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Amanda O'Rourke, Executive Director of 8 80 Cities, at Woodbine and Danforth on July 19, 2019.The Globe and Mail

On a normal day on Danforth Avenue in Toronto, dozens of cars swerve by busy restaurants and shops. Pedestrians emerge from buses and subway stations. Cyclists navigate between moving vehicles and the cars parked along the curb.

For one weekend this August, the street will be transformed. A bike lane will appear, separated from the cars by planters. The sidewalk will expand to accommodate more pedestrians. Where there was once space for parked vehicles, a makeshift stage with live performances will pop up.

The non-profit group 8 80 Cities is planning to reconfigure a block of Danforth Avenue from Woodbine Avenue to Woodmount Avenue to show how the street would look if it were designed to be safer and more friendly, especially for pedestrians and cyclists.

“For too long, our city has been prioritizing the movement of cars and that has been to the detriment of the health and well-being and in some cases, life of children and older adults," said Amanda O’Rourke, executive director of 8 80 Cities, whose name reflects the group’s aim of making cities safe for everyone whether they’re eight-years-old or 80.

“These safe-street interventions are really about improving the livability of our streets ... where people feel comfortable and safe but also interested in having a great experience.”

Street safety was a major topic of debate at this week’s city council meeting, in which councillors approved a revised Vision Zero safety plan and an expansion of the city’s cycling network. The debate coincided with the city’s most recent traffic death, a female pedestrian, and some experts are saying the city should be acting faster to increase safety.

“We’re seeing very slow progress on this issue. We’re seeing mounting numbers of injuries and fatalities for both pedestrians and cyclists each year,” said Claire Nelischer, project manager at the Ryerson City Building Institute. She added that she was encouraged by city council’s decision this week to reduce speeds on many streets across Toronto.

The city initially passed Vision Zero in 2016, a year when there were 78 traffic deaths, the highest in the past decade. In 2018, there were 66 traffic collision deaths in Toronto, an increase of three from the previous year. Council approved Vision Zero 2.0 this week, amid news of the most recent traffic fatality in the city, bringing this year’s tally so far to 28.

Although the group 8 80 Cities has previously worked in the United States, a private donor approached the organization last year to bring pop-ups to Toronto. The non-profit has been co-ordinating with the city since September to organize the events. Besides the Danforth pop-up, two demonstrations are planned for later in the fall on smaller streets, including one in a school zone.

“I think it’s going to demonstrate that there are alternatives to street design ... and that we can accommodate all road users,” said Councillor Brad Bradford.

Ms. O’Rourke said that among the plans for the Danforth include building a parklet in a parking spot and setting up a stage, as a way to “[reclaim] that space that was for storing cars and reactivating it for something more people-centred.”

The demo will take up a full curb lane, leaving two lanes for traffic, Ms. O’Rourke said.

“I don’t think that we have a balance today,” Mr. Bradford said. “When we have demarcated space for all road users, where it’s very clear where the pedestrians are going to be, where it’s very clear where the cyclists are going to be, and where the drivers are going to be, it makes it safer, it makes it more comfortable, and I think it’s a better street design.”

Ms. O’Rourke added that when designed well, streets can benefit everyone.

"Safer street design not only can make streets more accessible for people of all ages and abilities, but these solutions are also great for local business and overall more fun places to be as a person,” she said.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that streetcars run along the Danforth.

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