In 2017, Mayor John Tory announced Vision Zero – the City of Toronto's five-year plan aimed to reduce pedestrian fatalities and severe injuries on Toronto's streets.
Despite Toronto's Vision Zero pledge, pedestrian deaths in the city continue to rise. Road safety continues to remain a pressing issue in Toronto and ensuring our streets are safe for everyone is critical.
The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) #BuildtheVisionTO: Safe and Active Streets for All campaign outlines a set of 15 municipal election priorities for building streets where people of all ages and abilities can get around actively, sustainably and safely. As part of the #BuildtheVisionTO campaign, a survey was distributed to all Toronto mayoral and city council candidates to gauge their support for the 15 municipal priority actions outlined in the plan.
Here are some of the #BuildtheVisionTO recommendations that are of significance to Torontonians who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind:
Build the Vision TO Recommendation 1
- Implement a City-Wide Default Speed Limit Of 30 km/h on All Residential Streets and 40 km/h On All Arterial and Collector Roads
A reduction in the speed limit would make the streets safer for all pedestrians. For people who are blind or partially sighted, a slower automobile affords more time to detect and react. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle travelling 50 km/h is five times more likely to die than if they are hit at 30 km/h according to a pedestrian death review by Ontario's Chief Coroner.
Build the Vision TO Recommendation 2 & 3
- Streamline the Traffic Calming Process in Toronto
- Implement Traffic Calming in All Elementary School Zones by 2022
Design strategies aimed at addressing the built environment and calming traffic (bulb-outs, raised crosswalks, speed bumps, narrowing lanes, etc.) are essential tools in making our streets safer for people living with sight loss. It is also crucial that walking direction is delineated by Tactile Walking Surface Indicators (TWSI).
Build the Vision TO Recommendation 4
- Build Sidewalks on Every Street Being Reconstructed
Incomplete and devoid sidewalks in Toronto are a safety hazard. People who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind rely on accessible and clutter-free sidewalks to independently navigate the city.
Sidewalks are important navigational markers for people who use a white cane or guide dog, and without a sidewalk, pedestrians are forced to walk on the roadway creating a dangerous hazard.
Paths of travel should be distinctly marked and physically separated from vehicular traffic to ensure pedestrian safety.
Build the Vision TO Recommendation 6, 7, & 8
- Build Protected Bike Lanes on Main Streets, Including the Major Corridors in the Cycling Network Plan
- Build Safe, Connected Routes in Every Ward
- Accelerate the Cycling Network Plan to be Built in the Next Four Years
Ensuring roads are safer for cyclists and improving the cycling infrastructure would also benefit pedestrians. Unsafe streets drive some cyclists to ride on the sidewalk in contravention of City of Toronto bylaws. This creates a collision hazard for individuals living with blindness, partial sight, or Deafblindness. Recently, a blind woman in Regina had to retire her guide dog after a collision with a cyclist riding on the sidewalk.
Tandem cyclists who are blind or partially sighted (Trailblazers Tandem Cycling Club) would also benefit from protected bike lanes. Riding a tandem has its unique rewards and challenges. Safer cycling infrastructure ensures that cyclists of all abilities can enjoy riding in the city.
Build the Vision TO Recommendation 10
- Prioritize the Safety of Vulnerable Road Users by Outlawing Motor Vehicle Right Turns on Red
The Highway Traffic Act allows for motorists to make a right turn on a red light provided they have come to a complete stop. According to the City of Toronto, 13 per cent of pedestrian injuries and fatalities were the results of a collision on a right-hand turn.
Allowing motorists to make right-hand turns on red makes crossing intersections very dangerous for individuals with sight loss. Blindness is a spectrum and not all blind or partially sighted people carry mobility devices. Depending on a person's field of vision, they might not see a vehicle in their periphery until it is too late.
We believe that TCAT's recommendation to outlaw vehicles turning right on a red light would make crossing the street much safer for all pedestrians, but especially for vulnerable individuals like those with sight loss, mobility device users and seniors.
Build the Vision TO Recommendation 11
- Implement Controlled Crossings at All Bus and Streetcar Stops
Safe access to public transit is vital to people living with sight loss and seniors. Some areas of Toronto have bus or streetcar stops on every corner, but that is not the case throughout the entire city. Commuters should be able to access a safe pedestrian crossing near their transit stop. Some transit stops in Toronto are one kilometre or more away from a traffic light.
Pedestrian crossovers are identified by specific signs, pavement markings and lights. Some have illuminated overhead lights and pedestrian push buttons, but because all crossovers rely on the visual recognition from driver and pedestrian to safely cross, they are not accessible to people who are blind or partially sighted.
Build the Vision TO Recommendation 13
- Support the Transform Yonge Option for Yonge Street Between Sheppard and Finch Avenues
The Transform Yonge Option would see the City of Toronto widen pedestrian sidewalks, add bike lanes, and modernize infrastructure on Yonge Street between Finch and Sheppard avenues. Because this stretch of the city is so intertwined with the subway system, this presents a real opportunity to improve a portion of Toronto’s main corridor to be more accessible.
Clearing Our Path has some excellent recommendations that could be used as a showcase for accessible and inclusive urban planning.