Increasingly at the centre of recent debates regarding Toronto's public transit, congestion and bike lanes, have been concerns by City officials and Toronto activists regarding the safety of the city’s streets for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. In 2017, Toronto’s ‘Vision Zero’ initiative—a 45-measure plan launched to increase road safety—is set to make dramatic changes to how residents navigate Toronto’s congested streets and intersections.

Ward 25 Councillor and Public Works and Infrastructure Committee Chair Jaye Robinson announced that the Vision Zero project will introduce a range of new policies to reduce instances of reckless driving and ensure the safety of Toronto’s pedestrians. Approved by the City in July of last year, the $80 million, five-year action plan—which will see $54 million invested this year—follows a dramatic increase in the number of pedestrian accidents  throughout 2016.

A record breaking 77 vehicle-related fatalities—resulting in 43 pedestrian deaths—occurred in Toronto last year, marking 2016 as the year with the highest number of pedestrian fatalities in a decade. Of the reported pedestrian deaths, however, nearly two thirds of fatalities reported involved pedestrians over the age of 65, who make up only 13% of Toronto’s population.

Pedestrians and cars on Yonge Street, image by UT Flick contributor Greg's SouthPedestrians and cars on Yonge Street, image by UT Flick contributor Greg's Souther Ontario

To address the disproportionate percentage of deaths involving elderly pedestrians, the City is planning to institute ‘senior safety zones’ across Toronto. Based on data collected by the City, intersections designated as ‘senior safety zones’ are areas with higher concentrations of senior residents and have experienced instances of pedestrian fatalities. Following the installation of a pilot senior safety zone at the intersection of Bloor and Dundas Street West, the City plans to implement 11 more zones within the first quarter of 2017.

Vision Zero will also see increases to the number of red-light cameras in Toronto. While Toronto already boasts 77 red-light cameras, another 76 have been announced, helping further track the number of drivers illegally entering intersections during red lights. Red-light cameras, first introduced in Toronto in 2000, have been reported by the City to reduce instances of crashes and injury by up to 60% in the intersections where they’ve been implemented.

The City will continue to investigate why certain areas of the city have been the site of a disproportionate volume of pedestrian casualties. According to the City, 14 intersections in Toronto will undergo audits to “make recommendations on appropriate safety improvements such as geometric road modifications, speed reductions, street lighting improvements, enhanced pavement markings and signage, implementation of prohibited turn movements and/or signal timing modifications.” Under the 'Pedestrian Safety Corridor' program, an additional 32 intersections—which have all been sites of fatalities—will see reduced speed limits, with the changes to be implemented by the end of 2017.

Other measures that will be introduced under the Vision Zero banner will see physical changes to Toronto’s sidewalks to greater ensure pedestrian safety. These safety measures will include the installation of more pedestrian pushbuttons at intersections, as well as sidewalk widening, curb extensions, and reductions in the walking distance at crosswalks at 13 sites. Along with these physical changes to Toronto intersections, the City is currently reviewing 50 Toronto intersections where pedestrian crossing times could be increased.

Established in 2014, the 'Watch Your Speed' program will also be expanded to further reduce speeding in areas surrounding schools. Collaborating with Transportation Services, the City is set to announce later in 2017 signage at 20 new locations across the city.

Leading up to to Vision Zero's formal launch, Toronto residents already saw some changes to city streets. City Transportation staff have already worked to increase accessibility on Toronto's streets, through reduced pedestrian walking distances and increased pedestrian signals efforts. However, given the expanded scope of traffic and public safety issues Vision Zero will address, the project is a notable step by the City to reduce pedestrian fatalities in Toronto. Ultimately, the goal of the plan is to eliminate pedestrian fatalities altogether.  

The first ‘Vision Zero’ project, initiated in Sweden in 1997, was based on the premise that city designers, not drivers, need to introduce greater policies to ensure pedestrian safety. Since the initiative's considerable success in reducing pedestrian fatalities in Sweden, ‘Vision Zero’ projects have been adopted by cities in 24 other countries, including the United States, Australia, Japan and Germany. Toronto is the second city in Canada to formally adopt a ‘Vision Zero’ project, following the announcement of Edmonton’s four year plan to reduce instances of pedestrian injury and fatalities in 2015.

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UrbanToronto will continue to keep you updated on the implementation of the Vision Zero project as it progresses. Want to share your thoughts? Join in the discussion of the project in the associated Forum thread, or leave a comment below.