At least 58 people died in the streets of Toronto this year – a ‘failure’ for Vision Zero, say proponents

Toronto is still unable to reach its zero-vision goal, as at least 58 people were killed on the city’s roads and 183 more seriously injured in 2021.

The deaths include a beloved couple who were killed by a motorist on Parkside Drive and a teenager who was hit by a driver at a pedestrian crossing near her Scarborough high school.

And just this week, six pedestrians and a driver were driven to the hospital after a crash sent an SUV flown out onto a sidewalk in the center. Their injuries are not yet included in city statistics.

Proponents of road safety continue to urge the city to do better – four years after Toronto officially launched the road safety plan with the goal of zero traffic-related deaths and injuries.

“Our Vision Zero program is basically a failure,” said Jessica Spieker, a spokeswoman for Friends and Families for Safe Streets.

Jessica Spieker has advocated for safer streets ever since she was hit and seriously injured on Bathurst Street and Eglinton Avenue in Toronto. (Angelina King / CBC)

She continues to endure chronic pain and a brain injury after she was hit by an SUV in 2015 while cycling to work.

“Once you’ve been on the inside of road violence and you understand how painful and devastating it is to survive a serious injury or to lose your spouse, to lose a child, the lifelong pain is overwhelming – especially in terms of how easy it is it is to prevent this human massacre, “said Spieker.

The city points to projects completed in 2021

The city has made some progress this year by making bike lanes permanent, issuing thousands of tickets through its photo radar cameras and making small adjustments such as giving pedestrians advanced pedestrian signals.

The transportation services department told CBC News that it has also reduced speed limits on local roads in Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough, installed 350 school safety zones and tested left-turn speed bumps at eight intersections, among other initiatives.

The city defended its Vision Zero efforts in a statement, saying it is a long-term plan and that “sustainable results are often not immediate.”

“The success of Vision Zero depends on long-term behavioral, cultural and structural changes – both for the city and for the public as well,” it says.

In response to stunt driving becoming a serious problem on empty roads, the province tightened penalties in June. The opposition’s NDP MPPs are pushing the government to go ahead and pass Bill 54, which is the proposed “law on the protection of vulnerable road users.”

At least 25 pedestrians killed

There was a momentary hope in 2020 that Toronto’s roads were generally becoming safer, said Professor Matti Siemiatycki at the University of Toronto Urban Planning. Fewer people drove and walked due to the pandemic, and the number of deaths dropped to 40, the lowest since 2011.

This year also began with lockdowns and lower numbers – only four people died in the first three months of the year, according to city data. That started to change in June. Since then, at least four road users have died every month.

Among those killed are 25 pedestrians, a cyclist and 32 motorists, passengers and motorcyclists.

Professor Matti Siemiatycki of the University of Toronto says the city has only made incremental changes to improve road safety when transformative measures are what is needed. (University of Toronto)

“What has actually happened this year has been a recovery,” Siemiatycki said. “It has shown us that what will really be required is a much more significant transformation and one that will require both technical expertise and political will.”

In particular, inner suburbs like Etobicoke and Scarborough need to be redesigned for pedestrian and cyclist safety with a focus on protecting the most vulnerable road users such as seniors and children, he said.

Until now, Vision Zero measures have been incremental or sometimes “one step forward, two steps back” when widespread change is actually required, Siemiatycki said. That means narrowing not only some roads but most roads and adding more and longer traffic lights not only in the center but also in the surrounding communities, he suggested.

Dylan Reid, a spokesman for Walk Toronto, said the rising deaths are telling.

“It is the amount of traffic that is key determining, not only for pedestrians but also cyclists and motorists in terms of injuries,” he said. “It also tells us that Vision Zero doesn’t really make a difference.”

The city needs to make school zones safer, including roadblocks to car traffic and rerouting roads to encourage children to walk, Reid said. He also supports automated speed control throughout the city. Right now, Toronto trusts 50 of these cameras.

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