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Toronto mayor vows quicker action on road safety after intense criticism

After getting off a TTC bus at Danforth Road and Linden Avenue, pedestrians wait for traffic to clear before crossing to the other side.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's long-awaited strategy for protecting pedestrians and cyclists is already facing revisions after a wave of ferocious criticism for falling far short of what some other cities are doing.

The death toll for pedestrians in Toronto has worsened. And the victims are disproportionately seniors, which means the problem could become bigger as the population ages.

"We have to do much better," Mayor John Tory said as he unveiled the plan to cut fatalities and serious injuries by one-fifth within a decade. "We must take realistic measures and change our behaviour."

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The plan, drafted by city staff, includes lower speed limits in dozens of places, physical modifications to some of the most dangerous intersections and roads, extra police enforcement of dangerous driving and the creation of "school safety zones" that would combine such measures.

It calls for spending an extra $40-million over five years on safety-related improvements, which Mr. Tory called "a substantial investment."

The plan focuses on vulnerable road users – including pedestrians, cyclists, seniors and school children – and was to be the city's version of Vision Zero, a Swedish concept with the explicit aim of eliminating traffic fatalities.

Several cities have adopted the Vision Zero concept. An investigation published on Saturday in The Globe and Mail showed how these jurisdictions were reducing their pedestrian deaths. But the trend line in Toronto was found to be going the other way, with 15 per cent more deaths in the past five years than the previous five, and 2016 on pace to be among the worst in a decade.

At the morning press event, Mr. Tory defended the limited ambition of the plan, saying its merit should not be assessed by the amount of money or the speed at which it is spent. And he said the target of reducing the number of people killed and seriously injured by 20 per cent within a decade was a plausible start toward zero.

But the plan sparked a savage response. Critics attacked it on social media with the tag #ZeroVision and advocates called it an abdication of responsibility.

"Basically [city staff are] saying that well, you know, 80 per cent of deaths are okay … and they're not, fundamentally they're not," said Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto. "With respect to staff, it's not good enough. But then again, I don't think it's on them. I think this is on our elected officials to come out and say we do need to spend money on this."

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Late in the day, Councillor Jaye Robinson, chair of the public works committee, which will debate the plan, said she would introduce a motion to change its target to zero people killed or seriously injured within five years. A spokeswoman for Mr. Tory confirmed that he would support this when the plan comes to council.

By contrast to the Toronto plan presented on Monday, San Francisco and New York – which designed their road-safety plans to get to zero traffic fatalities in a decade – are making much bigger investments. San Francisco is planning to spend an extra $70-million (U.S.) over the next two years, part of an overall plan for $240-million in new spending. And New York is putting up an additional $115-million this year alone.

"I'm confused by the message, because I'm hearing on the one hand that pedestrian safety is a priority, and yet I don't see anything in this package that would significantly increase the safety around our urban areas," said Maureen Coyle, who is on the steering committee of Walk Toronto. "It is disappointing after about a year of consultation for it to be reduced to the least the city can do.

Ms. Robinson said Thursday evening that the funding for Toronto's plan would be reviewed "as we start to see traction." She had noted at the morning event that the budget for the new road plan is "above and beyond" other safety-related transportation spending.

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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