In the early 2000s, I moved into a new condo building in the Garment District south-west of Queen and Spadina. The area had been mostly an employment area for decades, but thanks to the innovative “Kings” planning policy this somewhat deserted area was starting to host new mid-rise residences. To walk north to Queen West, Kensington Market, and other nearby destinations, we new residents had to cross at Brant and Richmond West, which had no traffic control. Although Richmond was one-way, so we only had to look in one direction, cars came barrelling along it around a curve at high speed. It was not safe at all.
We asked the City to install a traffic light. A traffic engineer came to a meeting and explained to us why it just wasn’t warranted. I can’t remember the details, but probably he said not enough people crossed there and it was too close to the traffic lights at Spadina.
Sometime later, a young woman was killed by a vehicle/driver while she was crossing Richmond at that intersection. Not long after that tragedy, a traffic light was installed.
I took to calling this the “Pedestrian Blood Sacrifice.” It so often seems to require that a pedestrian be killed or seriously injured, their blood spilled on the asphalt and flowers placed at a makeshift memorial altar nearby, in order to get a pedestrian safety measure installed. I’ve used this phrase before (PDF), but a recent development has brought it into focus again.
At this month’s City Council meeting, as part of a larger road safety item, Councillor Brad Bradford moved a motion:
to amend the Traffic Control Warrants used to evaluate the need for All-Way Stop Control, Pedestrian Crossovers and Traffic Control Signals so that the “Collision Hazard” warrant is satisfied if there has been at least one potentially preventable collision classified as a KSI (“Killed or Seriously Injured”).
To be clear, this is a good motion and I’m happy Councillor Bradford successfully got it passed.
The existing “warrant” system doesn’t make it automatic that an intersection will qualify for a safety review, let alone safety measures, if a pedestrian gets killed there. The warrants are the conditions required in order for staff to recommend installing traffic controls, and they often require a record of multiple collisions over several years, as well as a certain number of pedestrian crossings a day at a location that is, by definition (given there is no existing traffic control), dangerous.
Some recent cases illustrate this situation. Often these cases have happened in places where the local community had long been telling the City that it was dangerous for pedestrians – Gillian Kranias wrote about such a case here earlier this year. Meanwhile, this month Etobicoke and York Community Council had to pass a motion to ask staff to implement safety measures at Brown’s Line and Jellicoe after a young woman was killed by a driver there – it was not automatic.
So it’s good that, in the future, just one pedestrian death or serious injury will be enough to satisfy the collisions warrant (though that doesn’t guarantee changes – there are other warrant conditions as well).
At the same time, though, this motion is notable for literally codifying the pedestrian blood sacrifice. The path to overcoming the very restrictive traffic control warrants in places that the community might already have identified as dangerous for pedestrians is to have a pedestrian get killed or seriously injured at that location.
Pandering. Can we not get in front of this? Do the dead get the stuff named after them? The Jane Doe Memorial Crossing? Better to have the city step up, do the right thing, and keep Jane alive.
— Peter Burnside @peterburnside (@peterburnside) November 10, 2023
The other path is to have politicians overrule City staff, which does happen occasionally. But it requires a councillor to be both strongly committed to safety and to be able to convince their Community Council colleagues to overrule a recommendation made by staff.
Toronto has a “Vision Zero” road safety policy, which theoretically aims to eliminate road traffic deaths and serious injuries. Relying on pedestrians getting killed or injured in order to identify danger spots is hardly in keeping with this policy. We need to incorporate ways of listening to communities who know and experience their local dangers, find ways to evaluate those potential dangers in advance of a tragedy, and be willing to implement solutions before, not after, someone gets killed.