Toronto's Carnage in the Streets Called a "State of Emergency"

via. Elliott Cowand Jr /

Another cyclist is killed and people are getting very, very upset and writing about it.

As we were publishing the post A deadly car crash is a microcosm of everything wrong in our roads recently, a 58 year old woman was killed at a busy corner in the University of Toronto, on a road where activists fought for years to install bike lanes. According to Global News, "Investigators said the truck was travelling northbound on St. George and was turning east onto Bloor when it struck the cyclist"- a spot where I pass almost every time I am on my bike. I have been unable to determine if this was a classic right hook, which would make this a rant about side guards on trucks. That may follow.

This particular crash has resonated through the city. Former chief planner for Toronto Jennifer Keesmaat was certainly pulling no punches, telling the Star's David Rider:

I am calling for a state of emergency, which means treating this crisis as a high priority and investing in immediate measures to create a safe environment for vulnerable road users.

The Globe and Mail editorialized about the joke that is Vision Zero in Toronto (which I wrote about in TreeHugger here)

The mayor’s goal of reducing annual road fatalities to zero is nowhere in sight. These days, if Toronto gets through a week without the death of a cyclist or pedestrian, it counts as a small miracle.

The prescriptions in Vision Zero are simply not working. Mr. Tory needs to admit that fact and start over with a program that effectively reduces the speeds of cars and trucks, better protects cyclists, and above all makes more room on Toronto’s streets for those who don’t drive.

Richard Florida wrote a long, passionate piece on Medium where he starts by telling us that he has given up riding in Toronto because it is so unsafe.

ghost bike

Lloyd Alter/ Roger du Toit ghost bike, May 2016/CC BY 2.0

Today, a 58 year old woman was killed almost right in front of my University of Toronto office. I love to ride.But recently I have just about stopped riding in Toronto because the streets are just too dangerous. There’s a ghost bike around the corner from my home where another cyclist died. [that would probably be Roger DuToit] Twenty-one cyclists and pedestrians have died this year; 93 have been killed since Toronto launched its Vision Zero initiative roughly two years ago in June 2016.

Being Richard Florida, he does an urban analysis.

In addition to its huge toll on lives and public safety, Toronto’s dependence on the car generates enormous deadweight costs in terms of traffic and congestion, the city’s car dependence limits the region’s productivity and innovation, contributes to growing economic divides. The biggest issue facing Toronto today is its over-dependence on the car.

Florida notes also how this affects the politics of the city and cities all over North America.

Dependence on the car has also helped to shape the increasingly polarized politics of the city and region. Commuting by car, along with living in the suburbs, was one of the strongest factors in support for the late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, according to detailed research by political scientist Zack Taylor. This is in line with research from Stanford University professor Clayton Nall which shows that investment in roads and an extensive interstate highway system has played a key role in America’s highly polarized Red-Blue divide — and, by extension, the election of Donald Trump. Eight years later in Toronto and Ontario, the car — and the spatial structure it has enabled — stand at the root of our polarized electorate.

And indeed, according to John Ibbitson speaking on the CBC, they also elected Doug Ford as Premier of Ontario, because two-thirds of the people in the province now live in suburbs, and were sick of carbon taxes, high energy costs and investment in transit when they drove everywhere and wanted cheap gas. Florida concludes:

The car remains our most serious threat to public health and safety and an obstacle to sustainable growth and development. In her last book, Dark Age Ahead, the ever-prescient Jane Jacobs identified the automobile as “the chief destroyer of American communities.” It is time her adopted home of Toronto heed that warning.

Writing in the Star, Shawn Micallef notes that the Mayor of Toronto says that “the deaths of pedestrians and cyclists are deeply troubling to me” but it doesn't seem to make much difference.

His tweet has been met with sustained anger from cyclists and others. People are tired of the mayor’s thoughts; they want action. Perhaps the mayor thinks he has the power of telekinesis, the ability to move objects with his mind, because after each spat of cycling and pedestrian deaths the mayor says more words like this, and offers more thoughts, but rarely any action.

Meanwhile, the very day after writing that, Shawn gets rear-ended on his bike.

Of course if you follow the replies to Jennifer or Shawn's tweets, you will find the majority are attacking cyclists for not wearing helmets, weaving in and out of traffic and wearing headphones. Shawn says "Come at me with your “whattabout bad cyclists” junk - have already yelled and swore in public today. Ready for the internet."

Will anything change? I am not optimistic about it. The suburban majority controls City Council, thanks to Doug Ford's predecessor, who merged all the municipalities in the old Metro Toronto for precisely this reason, to drown out the urban lefties downtown. The mayor stacked the committee responsible for all of this with suburban politicians who, as Shawn notes, are hostile to improving cycling and pedestrian conditions in Toronto. As Oliver Moore reports about one committee member who doesn't think bikes should be on the roads,

Mr. Mammoliti argues that he is representing what he believes is the majority of people who don’t want bicycle lanes on city roads. To those who don’t want him to air those views, he added, “tough bananas.”

But it is an emergency, it is a crisis, it is a disaster, and just perhaps it is enough that people will vote to finally throw these guys out come the election this fall. But I doubt it; the drivists are still a majority and people who walk or cycle should just keep out of their way. Instead of Vision Zero, we will just get Hack-a-thons and prayers.