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Some food for thought on transportation and road design

TONIGHT: VIRTUAL COMMUNITY MEETING ON PUBLIC HEALTH


Join me for a virtual community meeting TONIGHT for an informative discussion with Toronto Public Health about COVID-19 and the current situation in our city. Register by 6PM to participate. Click here to sign up now.

 

As promised, I want to provide a brief rundown of the discussion we had during our Virtual Community Meeting on Transportation last week.


First off, I want to thank my two special guests: my fellow City Councillor, Brad Bradford, and Kevin Rupasinghe who is the Campaigns Manager at Cycle Toronto. They helped us take the conversation in new directions for Don Valley North.


It can be very hard to talk about redesigning roads or introducing cycling infrastructure when there is a specific road being proposed. Stating the reasons why your specific street is proposed starts to sound like arm-twisting if you are emotional about change.


That's why it was helpful when Brad and Kevin discussed past projects and outcomes around the city, giving us food for thought about our future in Don Valley North. It's important to note that specific cycling lane proposals for our ward are still a bit of a ways away and no consultation has taken place yet.


Don Valley North has its transportation challenges and this is an opportune time to discuss them without getting too heated. City staff are able to do some minor traffic speed and volume studies at the moment, but the pandemic's impact on our traffic and transportation habits prevents them from doing any meaningful area-wide studies.


Further challenging traffic data is the Eglinton Crosstown, which continues to impact traffic counts on all north/south routes. So, this is a good time to discuss and prioritize for later. The good news is the Crosstown is on schedule and our return to "normal" traffic conditions is little more than a year way.



Safety


Councillor Bradford discussed how community consultation influences cycling lane design, how chronic intersection flaws can be addressed as the lanes are installed and how car movement is counted and then incorporated into any design. Brad has professional expertise in this regard as he was a City Planner prior to being elected Councillor and took part in exactly this type of road design.


Brad reminded us of the urgency surrounding City Council’s commitment to Vision Zero, a program he has been a real steward for at Council along with Mayor Tory. Last year, we saw 42 fatalities on our city streets and almost countless serious injuries. Brad’s team shares something in common with mine: both report their most common calls from residents are concerns about speeding and pedestrian safety.


Kevin Rupasinghe was a pleasant surprise for some residents on the call. He outlined how Cycle Toronto tries to take an approach that serves all road users, not just bikes. Kevin and his team at CycleTO are more than just pro-bike lane activists; they spend a lot of their time and resources on safe cycling education and route-planning to accommodate all users of the road. This was music to the ears of some of our residents who have been challenged by cyclists speeding along sidewalks.


The most common complaints we hear about the growing number of cyclists is that they don't ride safely. CycleTO runs workshops that actively promote using lights and reflective clothing for dark mornings, travelling at safe speeds on nature trails, staying off the sidewalks and obeying traffic signals and stop signs. These activities are supported by private donations from Torontonians who know that safe cycling is rewarded by the installation of more cycling infrastructure.


Vision Zero


Adding bike lanes to our roads can benefit all users. Every time we take a car off the road by offering its driver an alternative, we lighten traffic.


Here's a local example: think of the hundreds of high school students who are driven during morning rush hour to A. Y. Jackson, Georges Vanier and George S. Henry Academy because their parents don’t think they would be safe riding a bicycle. If we remove that worry, how many cars are removed from the morning rush hour?


Where roads are overly wide and speed is a constant issue, adding cycling lanes while narrowing and maintaining the same number of car lanes can act as very effective traffic calming. Vision Zero staff teams are looking at all sorts of traffic calming possibilities.


Enforcement is an immediate one that requires no community consultation. Traffic has somewhat increased even amidst the pandemic, due to school trips and some businesses remaining open. In response, the Vision Zero team has deployed a 16-officer enforcement unit in the Toronto Police Service to combat unsafe use of our streets.


Another Vision Zero initiative that is proceeding is city-wide speed limit reduction. Because we are taking a city-wide approach to the speed limit, consultation is not needed. Between now and the end of 2025, the goal of City Transportation is to reduce all major arteries (think multi-lane roads) from 60 km/h down to 50 km/h.


All local arteries (think the through-road in and out of your subdivision) will consistently be 40 km/h instead of switching back and forth to 50. Lastly, local roads that feed into arteries of both types will be reduced to 30 km/h.



Community consultation


All other types of changes to roads require community consultation. There is a report coming in 2021 about whether or not we should add dedicated bus lanes on parts of Sheppard Avenue. I assured virtual meeting attendees once again that if City staff recommend this, a community consultation must come before any final decision is made.


In the case of speed bumps, even when staff test speeds and recommend them, a neighbourhood poll is required before proceeding, as is the case on Ernest Avenue. City staff will be mailing out a poll to that neighbourhood in November. Virtual community meetings can allow us to consult with you or even facilitate a discussion about how to improve your local road network. All you need to do is contact my office and we can help organize a virtual think tank for your neighbourhood organization. We can make use of this cold weather season, when we will have to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19, to plan future transportation requests for each neighbourhood. In the meantime, it will take time to convert all 5,556 kilometres of roads in Toronto but some changes are already in place. I don’t want any of you to get a ticket, or worse, be involved in one of those terrible collisions that happen in November — one of the most dangerous driving months of the year. So, here's a little challenge for you:

  1. Check the dashboard clock when you pull out of your driveway.

  2. Look for the speed limit signs along your journey and practise going the speed limit. Take note of what 50 km/h feels like with your car. What does 40 km/h feel like?

  3. When you reach your destination, check the dashboard clock again. Did it really cost all that much to travel at the speed limit? Is everyone in one piece? If you are feeling pretty good about that, pass it on. Get others to take the challenge.


Our virtual meeting tonight will feature an informative chat with one of Toronto's incredible Public Health nurses for a pandemic update. The numbers are concerning — tune in to find out what these numbers mean and what we can do to stay safe. If you can’t join us, I’ll include a bit about it in next week’s column along with a rundown of next week’s City Council meeting decisions. Talk soon.

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