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Political leaders need to adopt Vision to make city streets safer for all

By Wheels Wheels.ca

Apr 17, 2022 4 min. read

Article was updated a month ago

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The members of Friends and Families for Safe Streets (FFSS) have lost loved ones to traffic violence or survived a crash with severe injuries. I suffered serious, life-altering injuries when an SUV driver made a reckless left turn and crashed into me while I was riding my bike to work, breaking my spine.

But do not make the mistake of calling any of these collisions that destroyed our lives or killed our loved ones an “accident.” They are the result of roadways designed for speed above safety.

Vision Zero is a policy about changing street design to eliminate death and severe injury. The city of Toronto adopted this program nearly six years ago, but its failure to save lives, as it was expected to do, is because of an absence of political will to build the most effective and needed street design elements identified in it.

What specific design elements do Vision Zero streets have? They have dedicated active transportation lanes with robust barriers that prevent drivers from crashing into someone in the lane or sidewalk. They have narrow car lanes that make it difficult to speed. The deadly epidemic of speeding we see in Toronto is the product of the mismatch between the wide and straight design of our streets that invite high speeds and their much lower posted speed limits.

Safe streets have frequent pedestrian crosswalks, so people are not forced to cross mid-block, often contending with six or more lanes of speeding car traffic. Safe streets have raised crosswalks, meaning the curb-height elevation of the sidewalk is continued across the road. Raised crosswalks clearly demarcate pedestrian territory to drivers, indicating they must drive carefully. They also function as speed bumps to stop drivers from speeding through intersections, a significant cause of fatal crashes.

Safe streets have protected intersections with corner islands, tight turning radiuses to force slower turns, curb bump-outs to reduce crosswalk widths, pedestrian head starts at traffic lights and a universal ban on right turns on red lights. Safe streets are mostly self-enforcing by design, but use automated speed and red-light cameras to make sure reckless drivers don’t break the law.

The streets and intersections where vulnerable road users – people outside of vehicles – are most likely to be killed have none of these design features.

A recent Toronto Star analysis that found serious collisions in the GTA occurred around deadly suburban arterial intersections, as well as March 31’s heartbreaking triple-fatality crash on Lake Shore Boulevard, further underscore the causal relationship between design and death.

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2022/04/01/our-most-dangerous-streets-huge-new-collision-database-points-to-torontos-postwar-suburbs.html

Compounding Toronto’s deadly street design is the fact that our leaders have failed to provide appealing alternatives to driving, forcing many residents into car dependence. It was a political choice not to support inter-city train or bus services and to starve public transit of funding for decades.

It was a political choice to build a city where using transit takes two or three times longer than driving, and where it is distressingly hostile and dangerous to walk or ride a bike.

The out-of-control housing crisis contributes to traffic violence: when people can’t afford to live where they work, they must reside far outside the city and drive long distances. Forced car dependence and long commutes mean more driving, and more driving means more death and injury.

Though blaming individual road users in the aftermath of a collision is satisfying, the time and energy we waste on blame only benefits the politicians with the power to make systemic design changes. Toronto Mayor John Tory should be the most vocal supporter of Vision Zero design. Instead, attempting to distract us from his failure to understand and support Vision Zero, he responds to horrific crashes by sternly finger-wagging and saying our streets won’t get safer until drivers slow down.

A leader who understood and supported Vision Zero would admit that our streets won’t get safer until we build safe streets.

Mayor Tory boasts of his commitment to slow, incremental change, but incrementally building disconnected stubs of infrastructure at a glacial pace only condemns more people to violent death and injury, people who could have been saved by faster progress.

Pooling collective resources to solve problems, building Vision Zero for example, is the purpose of having governments, yet all levels of government are asleep at the wheel on responding to the twin crises of road violence and climate disaster.

Perhaps it’s time to give Toronto Public Health control over street design, rather than leaving it in the domain of endless political interference and cowardice.

FFSS is here to tell everyone the anguish of traffic violence is preventable. We don’t want what happened to us and our families to happen to you. It is infinitely easier to build safe streets than it is to bury your loved one or live out your days with chronic pain and significantly reduced quality of life. The human cost of road violence is far higher than the financial cost of changing our streets. We don’t need more lip service about Vision Zero. We need our leaders to finally get serious about actually building it.

Jessica Spieker is a spokesperson for Friends and Families for Safe Streets, which wants Toronto’s leaders to build and achieve Vision Zero and eliminate severe injuries and deaths on our roads.

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