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Toronto Toronto scrambles to find more funding for road-safety plan

Rush hour traffic slows down as road work on Lakeshore Blvd West. Since the initial road-safety plan was unveiled last Monday, three pedestrians have been killed by vehicles in Toronto.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto is moving to toughen up its "timid" road-safety plan, but it remains to be seen whether enough money can be found to meet its newly aggressive goals.

A key city hall committee voted on Monday to aim for zero road deaths and serious injuries within five years. Committee chair Councillor Jaye Robinson said staff would be "creative" about finding more money to pay for this goal, but warned the plan won't get the kind of funding seen in cities with the most robust approach to road safety.

The debate came against the backdrop of a flurry of new traffic deaths. Since the initial road-safety plan was unveiled last Monday, three pedestrians have been killed by vehicles in Toronto. These deaths put the city on pace for 43 pedestrian deaths this year, which would be the worst in more than a decade.

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Faced with even worse death tolls, cities such as New York and San Francisco have adopted versions of a Swedish program known as Vision Zero, which aims to remake the transportation system to eliminate road fatalities. Both have set the target of doing so in 10 years and each city is putting up large amounts of money to re-engineer their streets in pursuit of that goal.

As unveiled last week, Toronto's road-safety plan has what it calls a vision of having zero road deaths and serious injuries, but assigned no timeline to achieving that result. The measurable aspect of the plan was budgeted at $40-million in new funding over five years, aimed at a 20-per-cent improvement in road safety over a decade, a goal that was derided as far too modest.

Councillor Josh Matlow said Toronto's plan was "timid" and seemed a way "to look like we're doing something." He contrasted the tight-fisted approach to road safety with the city's willingness to spend money in other areas.

"I think we've got a priorities problem," he said. "If council is willing to spend hundreds of millions to rebuild [the Gardiner] expressway and might spend billions of dollars on one subway stop in Scarborough, there must certainly be a will to allocate adequate funds to protect people on our roads."

A recent Globe and Mail investigation found that more than 160 pedestrians had been killed in Toronto since 2011. It's a toll that has been getting worse and disproportionately affects seniors. Counting all road fatalities, 64 people were killed last year alone.

Jared Kolb, executive director of the advocacy group Cycle Toronto, noted that a 20-per-cent reduction of Toronto's most recent road-fatality figure would still mean about 50 people dying annually on the roads.

"The challenge is that without significant resources added, then we're going to see a similar number of people that are going to be killed this year, killed next year and killed the year after that," he said.

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Ms. Robinson acknowledged that with the more aggressive target, "the goal and the budget don't match." A motion she presented on Monday, which was passed by committee, encouraged staff to see what additional funding they could find. And she held out the hope as well of other levels of government coming to the table.

"Our only goal can be zero," she said. "Is [the plan] perfect? I will say again it's not. But it's a big leap forward."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said "mayoral staff" would be tasked with allocating funding for Toronto's road-safety plan. This is a corrected version.

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