Transportation

Toronto Streets Not Just for Cars

By Ben Bull
Published May 06, 2009

Toronto City Council is currently reviewing two or three options with respect to calming traffic in the downtown core:

Outside of Toronto's borders, folks often think of this city as forward-thinking, but Toronto's downtown traffic calming measures have been stalled for decades. As with Hamilton, our streets are increasingly infiltrated with more traffic and faster speeds. And, as Hamilton plans to integrate more and more condos into its own downtown infrastructure, Toronto's inner city housing boom continues to pour hundreds and thousands of residents onto its increasingly dangerous streets.

In a response to the proposed right turn ban, Don Valley East councillor Denzel Minnan-Wong suggested, "This city seems to be on a deliberate campaign against drivers ... (against) people who drive or who want to come downtown to shop or just go to work."

He also suggested the ludicrous notion that swiftly moving traffic should be used as a cure for air pollution. "It's going to create more pollution. You're going to be sitting in an intersection. There's going to be no one crossing the road, and you won't be able to turn until the light turns green while cars back up behind you, and all of you continue to burn gasoline."

Councillor Minnan-Wong is wrong. You don't solve environmental problems by speeding up traffic - you find environmental solutions.

In case the councillor hasn't noticed, Toronto's downtown streets are neighbourhoods now, lined with childen skipping their way to school, young people out for a jog, Mum's and Dad's picking up the laundry or strolling to the shops. These streets are where we live. They are not suitable for speeding traffic.

I am a downtown resident and I would like to ask councillor Minnan-Wong three questions:

  1. Why shouldn't I be able to take my six-year-old for a bike ride downtown? (I can't now - it's too dangerous.)
  2. Why shouldn't I be able to stroll along Jarvis without having to herd my brood to one side every time a speeding car whizzes by?
  3. Why shouldn't I be able to walk or bike to work without having the inevitable once a day car-confrontation?

I know downtown driving is a pain but our streets are supposed to be safe and they are supposed to be shared. For too long we've seen traffic volume and traffic speeds steadily climb.

Councillor Minnan-Wong and all the other red light right turn detractors would do well to remember that Toronto's streets are not just for cars, they are for people, and it's time for the two wheeled, two-footed folks of Toronto to start taking them back.

(Note: an edited version of this blog entry will be published as a letter to the editor in tomorrow's Toronto Star.)

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 06, 2009 at 14:24:30

It's a common, and understandable, error to assume that the best way to improve air quality is to improve the efficiency of traffic flow.

The problem, as Amory Lovins might put it, is that by optimizing a given street, you end up pessimizing the city as a whole.

When streets are very efficient for drivers, what happens is that more people choose to driver longer distances more frequently. The result is an increase in overall air pollution. Those cities that commit the most resources to improving traffic flow end up with the worst air pollution.

When a city stops twisting itself inside-out to cater to motorists and invests instead in wider sidewalks, street trees, bike lanes, and more convenient transit, the result is a reduction in overall driving - and a reduction in overall net vehicle emissions.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted May 06, 2009 at 14:39:21

I lived in Toronto for several years during school and this story brings 2 things to mind.

1) As a pedestrian the only times I ever came close to being hit by another vehicle (cars twice and a bike once) was when I had the right of way to cross and the other guy was making a right hand turn. Not exactly undeniable proof of a problem but I can definitely see why eliminating right hand on red turns is being considered.

2) As a driver, between the other car traffic and the constant stream of pedestrians and cyclists its rare to be able to make a right hand turn on a red light anyway so I don't see why banning it at some intersections would be so unreasonable.

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By Finally (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2009 at 15:06:34

I lived at Jarvis & Isabella for a couple years, and I was so excited to learn that Jarvis was being slowed to traffic (sadly as I was moving back to Hamilton). I can't wait to see Jarvis restored to it's formy glory (too bad all those big, old trees were chopped down to widen the road in the first place).

Maybe people will actually walk to the Keg Mansion (former Massey family home) so they can turn their front yard back into a yard, and not a disguntingly uninviting slab of parking.

Any idea where one could find artists renderings of the new Javis?

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By JonC (registered) | Posted May 06, 2009 at 16:43:06

"As a pedestrian the only times I ever came close to being hit by another vehicle (cars twice and a bike once) was when I had the right of way to cross and the other guy was making a right hand turn."

Same here. Main to James is particularly bad.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted May 07, 2009 at 10:29:51

Re: right turns on the red-- when I drive, I like the convenience of being able to turn right on the red sometimes. That being said, like Urban Renaissance above, I wonder exactly how much time being allowed to turn right on the red light really saves on any given trip. My gut reaction here is that flow of traffic won't actually decrease noticeably if we stop allowing right turns on the red, but pedestrian safety will definitely increase. Hmmm... occasional convenience vs. safety. Seems like a no-brainer.

My biggest beef as a pedestrian here in Hamilton is the advanced green here at King St. East and Ottawa St. (remember it Ben?) Because vehicles (including the HSR buses on this route) are always pushing the envelope with an advanced green (just like with the right turn red, give drivers an inch and they'll take a mile), they usually proceed into the intersection and turn left in front of pedestrians even once the pedestrian walk signal is given and their green light has stopped flashing-- been almost hit more than once. However, if pedestrians wait until the intersection is completely clear, they'll often lose the chance to cross, before their signal turns red. It's absolutely ridiculous that I have to forbid my school-aged children from using one of their neighbourhood intersections because it is unsafe. While I don't necessarily object to advanced greens generally, surely the pedestrian should be the priority where light timing is concerned.

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By sick to my stomach (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2009 at 10:34:37

^SOOO true about the advance green.

The corner of Dundurn and Main is the same way, cars just keep turning long after the light has gone from advance green to green. Pedestrians have to run the gauntlet or else only cross on the west side.

