Thirty-nine pedestrians were killed in Toronto streets last year, and people demand action! but not too much action, and not action that might affect drivers getting to work, and not action that might cost any taxpayer dollars of significance. So the Mayor of Toronto, the bold and determined John Tory, introduced his “smart, collaborative approach to reducing injuries and fatalities on our streets.” No unrealistic Vision Zero for him, because cars have to move in Toronto. It has the grand goal of reducing deaths by 20 percent over ten years, hence our description of it as Vision 31, 20 percent less than the 39 killed last year. Or should that be vision 38, given that it is only 2 percent per year.
Seriously, that was the plan. It even had a budget, and the Mayor defended its modest goals, quoted in Metro News:
Tory defended the 20 per cent target, saying the report makes clear the long-term goal is zero traffic deaths. He argued that since this is the first time the city has had a comprehensive road safety plan and it was important to take an “honest, realistic approach. We can go the old Toronto way, where there was either no plan at all, or a plan that had unattainable, unfunded objectives which sound good. Or we can take the new approach where we set realistic goals we will achieve,” he said.
There are some good things about the plan, including pedestrian safety corridors in dangerous areas, reduced speed limits, remote cameras in school zones, and mid-block crossings in long suburban blocks where seniors are the usual victim. Oh, and they will go after distracted or aggressive drivers. But the target of 20 percent reductions was universally regarded with scorn and hilarity. So the Mayor backtracked and said that the target would be amended from 20 percent to zero, but the money allotted for the program will “remain the same.” So what we have now is what the mayor called "unfunded objectives which sound good."
Really, being in New York City while all this was happening, I was certain that it was some comedy feed and not the news. Because while the Mayor is talking pedestrian safety, the public face of the police department is talking about making the roads safer and faster for cars. You see, most of us thought that the countdown clocks at intersections were their for pedestrian safety. The City website tells us:
The installation of countdown timers is just one initiative aimed at making Toronto more pedestrian friendly and the initiative has been endorsed by the City’s Pedestrian Committee. Pedestrian countdown signals provide more precise information to pedestrians about the remaining time available for them to cross the street.
But the city is just kidding, it's all a ruse. According to Constable Clint Stibbe of Traffic Services, the countdown clocks are there to keep us out of the roadway, to allow time for cars to make right and left turns. He says that the rules are that pedestrians are not allowed to step off the curb if the signal is counting down. He is quoted in Metro:
The car is not the one committing the offences, it’s the pedestrians,” Stibbe told Metro Tuesday, the day after the pilot project launched. “Unfortunately, individuals who are impatient, for lack of a better description, are finding that they’re going to take that chance and step on to the roadway.”...“the countdown is to signal to pedestrians already in the intersection that they have to clear out so drivers can make turns.”
Really? In fact, the Highway traffic Act makes no such ruling about countdown signals, it doesn't even mention them. It does say in 144(27) that "No pedestrian approaching pedestrian control signals and facing a solid or flashing “don’t walk” indication shall enter the roadway." but "Every pedestrian who lawfully enters a roadway in order to cross may continue the crossing as quickly as reasonably possible despite a change in the indication he or she is facing and, for purposes of the crossing, has the right of way over vehicles. "
The City of Toronto clarifies that there is no legislation regarding countdowns, but that where there is, it is being changed make it legal to cross even when the counter has started.
It's also worth noting that the countdown timers are still relatively new and provincial law changes slowly. In the US there is a substantial move towards changing their similar legislation to make it legal to begin crossing on the countdown/"flashing don't walk" as long as you complete the crossing before it goes past zero/"solid don't walk".
So Mayor Tory is promising rainbows and unicorns but nothing to save lives, and Constable Stibbs is making things up to blame pedestrians for everything. It's so nice to be back in Toronto.
Also: I am a huge fan of Edward Keenan of the Toronto Star. I started writing this article in Newark Airport on Wednesday, and he published his version of the story on Wednesday as well. They are very much alike, down to the rolling of the eyes. Ed adds the news of the latest tragedy of SUV drivers killing people on sidewalks, which I did not because it is no longer funny.