On July 14, 2016 it was nearly 9 pm before Toronto City Council concluded a long debate and unanimously approved Toronto’s first Road Safety Plan. Council also approved a budget increase to fast-track the plan.
One of the most controversial aspects of the proposed 10-year plan was an initial target to reduce the number of fatal and serious injury collisions by only 20%. In response to public criticism about such a weak target, City Council voted to endorse the goal of zero fatalities, or Vision Zero.
Ensuring that everyone arrives home alive is the only acceptable goal for a road safety plan. However, despite the plan’s acceleration, it is unlikely that the approach is ambitious enough to achieve its goal. The plan does not adopt a new paradigm shift away from our traditional approach that with an emphasis on educating road users, resting on the assumption that those not “educated” are inevitably at increased risk. A Vision Zero approach to road safety places the responsibility for road safety firmly on the shoulders of the system designers to build streets for safe speeds that accommodate the inevitable mistakes that humans make.
In fairness to the new plan though, the majority of the 45 counter-measures do focus on design changes that are expected to reduce injuries and save lives. While limited, a couple of notable measures include 15 new corner radius designs to slow turning motor vehicles and shorten pedestrian crossing distances, and 10 new mid-block pedestrian crossings that are especially critical for vulnerable road users such as seniors and children.
The reason that number of interventions is limited is because Toronto’s budget for road safety is actually quite modest compared to other cities. Looking at the ratio of the road safety budget to 100,000 population, compared to five other North American cities (Boston, Edmonton, San Francisco, Washington DC, New York City), Toronto is spending the least per person at .57, and Washington DC is at the top with a ratio of 5.52. On sheer numbers alone, the budget for Toronto’s road safety plan (16.1M) is the second lowest compared to these five cities, most of which are much smaller than Toronto. Boston’s budget is the lowest at 3.1M annually and NYC is the highest at 31M. San Francisco, which has about a third of Toronto’s population, spends close to double annually on road safety.
Overall, however, despite there being considerable room for improvement, Toronto’s first road safety plan is an important step forward for addressing this critically important issue.