Toronto City Council voted late on Wednesday to boost road-safety funding by $22-million, including a plan to double the number of red-light cameras and move more quickly to build safer intersections.
The decisions came after hours of debate that grew heated at times, but the final vote was unanimous, uniting the council’s left and right.
The changes are at least the fifth time the road-safety plan, which has come under vigorous criticism for not bringing a sustained reduction to the number of people killed or hurt in traffic collisions, has been accelerated or beefed up since its introduction two years ago.
Toronto’s plan was launched in 2016, which was the most deadly year for pedestrians in more than a decade. Last year was somewhat better, but 2018 is on pace to be another bad year with more than 20 pedestrian and cyclist deaths so far. Close to 100 pedestrians and cyclists have died on Toronto streets since the road-safety plan came into effect.
The deaths and injuries have sparked anguished debate in the council chamber. Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker deplored “the carnage that we’ve seen on the streets” and Councillor Joe Cressy warned the council’s approach over the past two years has suggested it didn’t take the road-safety plan seriously enough.
Although all deplored the death toll on the roads, there were still sharp clashes. Councillor Justin Di Ciano accused his colleagues of using road deaths as an excuse to promise spending to make themselves look good in an election year. The argument prompted angry pushback and the Speaker eventually called a recess to allow tempers to cool.
By the end of the debate, council had approved an additional $22-million, pushing the road-safety plan’s five-year budget to $109-million.
Of the additional money, $13-million had been proposed earlier this month by Mayor John Tory, with amendments made on the floor of council adding another $9-million. Nearly half of the extra – $4-million – would be spent improving safety on the city’s “cultural corridors,” such as Bloor or Yonge Streets, with the same amount again being spread around the city. Another $1-million is to study incorporating safety improvements into routine roadwork and to look at smaller fire trucks and other city-owned vehicles, which would allow for narrower and safer roads.
Other specific measures include a call for funding of a downtown facility where cyclists can report collisions, instead of having to go to Scarborough to do so. Red-light cameras are to be doubled, in conjunction with next year’s city budget process. These cameras, which now number 151, are effective at reducing T-bone collisions, according to city staff. The city will also do a experiment with 10 safer intersection designs and speed up the installation of signs indicating reduced speed limits in the old city.
Toronto’s road-safety plan is modelled on a Swedish approach known as Vision Zero, which aims to have no fatalities or serious injuries. Wednesday’s debate showed there remains a range of opinion on council about how best to tackle this goal.
Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong stated proudly that no speed bumps had been installed in his ward during his 24 years in office, Councillor Frank Di Giorgio questioned the need for low speed limits on residential streets that don’t have much traffic and Mr. Di Ciano asked staff whether they were willing to target people who walk while looking at their phones.
Transportation services general manager Barbara Gray said her staff were willing to consider measures that have worked in other jurisdictions. But she added that “it’s not very typical that pedestrian distraction is cited” in traffic collisions.