City staff are pushing to beef up Toronto's new road safety plan after it faced vociferous criticism for being too tentative.
In a report issued late Tuesday – in advance of a City Council debate coming this week – staff urged politicians to increase new spending on road safety by about 30 per cent, to about $52-million over the next five years.
That total still appears to fall well short of what some other cities are doing to protect citizens, though staff argue that simple comparisons are difficult and that other safety-related spending is being done as well.
A bit more than $2.3-million of the extra money staff want to spend would be reallocated from the existing 2016 transportation services budget. This would be used this year and allow the department to hire 10 of the 13 required new staff members "immediately."
Of the remaining $9.9-million in new additional funding being sought for the plan, staff raised the hope that more than half of the total could be sourced from the federal government under its Public Transit Infrastructure Fund.
Transportation service general manager Steve Buckley wrote that the revised plan is "comprehensive [and] focused on reducing traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries on Toronto's streets. It gives consideration for all road users, but places particular emphasis on vulnerable road users."
A recent Globe and Mail investigation showed how vulnerable some people have become on Toronto roads. A look at all the pedestrians killed by vehicles since 2011 showed that they were dying more often than motorists or cyclists and that seniors were dying in disproportionate numbers. Over this time period, there were more pedestrian fatalities than homicides involving guns.
The Globe also found that while Toronto's pedestrian death toll, proportional to population, was better than in New York and Vancouver, those cities were on improving trends while Toronto was getting worse. And the numbers have continued to look bad. Toronto has had 22 pedestrian deaths so far in 2016, putting the city on pace for one of the worst years in recent memory.
Pedestrian advocates were among the vulnerable road users who responded with such dismay when the original road safety plan was released last month. That plan set the ultimate goal of reducing road fatalities and serious injuries to zero, but attached neither a budget nor a timeline to that goal. Instead, the plan's funding and timeline were built around a target of reducing deaths and serious injuries by 20 per cent over 10 years.
That version of the plan called for about $40-million in new funding over five years, on top of the $28-million the transportation department would be spending anyway over that time on safety-related efforts.
Mayor John Tory helped to announce the plan and pushed back at criticism that it is too timid, calling it "honest" and "realistic." But criticism mounted and by the end of the day the chair of the public works committee, Councillor Jaye Robinson, was calling for a 100-per-cent elimination of fatalities and serious injuries within five years.
The new report promises to move more quickly on some of the promises in the original road safety plan, including adding 10 mid-block pedestrian crossings a year instead of five and quadrupling the number of accessible pedestrian signals being added to 20 a year from five.
The revised plan also includes education campaigns aimed at motorcyclists and the establishment of "senior safety zones," where there could be lower speed limits, better enforcement and other pedestrian-friendly measures.