hit by a left-turning driver.
The victim was not immediately identified and police released photos of some of her possessions in an effort to figure out who she is.
Moments after the news broke, Councillor Shelley Carroll made emotional reference to the death in the chamber.
“A woman was struck at the corner of Don Mills and Cliffwood and has already passed away,” she said, citing initial police reporting on the location that was later amended, and starting to cry.
“This is a road that has been controversial in terms of talking about reducing the speed here for a long time … for as long as I’ve been in office.”
Speed limit reductions can be controversial with drivers. They are also not always favoured by transportation staff, who say that road conditions can continue to keep speeds high even if the legal limits are dropped. In some cases, staff said during Tuesday’s debate, they had decided against reducing the speed on a particular stretch of road out of concern that it would not be respected.
But staff also say that the chance of a pedestrian or cyclist being killed goes up dramatically when hit at higher vehicle speeds. They called for limits to be lowered on numerous roads, suggestions that were backed by council.
“I think we’re on the right path,” Mayor John Tory told his fellow politicians, saying that he has people on both sides of the issue unhappy with him.
“On the one hand I have people telling me that they want streets exempted or that I have declared the latest war on the car," while others have criticized him for not taking enough action, Mr. Tory said. "I think that we’re probably at just about the right place, in terms of trying to continue to move forward, but at the same time maintain public confidence.”
Council also modified a recommendation that would have delegated to the general manager of Transportation Services the decision on whether to install sidewalks on streets that do not have them.
The idea proved controversial, with a few councillors from Etobicoke arguing that these decisions should remain in political hands. An amending motion requiring that sidewalk installation go to political committee, if requested by a councillor, was backed 16-10.