Council’s Vision Zero budget vote a break with the past
July 2, 2018
Toronto city council’s unanimous move last month to double this year’s road safety budget in light of recent cyclist and pedestrian deaths and public outcry is being called a “huge step forward for road safety” and a possible sign of a “thrilling” shift in thinking.
“This is the first time in eight years I can remember city council taking an issue the public was concerned about and on a dime changing its spending policy to really do something different,” said Councillor Gord Perks.
“I do think this is a huge step forward for road safety.”
In the past, council’s record for supporting staff’s road safety recommendations has been less encouraging, with key councillors trying prevent cycling infrastructure from being installed on Yonge St., Bloor St. W. and other locations across the city, and supporting motions that interfere with the premise of Vision Zero -- a plan announced in 2016 to reduce traffic deaths to zero by 2021.
“It’s not the cars going a little nuts, it’s the psycho cyclists,” said Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti during a council debate in June 2016. He was absent for the vote on Thursday.
The budget increase is set to go toward initiatives including red light cameras, automatic speed enforcement and the creation of a downtown collision reporting centre for cyclists — initiatives Patricia Woods, a York University professor, said are still within the “insufficiently ambitious” Vision Zero program.
“It’s a small to medium step in the right direction,” Woods said. “There’s so much work to do to prioritize vulnerable road users or just to create a system where we can share the road.”
On June 15 of this year, Mayor John Tory directed staff to draw $13 million from the city’s $260 million 2017 budget surplus to add more road safety signs, red light cameras, and infrastructure in 2018. On Thursday, council upped that amount further to $22 million, bringing the Vision Zero budget to $43.3 million for 2018 and a total of $109 million over five years.
“It was thrilling last night, people coming together and finally getting that this is a crisis in Toronto,” said Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, a vocal Vision Zero proponent, the day after council’s vote.
The increased budget followed a deadly week on Toronto’s streets that saw the deaths of a cyclist and pedestrian, bringing a fresh wave of criticism for the city’s version of Vision Zero. So far in 2018, four cyclists and 19 pedestrians have been struck and killed, according to data compiled by the Star. In 2017, four cyclists and 40 pedestrians died.
Since council approved Vision Zero two years ago, almost 100 pedestrians and cyclists have died.
The Star’s numbers are higher than police statistics in part because the force doesn’t count collisions on provincial highways within Toronto, or cyclist deaths that don’t involve a motorist.
Councillor Jaye Robinson spearheads Vision Zero and told the Star the program is being rolled out as quickly as possible and that council’s commitment “has never faltered.”
She refused to comment on why she thinks pedestrians and cyclists continue to die on the streets, but did say “all the commentary on social media, as well as in the paper, the finger pointing, it’s not going to get us to Vision Zero.”
Toronto’s Vision Zero “has barely started” and is not a quick fix to road fatalities, Robinson said.
While council has voted several times to speed up implementation and increase the budget, the stances several councillors have taken on road safety projects demonstrate they don’t understand what Vision Zero is about, said Woods.
“Vision Zero isn’t about changing behaviour through corrective measures in terms of guilt. It’s about redesigning the streets and enforcing that road design so it’s easy to understand and conflicts don’t arise,” Woods said.
At the public works and infrastructure committee, which is tasked with initiating road safety rules, overseeing road construction and leading Vision Zero, Councillor Stephen Holyday unsuccessfully tried to limit funding for the program in June 2016. He wanted the planned network to receive $8 million a year, despite staff recommending a budget of $16 million.
Holyday also attempted to delete 12 streets from the network, saying “somebody needs to stand up for drivers in this city.”
He voted for the launch of Vision Zero, but has also tried to pass a motion for the city to require cyclists be licenced, supported getting rid of bike lanes on Bloor St. W., and voted against making it easier for residents to get traffic calming measures installed in their neighbourhoods.
Mammoliti, also a member of public works who voted for Vision Zero, told council he thinks a “war on car is exactly what’s going on here” when debating the plan.
In an email to the Star, Mammoliti said he believes “putting cyclists in harms way, amongst cars and trucks, is the wrong thing to do” and said he is dedicated to improving commute times.
Also on the public works committee is Robinson (chair), McMahon and councillors Christin Carmichael Greb and Anthony Perruzza, who routinely support cyclist and pedestrian-friendly initiatives.
In February, the public works committee went against a staff recommendation to install bike lanes and reduce vehicle lanes on Yonge St. as part of its reconstruction. Instead, the majority of councillors endorsed an alternative that would put the bike lanes on the indirect route of Beecroft Rd., and maintains the number of vehicle lanes on Yonge St. The item has since been deferred by council.
What happened at the June council meeting, however, demonstrates councillors are hearing the public’s outcry about the seriousness of the road safety situation and are willing to do more about it, Wood said. “It also helps it’s an election year.”
Council passed Perks’ motion to spend $500,000 in 2018 for a consultant to review and improve the way the city does road resurfacing and reconstruction projects to ensure road safety is considered. The intention is to get the city to build streets with “the needs of cyclists and pedestrians first and foremost,” Perks said.
Holyday was among the 10 councillors who voted against Perks’ motion. He also didn’t approve of doubling the number of red-light cameras, completing the installation of 30 km-h speed limit signs, considering the purchase of smaller fire and garbage trucks so roads can be built narrower, increasing community council budgets for traffic calming measures, spending an extra $4 million on road safety in cultural corridors and funding the downtown reporting centre.
His motion for the city to consider accepting private donations for watch your speed signs was passed. “The city can now implement increased safety measures with a lesser expense to the taxpayer. It’s a win-win,” Holyday said.
At the beginning of the council meeting, before the votes were cast, Councillor Joe Cressy requested councillors’ support for Vision Zero be not just situational, but also absolute; not only when it’s easy but also when it’s hard.
Cressy said: “It’s time for this council to catch up to where the public is and our public is at serious risk on our streets.”