On Tuesday, February 27, around 3:30 PM, Duncan Xu, an 11-year old boy, was struck and killed by a motorist in a residential neighbourhood in north Scarborough. He was the tenth pedestrian killed on Toronto’s streets in 2018, and the second child killed on their way home from school.
Duncan Xu was crossing Canongate Trail at Ockwell Manor Drive, near the school, when he was hit by a motorist driving north on Canongate. The intersection does not have a crosswalk, but is only 70 metres north of an intersection controlled by a four-way stop. Canongate Trail a residential street lined with houses, and has a 40 km/h speed limit. The collision occurred right in front of a school zone sign. Despite its residential nature, Canongate Trail acts as shortcut for non-local traffic avoiding the busy intersection of Steeles Avenue and Kennedy Road.
I visited the neighbourhood on Sunday to better understand the conditions in which a child is killed crossing the street on his way home to school, and the local councillor’s “solution” to that problem.
Map of the neighbourhood surrounding Kennedy Public School, including the location where Duncan Xu was hit, and the walkway that will close on Monday morning.
Looking north on Canongate Trail at Ockwell Manor Drive, where Duncan Xu was killed. A memorial is at the curb. Note the speed limit sign, as well as the school zone sign, and also the heavy traffic on Canongate.
In the Toronto Star, school principal Kevin Liu described the traffic on Canongate as a problem: “I think we’re getting some thorough traffic, not necessarily residents, cutting through this neighbourhood to avoid a left-hand turn at Kennedy and Steeles during rush hours.”
The school has long had concerns about their students’ safety. Initiatives implemented in 2017 included new turning restrictions onto Elmfield Crescent, onto which the school fronts, and parking and stopping restrictions to better manage traffic from parents dropping off and picking up their children. A crossing guard is stationed at the corner of Canongate and Elmfield.
Canongate is wide as far as local residential streets go. There are no attempts at traffic calming, such as speed humps, bump-outs or curb extensions, or effective traffic enforcement. There are several all-way stop signs on Canongate, but these on their own are not effective in slowing down motor traffic; rolling stops are common as well. When I visited the area, I found that motorists accelerate quickly headed northbound from the Percell Square/Canongate intersection, and the 40 km/h speed limit is often not adhered to.
Speeding motorist passes memorial to Duncan Xu on Sunday, March 4
Sadly, the local councillor, Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39), has not championed measures to reduce and slow down traffic on Canongate Drive, despite local concerns. Instead, the councillor decided to unilaterally close a walkway linking the rear schoolyard with Canongate Trail, close to where Duncan was killed. Duncan used the walkway before trying to cross the street.
Duncan Xu might not have crossed the street at a crosswalk, but he would still be alive had all motorists driven with the due care and speed befitting a school zone as children are heading home.
The walkway is a convenient route for students to walk to school. It also connects residents to a nearby park. Councillor Karygiannis claimed that he proposed it earlier, but that local residents and the school refused it. Principal Liu said that he never heard about the proposal.
The walkway Councillor Karygiannis will unilaterally close on Monday morning after Duncan Xu’s death
On Monday morning, Councillor Karygiannis will make a show of closing the path and put out a media advisory indicating his intent. Orange plastic netting was already placed at both entries to the path, which cuts between two houses in preparation of the closure. But this is a classic case of “Zero Vision,” rather than Vision Zero, measures to improve road safety, such as improved pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and re-engineered roads that the city is at least nominally committed to.
Media advisory from Ward 39 Councillor Jim Karygiannis’ office announcing the closure of the pathway
Closing the walkway will only serve to reduce walking to school, and increase traffic. It will do nothing to solve the problem of fast-moving cars in a residential area, nor will it necessarily prevent children from unsafely crossing the street. It’s the type of inexpensive, easy fix that make politicians look like they’re doing something, but without making the necessary changes to prevent future fatalities.
Traffic calming measures, such as speed humps, tighter curbs at intersections, extending the curbs out at intersections, and planters would force motorists to slow down, and would be more effective than stop signs. More should be done to discourage impatient drivers from using the residential area as a shortcut. More should be done to encourage students to walk to school, rather than discouraged by closing walkways. Walking audits would allow the community to provide input. And this should be done around every school.
The safety of pedestrians, especially children, should not be left to half-measures.
Updated map of pedestrian fatalities on Toronto’s streets.