Amid outcry over a spate of traffic deaths, Toronto Mayor John Tory is pushing for a major increase in this year’s spending on road safety spending.
If approved by council, the $13-million boost would take this year’s budget for road safety to $34-million. The overall spending plan would climb to $100-million over five years, a figure one leading safety advocacy group noted would still be far lower per-capita than in New York.
“I don’t think that’s enough money to get the results we need,” said Jess Spieker, a spokesperson for the group Friends and Families for Safe Streets who criticized the “crocodile tears” of politicians who mourn road deaths while voting against efforts to improve traffic safety.
This would be the fourth time that Toronto’s road safety plan – introduced in 2016 with a $40-million budget – has been accelerated or beefed up. And the proposed increase came as advocates and regular citizens decried a particularly violent week on city streets. But Mr. Tory rejected suggestions that it takes public outrage to get results.
“Of course, when there is a bad incident that takes place, and there’s some reaction to that, that obviously has some impact on our thinking,” he said. “But I will tell you we’ve been continuously trying to look at ways we can upgrade, accelerate, improve this plan and it has not been in direct response to public, you know, public opinion.”
More than 20 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed on city streets so far in 2018, a rate that puts Toronto on pace for one of its deadliest years in a decade for vulnerable road users.
Over barely 24 hours this week, police announced that a cyclist had been killed by a person driving a large truck, a pedestrian had been killed by a driver who fled and another cyclist, who was hit last month, had died. In another incident a few days later, a motorcyclist was hit and killed by a person driving a sedan, who then fled.
Mr. Tory promised to introduce a motion for the extra road safety funding at next week’s meeting of the executive committee. If it passes there, which it is almost certain to do, council would make the final decision at the end of the month.
According to the mayor, the additional money would include funding for physical changes to the street of the sort that experts say are necessary to get drivers to slow down. “If there are ideas that have worked somewhere else, why shouldn’t we be doing them here?”
Examples of improvements he listed included a doubling of this year’s planned increase of leading pedestrian intervals, which allow those on foot to get a head start at intersections, speeding up of spending on road redesign and a clearing of the backlog for installing speed bumps. Other changes could include repainting at intersections and enhancing bicycle lanes to add visibility.
In a later briefing, Transportation Service general manager Barbara Gray said that the specifics of where the extra spending would go remain to be worked out, but that the department’s road safety approach wouldn’t fundamentally change.
“I think what you’re going to see when we come back with the plan is that the tools haven’t changed all that much,” she said, “but the deployment and the number that we’re able to deploy will have changed through the extra resources.”
Ms. Gray, who assumed her role after the initial road safety plan was crafted by staff and adopted by council, called $100-million over five years “a pretty significant investment.”
The Friends and Families for Safe Streets spokesperson disagreed, arguing that the figure is less impressive than it appears. Ms. Spieker noted that New York’s four-year road safety plan amounted to about US$38 per resident per year. Toronto’s five-year plan, even if the funding announced Friday is approved, would work out to barely $7 per resident per year.