This article is part of Next, The Globe's five-day series examining the people, places, things and ideas that will shape 2013.
Hurry, hurry, hurry.
Gaze at the torrent of rush-hour vehicles flooding through the multilane crossroads of Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue East in the city’s north end, and you’d think more accidents occur here than anywhere else in traffic-clogged Toronto.
And you’d be right.
From January, 2009, through December, 2011, 166 collisions were recorded, for a monthly average of 4.6, and the 76 more during the first eight months of this year suggest the numbers are rising sharply, at least in the short term. Add to that, countless fender-benders that don’t get reported at all because of their impact on insurance premiums.
With traffic at record levels city-wide, mirroring a Greater Toronto population that grows by tens of thousands each year, there’s no great mystery as to why this particular intersection is problematic.
Every day, roughly 92,000 cars and trucks pour through it, more than half of them between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., heading in all directions through a conveyor-belt system that comprises a total of 36 lanes: Eight on each of the four corners, including two turning lanes apiece, plus four truncated lanes for buses and taxis.
On a dark, drizzling Monday morning, as bumper-to-bumper drivers negotiate the rain-slicked intersection, the stop-start pace is relentless.
“It can get pretty hairy, I’m always very glad to get past here,” said software developer Rod McDonald, pausing for fuel on Don Mills Road. Like thousands of other commuters these days, he is not driving into Toronto from the suburbs, but rather heading the other way, toward Newmarket.
To get there, he’ll drive up the north-south Don Valley Parkway, which is just two blocks east of Don Mills Road. Like east-west Hwy 401, a short drive north of Eglinton Avenue, the DVP has much to do with the accident statistics.
Both highways are main arteries, and because both get regularly snarled, Don Mills Road and Eglinton are the preferred choice of many drivers.
The intersection is also a major transit hub, with buses running in all four directions. And nearby are landmark sites that include the Ontario Science Centre, a retail complex anchored by a Superstore on the northeast corner, and directly opposite, the sprawling headquarters of electronics manufacturer Celestica.
Long gone, meanwhile, is the era when rush hour mostly meant suburban commuters streaming into the city in the morning and leaving in late afternoon. Today’s driver is headed in all directions, and around here there is now a third peak hour, at lunchtime.
And while the city has plenty of other accident hot spots – Eglinton/Kennedy, Bathurst/Finch, Lawrence/Warden and Leslie/Sheppard among them – this intersection is the most accident-prone.
Why might that be? The short answer is because it is an intersection. Almost a third of the cars that go through it make a turn, often lurching across a couple of lanes to beat a turning signal that lasts a few short seconds.
For two years, Bell Canada employee Omar Mohammed has watched the flow as he stands on a corner awaiting his bus. He points toward the eastbound traffic lined up on Eglinton for the brief advance-green turning arrow.
Five drivers make it through before the signal changes, which does not deter two more from hastily barrelling through.
“Those turning lights,” he said. “It would be a good idea to have more than one lane, so it would move the traffic quicker.”
Mr. Mohammed has put his finger on it.
“Making turns is a problem across the whole city,” said veteran firefighter Ken Taylor, who has attended numerous accidents at this intersection. “The one thing that’s good in this area is they have speed traps, a lot of radar, almost every day, so the speeding I think is pretty under control.”
So why not give drivers a bit more time to make the turn, or create another turning lane?
Mike Brady, who heads the city’s Traffic Safety Unit, explains.
“What you’re trying to do is manage a network, and an unusual or unscheduled event in a network will have a tremendous effect,” he said. “If we increase the cycle time at this intersection, it affects all the neighbouring intersections. What you experience [on the roads] can reflect something happening far away.”
As things stand, all the signals are calibrated to reflect the daily ebb and flow of traffic levels. All the pedestrian crossings are highlighted in concrete, to contrast with the asphalt, and accompanying the countdown numbers that tell walkers how many more seconds they have is a press-button audio signal for the blind.
And perhaps in part because of those measures, not a single fatality has occurred at Don Mills Road and Eglinton during the past four years, even as the accidents accumulated.
And high as those collision numbers are, compared to the rest of Toronto, they are lower than they were 25 years ago.
“That’s because of the general trend in this city, and the same was true 15 years ago, the curve is downward,” Mr. Brady said. “In 2011, there was the lowest number of traffic fatalities in 60 years.”
Looking ahead, this section of Eglinton Avenue is to be one of three new light-rail transit lines slated for completion by 2020, and although construction will create big headaches, the end result will likely ease the traffic crush.
In the meantime, Statistics Canada worker Lidia Deans braces herself when she drives through.
“People are driving crazy, not paying attention to the rules, people run red lights a lot, not just here, everywhere,” she said. “It’s not so much the volume of the traffic, it’s that people are so impatient. I drive all over and it’s getting worse. When I get home I’m more and more stressed from driving.”
Monday mornings sometimes tell the story, says Johanna Van Schijndel, a 50ish administrative assistant for a property– management company, who most weekdays ventures warily across the pedestrian crossing on the west side of Eglinton Avenue East.
“Eglinton and Don Mills are always busy – always,” she said.
“I’ve never seen an accident here, but I’ve seen the evidence of it, the debris, especially after the weekend, so I am always very careful. I’ve had a few close calls, especially with people turning right on the red light, so I always make eye contact.”
That well-placed caution looks to be widespread among Ms. Schijndel’s fellow pedestrians.
While 166 collisions at the intersection injured 37 people in the three years 2009 through 2011, none seriously, just four were on foot. And so far this year, one pedestrian has been hurt – this in a city where an average of six pedestrians are hit or clipped by cars every day.
Of those 166 accidents, which produced 38 criminal charges, the most common circumstances were rear-end collisions (88), turning movements (34) and sideswipes (26).
Among the 338 drivers involved, the largest single group were aged 25 to 34 (71 drivers) followed by 64 drivers aged 45 to 54 and 59 drivers aged 35 to 44. Ten were teenagers.
Adverse weather conditions, chiefly wet roads, were evident when 35 of the 166 collisions took place, though they were not necessarily a factor. Twenty took place in December, 19 in November and 16 in October. The fewest accidents (8) were in September.
Monday was the most frequent day for accidents during the three years (35) followed by Tuesday (30) and Wednesday (27), with the fewest (12) occurring on Sundays.
Hour by hour, the most collisions (18) took place between 2 and 3 p.m. and between 4 and 5 p.m., also 18. The fewest were in the very early morning hours, and – surprisingly – between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., when, despite the usually busy lunch hour, there was just one accident.
Timothy Appleby, data courtesy of the City of Toronto
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