Amid an alarming number of pedestrians being run down in Toronto, Mayor John Tory acknowledged that the city isn't doing enough to protect its most vulnerable residents.
A day after 24 people were hit while walking – and with the city looking at its deadliest year for pedestrians since at least early last decade – the mayor said Wednesday he had held an emergency meeting with police and city staff to address the issue.
Specifically, he promised to speed up some measures from this summer's road safety plan. And crucially, he said that a priority for the new general manager of the Transportation Services would be to focus on road safety and report back on additional ways to improve it.
The new head of the department is well-positioned to do so. Barbara Gray hails from Seattle, a city that is ahead of many others in taking all forms of transportation seriously, and she helped spearhead its pedestrian master plan. Earlier Wednesday, one of Mr. Tory's senior advisers said on Twitter that a "huge priority" for Ms. Gray was to help Toronto adapt to a less-car-centric approach amid increasing population density.
How far she can go with that, though, remains to be seen. Mr. Tory has made a centrepiece of his mayoralty the need to speed up traffic, which advocates note is at odds with the goal of a safer city. City Hall also has a number of councillors quick to criticize any policy that might mean having to drive a bit more slowly.
However, this year's death toll has strengthened pro-safety voices at City Hall. When the city's road-safety plan was released this summer, its modest ambitions led to such a wave of negative reaction that before the day was out, politicians were promising to do more.
In July, the city approved a beefed-up road-safety plan named for a Swedish initiative called Vision Zero, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. But according to Michael Black, a member of the Walk Toronto advocacy group, Toronto's current plan doesn't hold a candle to the original concept.
Mr. Black characterized it as reactive and over-focused on specific problem locations. In his eyes, aiming changes or funding at these "hot spots" is a dangerous oversimplification of the issue, instead of acknowledging that human error has to be addressed wherever it might happen.
"It's not so much the Vision Zero campaign that city hall is touting," he said. "It's more just a regular, off-the-shelf safety plan that a lot of other cities are doing in the province, and without huge expectations."
A count by The Globe and Mail puts the number of pedestrians killed this year at 45. The police, who use a more restrictive definition that would not include, for example, a person killed walking in a private parking lot, put the total at 42. Either way, this is the deadliest year since at least 2003. And the majority of victims have been over 65, a group that makes up only 14 per cent of the city's population.
"This is something that has reached crisis proportions," Mr. Tory told the editorial board of The Globe and Mail earlier this week.
"I don't think it's responsible to kind of wait around and see if the numbers get better next year. These numbers do go up and down, but the bottom line is, we have the numbers we have for this year and they're completely, profoundly unacceptable."
The latest victim was an 87-year-old woman who was struck and killed as she stepped off a median on Bathurst Avenue, near Sheppard Avenue, on Tuesday. She was one of the dozens of pedestrians hit by vehicles in the city that day. It was among the worst days this year for pedestrian collisions and it follows a trend that has been worsening for years.
"'Accident' refers to something that's unavoidable," Toronto Police Constable Clint Stibbe, a media relations and communications officer, said Wednesday. "We don't use that term. It's either a 'crash' or a 'collision,' but it's not an 'accident.'"