Corp Comm Connects

Non-profit group takes road safety into its hands with North York experiment
Oct. 7, 2019
Ben Cohen

Welcome to Pineway Boulevard, a charming suburban street complete with a tree for every bungalow, a parkette for every school and, for most of last week, signs on each block warning drivers to slow down.

It was a test of a temporary measure to combat what residents say has been a plague of speeding drivers using the North York street to avoid Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway for years.

“Pineway is the place your GPS sends you if there’s a problem on the DVP,” Don Valley North councillor Shelley Carroll said. “But that’s not what the road was designed for. You should not be doing that. This is a local street in an area littered with schools.”

Ms. Carroll says residents have been expressing worry to her for some time.

“We’re really concerned," Pineway resident Julie Tai said. "I have a young son, and I don’t let him play out in the yard because of the speeding.”

In an effort to show how residential streets can be made more pedestrian-friendly, a non-profit group called 8 80 Cities temporarily narrowed the road on a section of Pineway Boulevard to help control traffic. The group’s name reflects its aim to make cities safe for everyone, whether they’re eight or 80 years old.

Ms. Carroll said speeding on Pineway has led to several injuries in the past decade, mostly affecting seniors and usually occurring near the local elementary school. Nearly one fifth of the area’s residents are seniors, according to the latest census from the City of Toronto.

“Everyone agrees something has to be done here,” she said.

Pedestrian injuries from automobiles have been on the rise in Toronto since 2015, with Toronto Police data showing nearly 160 serious injuries last year. In 2018, 41 pedestrians died in collisions, a 10.8 per cent rise from the previous year.

In 2016, the City of Toronto adopted a multinational safety project called Vision Zero with the goal of eliminating traffic-related deaths. The city had 44 pedestrian fatalities that year, the highest in the past decade. Council approved an update of the project, Vision Zero 2.0, in July, amid news of the 28th traffic death of the year.

On Pineway, 8 80 Cities installed large wooden barriers to create narrow points where drivers would have to decelerate. Flower pots, and signs reading “SLOW DOWN!” were added, and community members painted the barriers bright colours. The structures were taken down on Friday morning after five days.

Amanda O’Rourke, executive director of 8 80 Cities, said her team used a street design guide from the National Association for City Transportation Officials to create the layout. She says barriers have an advantage over speed bumps because, by extending out from the curb, they prevent cars from passing each other quickly.

“Residents have complained for a long time that the speeding on the street has been problematic,” Ms. O’Rourke said. “This is an interim measure to engage a broader conversation within the community. The goal is to get a permanent installation.”

The approval process for permanent traffic-calming measures is lengthy, and requires support from residents, including a community meeting, and in some circumstances, a petition. Ms. Carroll said that despite concern from the community, it has been difficult to gather support for something permanent.

“The pop-up has gotten people’s attention,” she said. “Now when I call a meeting to talk about this, I’m sure I’ll get better attendance than I got the first couple times we tried to engage about this problem.”

Residents and advocates were largely pleased with the installation, with a few caveats.

“I love the pop-up,” Jess Spieker, member of the advocacy group Friends and Families for Safe Streets, said on Monday. “It seems effective at slowing drivers down to the posted speed of 40 [kilometres per hour], which is still too high for a school zone. It’s technically allowed, but it would be much safer if it was reduced to 30.”

Ontario is the only province with an urban school zone speed limit above 30 km/h.

“I think it’s good in the school zone, but I live farther down the street,” Ms. Tai said on Tuesday, adding that she remained guarded about letting her son play outside. “Drivers still speed the rest of the way. I’m still definitely going to be disappointed when it’s taken down.”

Ms. Carroll said that while most of the residents she’s spoken to were excited about the road transformation, a few seniors told her it would “never work.” She responded that the installation was temporary, and the goal was only to see what might make the street safer.

This is the second of three temporary road transformations planned by 8 80 Cities. An anonymous donor provided the funds after a friend was killed in a traffic collision last year. The first was a two-day pop-up at Danforth and Woodbine avenues. The installation focused on engineering walkability on the Danforth, refitting two curb lanes with sitting areas and adding protected bike lanes.

“We took the most car-centric type of street design in the city and turned it into the most pedestrian-centric design in the city,” said Councillor Brad Bradford, whose ward hosted the Danforth installation. “Vision Zero 2.0 takes an important step forward in addressing road safety in our city. It’s an update – it looks at the data and it recalibrates our approach."

Mr. Bradford says car-first infrastructure is a safety risk.

“We need a new agenda for roads in this city," he said, adding that Toronto has had nearly 30 pedestrian deaths this year. “We need to prioritize safety and people. It’s heartbreaking. It’s not going to get better until we take the steps to improve our street design.”