Last week, as pedestrian deaths in the GTA mounted, several media outlets asked me how I felt about this seeming epidemic. I generally replied that I was horrified.
I also tried to look for an explanation. After the tenth death in just over a week, I wrote a post last week wondering if perhaps a week of poor visibility was a factor. I hoped that a change in the weather would bring an end to these fatal accidents. I also wrote an op-ed in the Star pointing out that most of these collisions took place in the suburbs, where the infrastructure is often dangerous for pedestrians.
In the following 5 days, 3 more pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles, all within the boundaries of the old City of Toronto. It’s obviously more than just overcast weather and suburban infrastructure, hazardous as they are. There have now been 7 pedestrians killed in one month in Toronto, possibly the most ever in a single month since amalgamation. Another 7 have been killed in the GTA.
By this point, my feeling is shell-shock. I have no idea how to explain what is happening. It’s as if all possible causes of pedestrian deaths have come together at the same time: bad visibility; inattentive and aggressive drivers; heavy vehicles (5 or more of the 14 deaths); distracted pedestrians (for goodness’ sake, do not cross the street while talking on a cellphone); terrible infrastructure (the intersection of Danforth and Broadview, where a man was killed on Friday, is particularly bad for pedestrians – sweeping corners that allow vehicles to turn at speed).
There was no official response from the city to this tide of death until yesterday, when the Mayor answered questions about the deaths in a media scrum. The tragedy is that the City could have been putting pedestrian safety programs in place for several months now, and could have had the resources to respond immediately to the rising tide of tragedies.
Last May, the City approved a thoughtful new Toronto Walking Strategy, which included many initiatives aimed at making walking safer (such as leading pedestrian intervals for traffic lights, no right turns on red at dangerous intersections, improving intersections, and safety campaigns). It is to be implemented by a new Pedestrian Projects section of the new Public Realm office.
The new pedestrian group is funded by a modest fund (a few million dollars) put in reserve from the advertising revenue of the new Street Furniture Program. That money can’t be used elsewhere, so it is entirely separate from the City’s budget. The idea is that money earned by advertising in the pedestrian realm gets spent on the pedestrian realm.
But the Pedestrian Projects group has been paralyzed because hasn’t been able to use the money to bring on the staff needed to actually implement the Walking Strategy. Although its budget is completely independent and has no effect on the City’s operations budget, the hiring freeze imposed on hiring new staff under the City’s budget has been applied to the Pedestrian Projects office as well. As a result, the Strategy has not yet got off the ground, and the City was unable to respond quickly as pedestrian deaths mounted.
The Toronto Pedestrian Committee (of which I am co-chair) is pushing the City to allow the Pedestrian Projects office to use the funds it already has to hire staff so that it can start implementing programs that make the streets safer for pedestrians. Last night, CBC local TV news at 6:00 led with this issue and showed Mayor David Miller saying they would look for ways to hire the needed staff. Today, city council is supposed to take time to talk about this epidemic of pedestrians killed by vehicles on Toronto’s streets.
We’ll see what happens.
Photo by Kevin Steele