The corner of Dundurn and King is even worse: you're not allowed to cross on the west side at all, so a person trying to get from the northwest corner to the southwest corner has to first cross to the northeast corner, then the southeast corner, and THEN the southwest corner.

All so it's a bit easier for cars to race through.

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By hunter (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2009 at 17:34:49

where main and king cross dundurn are definitely dangerous intersections, as noted above.

pedestrians on the west side of dundurn run across the five lanes of king to avoid crossing three times instead of once.

making king and main 2-way will most likely solve these problems.

as for racing downhill to the highway exits on king, a car right in front of my own got completely sideswiped by one joker blasting a red. we were going north on dundurn.

i remember the spec publishing a map of car insurance rates for regions within hamilton. king west was the most expensive, most likely caused by all of the accidents there.

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By everywhere (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2009 at 19:43:58

Hi all1 love the comments!

Ialso want to comment one the ONE about King/Dundurn IS dead wrong that pedestrians MUST walk east, south then west just to shop at Fortino's I complained before of this and actually OUR right to cross normal regardless of law! I see many MANY run across King to get across and beat traffic. LET'S PUSH THIS CHANGE! If not stupid, retarded! And the left hand turn signal on Main turn east I counted
...um...one steamboat, 2 steam boat 3 ok yellow now red I'm cycling half way through intersection! Never mind the many MANY cars/drivers try race this intersection while i had right of way and yes I nearly got ":?$#&*!-------------

I lived in TO but if i could I'd move back there....maybe!
I worked there night shift few years later but I got to know this city and was my home! i got real political and involved with bikes Not Cars way before Critical Mass ever existed.

I'm certain if I still lived there MAYBE (or maybe not) TO traffic improvements but perhaps moreso today I understand more & I'm wiser.

I still and always will love TO and still know how to get around but it's less and less often i get to cycle there.

Only takes a quiet few words from anyone for someone else to listen to pass it on can make a huge difference!

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By everywhere (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2009 at 19:58:30

Hi again,

I must complain about Dundurn St too from York to king is far too narrow when the east side is (2 lanes?) so, make center line in center and post bike lane both sides! The bike path on king designs cyclists to turn south then east then stuck on Dundurn(AGAIN!) but I simply hang a right on west side there and stay on Dundurn. Yeh like it's a crime i and many others break a law don't make any sense all for the drivers? Why do most of them have to drive anyway? They are the ones who bitch/complain of gas/oil costs but why whine when they could use public transit or cycle everywhere like myself and I assume many of U!

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By Big Red Wright (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2009 at 10:00:00

Couple of comments:
Montreal= no rights on red. Folks, including pedestrians, seem to get about.

War on drivers. Well, at last someone seems to get it. I don't think it would be that way if cities were not so thoroughly designed for automobiles and the car economy at present. The car economy may have peaked with further growth being unsustainable, but change is also going to be painful.

There's opportunity in being first in your region to be the multi-modal community, immaginatively redesigning transportation for all forms of human transport. What about colour-coded paving -- green for bikes, red (brick) for pedestrians, black for cars and yellow for areas of intersection where caution is essential? Would brighten the old town too. Then extending bike and pedestrian paths through PARKING LOTS as is often done through parks. How about considering multi-modal transit when locating public facilities, and not just where there's an easily developed brownfield?

Hamilton wants to be seen as a transportation hub? Engineering an entire, attractive system for pedestrians, transit, bikes and cars to get about while minimizing confrontation is an excellent way to promote this. Call it another example of the city's much lauded "potential."

If you're going to get a lot of squeeling over every incremental step, might as well go the whole hog.

As for Dundurn, close it between King & Main, reduce it to single-lane access for east-side residents, bikes and pedestrians. Not single-lane plus bike path and sidewalk but one, combined, limited-access path for all. This is war!

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 08, 2009 at 16:13:03

As a driver I always give the right of way to pedestrians however today, I was walking, I was crossing york street at Queen. I crossed the north side of york, I still had the right of way to cross the south side but the cars, the drivers were already inching into the crosswalk before their time to do so. There was a lady drivving a school bus and we were both were kind of shaking our heads.

Drivers are rude, they cannot wait and this behavior is unacceptable. Gee where are the cops?

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 11, 2009 at 23:07:58

ever since my first trip to Montreal, I've wondered why we all don't have 'no right on red' in our cities. It's so simple, yet makes life SOOOO much safer for pedestrians.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 12, 2009 at 09:38:36

Didn't Quebec recently reverse that law?

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted May 13, 2009 at 08:28:36

The Toronto proposition calls for banning right turns on red for just a few intersections where it has been suggested that this design may have been the cause of several accidents (this has not been proven).

As a driver I remember coming to Canada and loving this idea. As a pedestrian though I hated it. Same with advanced greens (yes Michelle I remember the Ottawa/King intersection well :) ). The experience of crossing te road in Canada is nothing like I remember it in Britain. In England the delimeters are clear, there is no mixing of the traffic. To me the idea that a driver can be 2 feet from your shins - and your children's bodies - with his foot on the gas, inching towards you as you take your time to cross is just asking for trouble. What if the driver's foot slips? What if my child runs back the way he came to retrieve something he dropped? As a parent I have to be so wary when I'm crossing. I'm not kidding about these once a day car confrontations (I had one yesterday with a guy at a stop sign. He turned onto my lane as I was halfway across with the kids, and almost side swiped me. I made him stop so I could give him a lecture :) ).

While I don't generally like the idea of making driving rules too prescriptive - there is evidence to suggest that less rules create better driving habits - it's clear that we need to change a few things to make it safer to cross.

Good discussion here.

Cheers

Ben

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