Council backs street-by-street approach to lowering speeds, but some warn it maintains ‘fatal’ limits

Council has given its stamp of approval to the city’s new road safety plan, which calls for a street-by-street approach to lowering speeds — but road safety advocates say the plan maintains “fatal” speed limits throughout much of the city.

Dubbed “Vision Zero 2.0,” it’s the latest incarnation of Toronto’s effort to bring the number of road deaths to zero.

So far this year, more than a dozen pedestrians have died, Toronto police data shows, including an elderly woman who was killed after being hit by a driver in North York on Tuesday, the day council debated the proposals.

“We’re maintaining fatal speed limits … When you’re struck by a driver at 50 kilometres, that’s an 85 per cent risk of death,” said critic Jess Spieker, a spokesperson for road safety advocacy group Friends and Families for Safe Streets.

The new plan recommends dropping speed limits on a variety of arterial road segments across the city, as identified by city staff, including stretches of Bathurst Street, Brimley Road, Eglinton Avenue, Finch Avenue, Martin Grove Road, Sheppard Avenue, Steeles Avenue, Warden Avenue, Yonge Street, and others.

For most, the drop is from 60 km/h to 50 km/h, and for others either 70 km/hr to 60 km/hr or 50 km/hr to 40 km/hr.

Data from the World Resources Institute shows lowering speeds does dramatically decrease the chance of pedestrians being killed — and when a car is driving 30 kilometres an hour, that risk drops to just 10 per cent.

With so many roads retaining far higher speed limits under the new plan, Spieker said the city will continue to experience “violent, preventable death.”

Jared Kolb, a spokesperson for cycling advocacy organization CycleTO, said the city’s efforts are a “good step forward” beyond the first incarnation of its road safety plan.

“Will it get us to achieving Vision Zero? We don’t think so,” he added.

Coun. Mike Layton, who represents a downtown ward, was among those raising similar questions in council chambers, asking why the city doesn’t reduce the default speed limit “across the city” and have staff justify raising it, instead of the other way around.

“We have to start prioritizing safety over convenience of drivers,” he told his colleagues.

Tory defends approach as ‘proper way’

But with the backing of Mayor John Tory, the plan was approved by a unanimous vote.

Speaking to reporters before the meeting, Tory defended the street-by-street approach, calling the data-backed choices from staff the “proper way” instead of a “blanket solution.”

Spieker sees it differently.

“Blanket policies are what works,” she told CBC Toronto. “It is a blanket problem.”

And some other cities are taking that across-the-board approach, including Hamilton.

The city’s public works committee recently voted to gradually lower the limit from 50 km/h to 40 on all “local and minor collector roadways,” and will also reduce the limits to 30 km/h within 150 metres of any school boundary.

During Toronto council’s debate, Tory was among those who did back a successful motion from Layton, which passed in a vote of 25-1 and calls for city staff to consider future recommendations about changes to the “default speed limit.”

The city’s Vision Zero 2.0 also goes beyond just speed, and includes recommendations to explore adding more road design changes and mid-block sidewalks.

Photo radar is another key piece, and Tory said with provincial approval, it could be in place in Toronto by December.

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