An 11-year-old boy run down and killed near his school on Tuesday afternoon was the second child to die this year after being hit by a vehicle, part of an unusually deadly start to the year that has the mayor scrambling for a solution.
"We cannot have this carnage continue," Mayor John Tory told reporters on Wednesday. "I think when you have deaths taking place like this, that's a crisis."
Mr. Tory said he is asking staff to consider how they might speed up the city's road-safety plans. But the head of the city's transportation department warned that it can be a few years before a culture shift around safety starts to take root. And a prominent voice in the walking advocacy community argued that the mayor's safety message is at odds with his other goal of speeding up traffic.
Pedestrian fatalities have been on the rise in recent years. In 2016, the deadliest year in at least a decade, the city introduced a road safety plan with the goal of reducing fatalities and serious injuries to zero within five years.
Progress has been made – including the introduction of new school and senior safety zones, some reductions in speed limits and work to rebuild dangerous intersections – but the statistics have not been improved. The total for 2017 was roughly in line with the year before. And the first two months of 2018 have been among the worst January-February in a decade.
"It's horrendous," said Michael Black, who sits on the steering committee of the advocacy group Walk Toronto. "So many people are getting killed it's hard to keep up." A count by The Globe and Mail tallies nine pedestrians killed this year. The average for January and February combined so far this decade is barely five, and 2018 ties 2016 for the worst start of the year since at least 2011.
Mr. Black said he was "not surprised" that pedestrian fatalities aren't going down, given city hall's emphasis on helping drivers.
"John Tory keeps talking about congestion and the message that sends to motorists is our No. 1 one problem is motorists can't go as fast as they want," he said.
In response, mayoral spokesman Don Peat said Mr. Tory was "absolutely clear" that he is committed to the "goal of zero deaths on our streets." The majority of the victims this year have been seniors, a pattern that has become common in Toronto.
A five-year-old girl was killed in January by an empty car that rolled into her in a school drop-off zone. Tuesday's fatality was also near a school, highlighting dangers specific to young children.
Police say it appears the child was hit outside an intersection and was not in a crosswalk. The driver of the minivan involved was a 75-year-old man; no charges have been laid, but the investigation is continuing.
Ryan Bird, a spokesman for the Toronto District School Board, said its EcoSchools program includes developing strategies to reduce dangerous driving around schools. The board is also working with the city on traffic-calming measures around schools, he said in a statement.
The city is also rolling out a number of safety improvements, both in school areas and more broadly. Transportation services general manager Barbara Gray said they have a robust to-do list and that the issue now is getting the work done as fast as possible. Many of the improvements are small, changes such as traffic signals that give priority to pedestrians, with bigger shifts to psychology and the shape of the city's streets expected to take longer.
That shift has to happen against a political backdrop in which criticism of the "war on the car" remains potent. Also on Tuesday, the public works and infrastructure committee deflected a city staff plan that would have made a stretch of Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch Avenues safer for cyclists and pedestrians by reducing it to four lanes from six to accommodate a bike lane, wider sidewalks and a landscaped median, changes that city staff estimate would have cost drivers one or two minutes.
Mr. Tory, who has sought to associate his political brand with tackling traffic congestion, signalled his support for an option that retained six driving lanes on Yonge, with cyclists moved to a nearby street.