June 16, 2016

Zero Vision over Vision Zero

On Monday, June 13, the City of Toronto finally unveiled their much hyped “road safety plan” (RSP). The city’s cyclists, pedestrians, parents, and seniors’ advocates have been calling for Toronto to emulate Sweden’s “Vision Zero” approach discussed in a previous post. Unfortunately, the plan’s unveiling lead to the biggest cycling related public relations fiasco since the Jarvis bike lane removal in 2012.

While the following vision indicated on Page 10 of the RSP report sounded good:
VISION: The City of Toronto, with the commitment of all partners, aims to eliminate all fatalities and serious injuries on city streets to create a safe and healthy city.
It is the following goal on Page 11 which caused a firestorm on Twitter using the #TODeadlyStreets (courtesy of Metro News) and #ZeroVision hashtags.
GOAL: To reduce the number of fatal and serious injury collisions by 20% by 2026.
Only a 20% reduction in fatalities over ten years?!?! So were Mayor Tory and Public Works committee chair Jaye Robinson saying to Torontonians that 80% of traffic fatalities are acceptable? To add insult to injury, there were two pedestrian deaths reported this week alone. With the public backlash and recent pedestrian fatalities, Tory and Robinson were prompted to reaffirm their commitment to Vision Zero as per The Globe & Mail. Of course, money talks more than words and again, the $8 million per year in new funding will not be sufficient to make Vision Zero a reality.
Dundas-Bloor is one of Toronto's most dangerous intersections
What does the RSP include? Don’t get me wrong. There are several new tools proposed which will help enhance safety on Toronto’s streets, including the following:
  • Curb extensions to reduce pedestrian crossing times
  • More mid-block pedestrian crossings
  • Advance green lights for cyclists (in addition to existing early starts for pedestrians at intersections such as Adelaide and University)
  • Lower speed limits on selected arterials
  • No right turns on red at more intersections
  • Tighter turning radius
One tool which was not discussed and proven to considerably improve pedestrian and cyclist safety is protected intersections. Not once did either the recently approved Ten Year Cycling Network Plan or the Road Safety Plan make a mention about this idea, in spite of cycling advocates suggesting it for years. Even Cycle Toronto proposed a pilot protected intersection at Richmond-Peter in conjunction with the cycle tracks. If there is one thing I would like to see both Cycle Toronto and Walk Toronto campaign on in addition to their existing campaigns, it is this.

Speaking of these organizations, they hosted a press conference on Wednesday where community members representing friends or loved ones killed by motorists while walking or cycling spoke out about their experiences and the need for Vision Zero in Toronto.
What is being done elsewhere? While my previous post on Vision Zero mentioned New York City’s plan, it was before their Year Two report was available. One thing that immediately stood out in the report is traffic fatalities decreased by 20% during just the two years Vision Zero had been in effect and at 234 fatalities, represented the lowest since 1910. The report discussed initiatives such as this year’s focus on expanding speed cameras, improving 100 intersections as of the end of 2015, and improving safety with their taxi, limousine, and bus fleets. In all cases, the need for data to determine safety improvements was paramount, as well as funding in which their plan called for $1.2 billion over ten years or $120 million per year!

In the Netherlands, the term Vision Zero is not as widely used – more so in Sweden and in North America – but is rather defined as “sustainable safety” per Dutch transportation consulting company Mobycon. One thing picked up from the Dutch experience is the safety of children should be emphasized to bring forward meaningful change. The Dutch transition into a bike friendly country truly kicked off in 1972 when that year saw approximately 3300 traffic fatalities including 500 children, which lead to the establishment of “Stop de Kindermoord” or stop the child murder.

What must Toronto do? City Council must support a strong, clear goal such as eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries in ten years. They also need to back up the plan with funding, including the use of new revenue tools. For starters, they could do commercial parking levies and considerably increase the cost of permit parking. The current cost of $15.06 per month plus HST per the City’s website is a joke compared to many off-street lots charging $60, $80, or even more than $100 per month.

Safety first!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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