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Death by traffic: What data tells us about Toronto's roads

by Phillip Mendonça-Vieira, special for YongeStreet.

No matter how you get around in the city, Toronto’s roads are working against you. We’re all beset by congestion, unsafe driving conditions and needlessly high injury and fatality rates. In fact, traffic fatalities are currently at their highest level in five years. Despite this, even marginal improvements in our roads’ infrastructure are constantly being fought out of principle. As our city continues to grow, we owe it to ourselves and our future residents to make our transportation options more accommodating, and safer for everyone.

The current shape and design of our roads is maiming and killing people in our city every day.

I know this because, thanks to the reporting done by journalists in Metro Toronto and the Globe and Mail, I’ve started to track pedestrian and cyclist deaths in Toronto over at http://deathbytraffic.ca

Consider this: in 2016 so far, 16 pedestrians or cyclists have been killed on our streets. That is one death for every 7.6 days. As reported by the CBC and the Toronto Star, in 2015, 64 people were killed on our roads - 42 of which were cyclists or pedestrians. In 2014, 51 people were killed. In 2013, there were more traffic fatalities in Toronto (63) than there were homicides (57). And, according to a report by Toronto Public Health, in a shocking 67% of cases pedestrians had the right of way when they were hit.

Referencing an upcoming bike lanes pilot project, an otherwise well-meaning councillor from Etobicoke had driven across Bloor St. during rush hour in the pouring rain. Once he arrived at his destination, he reported an absence of cyclists. This felt… uncharitable. Myopic, even. I’d heard the morbidly familiar cadence over the radio, and on Twitter, but it wasn’t until last week that I felt so annoyed about this, I decided to do something about it. I decided to look up the statistics and capture what I find on http://deathbytraffic.ca.

I should tell you a little bit about myself. I run a tech startup. I’ve lived in Toronto for most of my life. I've lived in midtown, North York, and downtown. Growing up, my family did not have the money for a car, so I got around in other ways. I started commuting using a bicycle in high school. I've biked every winter for the past six years. I've biked from Etobicoke to Scarborough and from Downsview to the lakeshore. I avoid cycling in the rain whenever possible. It’s unpleasant, and it’s also a death trap. Visibility is reduced, the asphalt is slippery and everyone is on edge. The day before that tweet, five pedestrians and a cyclist were struck in a single evening. That same day, a cyclist was sent to the hospital and a pedestrian was killed. The following day, another cyclist was hit and suffered life threatening injuries.

Most collisions in Toronto happen at intersections and along busy arterial routes. How can we reduce injuries and fatalities?

The research – available in the form of lengthy reports from Toronto Public Health, and the Chief Coroner of Ontario – is unequivocal. Seniors are disproportionately affected. Most collisions happen at intersections and the vast majority occur along busy arterial routes. They happen all over the city. And we stand to significantly reduce injuries and fatalities through two simple ideas.

First, we need to calm traffic. You are five times likelier to survive an impact with a vehicle at 30km/hr than at 50km/hr. If we reduce deadly traffic by narrowing roads, adding curb bulges, and lowering the speed limits on busy urban streets, we can significantly reduce injury rates.

Second, we need to change how our roads are designed. It’s not enough to change the law; almost no one intends to run a cyclist over. The rate at which it keeps happening, though, suggests that it is not the malfeasance of our drivers but the design of our roadways that is at fault. We’re sorely lacking in infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. As demonstrated in other cities, simple measures like bike lanes can have big impacts: the installation of cycle tracks in New York City decreased cyclist and pedestrian injuries by 57% and 29% respectively.

Traffic in Toronto is dangerous for everyone. It doesn't have to be this way.

Phillip Mendonça-Vieira is an immigrant, a software engineer and the co-founder of Appcanary.com. He lives in Toronto. You can also find him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/phillmv
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