Vision Zero meets Zero Vision in Toronto

put up a sign
via twitter/ How to protect pedestrians: put up a sign

Vision Zero is the Swedish strategy that has successfully and dramatically reduced the number of deaths of pedestrians. Matts-Åke Belin, project manager for Vision Zero in Sweden, was in Toronto recently and explained how Vision Zero works, and describes it on CBC Radio, after listening to callers complain about pedestrians stepping into the roads and looking at cellphones and cyclists generally being in the way. Belin said it's not about blaming the victims who are hit by vehicles.

"You have to realize that you have young people, you have old people, you have all kinds of people. With a philosophy like Vision Zero, you take that for granted. Instead of starting to change them, you have to start to accommodate for them and design a system for humans."

vision zero people are part of the equationVision Zero/Screen capture

A key tenet of Vision Zero is that just setting rules doesn’t work; if it feels safe to drive at 80 in a 40 zone, people will do it. Traffic lights at intersections are not very safe; when someone goes through them, they are going fast, so if there is a pedestrian in the way, they pedestrian will likely get killed. And drivers do go through lights and pedestrians do step into streets because people are fallible. That’s why in Sweden, they are getting rid of traffic lights and putting in roundabouts; there are still crashes, but they are at much lower speed and people tend not to die in them. As the Vision Zero site notes:

Our road systems are based on all the factors long known to pose hazards. They are allowing drivers to take risks way beyond our human capability. And our road systems have an unclear responsibility chain, at times, blaming victims for crashes and injuries…. We’re also naturally prone to be distracted and have our attention diverted by music, phone calls, smoking, passengers, insects, or events outside the car. On top of this, we just make silly mistakes. The human factor is always present – 365 days a year. An effective road safety system needs to take human fallibility into account.

One way they do that is by slowing people and cars down.

On the same day that Belin was speaking in Toronto, Mayor John Tory was out at a suburban intersection, trying to speed up traffic. Ben Spurr writes in the Star:

Standing at the corner of Finch Ave. E. and Victoria Park Ave., which is one of the targeted intersections, he said the strategy was “not going to eliminate traffic in the city but it’s going to make it flow better, which is something I think people have a right to expect.” The mayor said the public wants officials to “do everything we can to try and alleviate the traffic that is causing a lot of social and economic and environmental issues for us.”


The Big New Idea for protecting pedestrians is to put up big yellow signs telling drivers that they must yield to pedestrians/cyclists instead of crushing them, which I suppose they might have forgotten.

Kyle Miller map© Kyle Miller

This all comes just a few days after Planner Kyle Miller collected public data and showed that “542 pedestrians and 541 bikers have been hit by cars since June 1. The 1,083 collisions works out to 9.5 crashes every day, or one every 2.5 hours.” He tells Ben Spurr:

“If we had 10 people mugged a day, or 10 people shot, stabbed (there would be a bigger outcry)” he said. “But violence on the road has been so normalized, it’s not even news anymore.”


The Mayor is disturbed by these statistics, but like just about everyone else in Toronto, is profoundly uninterested in the principles of Vision Zero, because that might slow down the flow of traffic. Maureen Coyle of Walk Toronto notes that the Mayor's changes actually make things worse for pedestrians, and giving priority to cars.

“It’s like we’re having two separate conversations.”

Welcome to Toronto.

Tags: Toronto | Transportation

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