Within 24 hours of announcing the Vision Zero Challenge on Tuesday, a call for ideas on how Toronto can reach its target of eliminating traffic deaths, one cyclist was dead in the city and two were injured.
The deceased cyclist — a man believed to be in his 50s who has not been identified by police — is the 89th pedestrian or cyclist to die on Toronto streets since June 13, 2016, the day Mayor John Tory announced the initiative that would become Vision Zero — a plan to reduce traffic deaths to zero by 2021.
But the rate of deaths on city streets is not declining. Including Wednesday’s fatal accident, 17 pedestrians or cyclists have been killed in Toronto so far this year, according to data compiled by Toronto Police and the Star. That pace matches or exceeds the number killed by May 16 in both 2013 and 2016, the two worst years in the data, which goes back to 2007.
“We can’t let this continue to happen,” said Jessica Spieker, a cycling safety advocate with Friends and Families for Safe Streets who was T-boned by a driver turning left in 2015. Her spine was broken and she suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“It’s the only way that I can make anything meaningful come out of what happened to me, is to make it stop,” she said.
In an email to the Star, Mayor John Tory said the fatality Wednesday was “a tragic death.”
“The number of deaths on our roads continues to be unacceptable,” he said, pointing to progress on some of the city’s Vision Zero initiatives, like senior safety zones, reduced speed limits and safer bike lines.
The cyclist killed Wednesday morning was hit by a truck attempting to make a right turn onto Jones Ave. from Dundas St. E.
Another cyclist, a man in his 30s, was seriously injured after a collision with a vehicle near Lake Shore Blvd. and Colborne Lodge Dr. Tuesday afternoon. He remains in hospital with life threatening injuries.
A third cyclist suffered minor injuries after a collision with a coach bus near Queen and Jarvis Sts. early Wednesday.
“These are tragic and preventable incidents, especially the fatal one,” said Liz Sutherland, director of advocacy and government relations for Cycle Toronto. “It makes it all the more important for us to accelerate the work of making our streets safer in Toronto.”
“What’s happened in the last 48 hours is an unbelievable tragedy, just a terrible tragedy,” said Ward 25 Councillor Jaye Robinson, chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.
On the Vision Zero website, the City of Toronto calls Vision Zero, which was passed in July 2016, “a bold pledge” to improve safety.
“The City is committed to Vision Zero and accepts its fundamental message: fatalities and serious injuries on our roads are preventable, and we must strive to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries to ZERO,” the website reads.
In its most recent report on the progress of Vision Zero, the city mentions more than 800 new lower speed limit signs; about 20,000 kilometres of pavement painted with “zebra markings” in school safety zones, senior safety zones and pedestrian safety corridors; 60 new accessible pedestrian signals; and at least 5,705 metres of new sidewalk.
For cyclists, the city says projects have been completed at 11 locations, including seven kilometres of new track, six new bike lanes totalling over six kilometres and improvements at five intersections.
“At the current rate it’s going to take a long time to even reduce pedestrian deaths significantly,” said Dylan Reid, co-founder of Walk Toronto, a pedestrian safety advocacy group.
Reid calls for an ambitious “city-wide policy,” including reducing speed limits to 30 kilometres an hour in residential areas, 40 kilometres an hour on main streets, narrowing roads and adding more bike lanes.
“If you compare Toronto’s plan with true Vision Zero plans like in New York or Sweden, Toronto’s pace is nowhere near as ambitious in terms of its scope, or in terms of its investment,” he said.
Traffic fatalities in New York, which launched its Vision Zero program in 2014, fell for three successive years through 2016. Traffic deaths in that period declined 23 per cent (this includes all traffic deaths, not just pedestrians.)
That decrease came with a considerably larger investment than in Toronto.
In 2017, New York City announced it would spend $1.6 billion (U.S.) on road safety over five years.
To date, Toronto has committed less than $90 million (Canadian) to Vision Zero over five years. Council has increased funding since the project was launched.
Tory said the “number one thing” that needs to happen to meet the city’s target is a “change to more careful, vigilant behaviour especially by vehicle drivers, but also by all others sharing our roads and public spaces.”