Scarborough’s unsafe streets and how to protect pedestrians, cyclists and drivers discussed at meeting

Emergency crews at a fatal incident on Kingston Road west of Midland Avenue that took the life of a 71-year-old male pedestrian in July of 2021. Beach Metro Community News file photo.

By AMARACHI AMADIKE

“I see my death. And it’s crossing at a signalized intersection and someone decides to hit me at 75 kilometres an hour,” said one senior Scarborough resident at a recent community meeting.

“I see my death when I’m walking down my street and there’s no sidewalks and a car that is zooming down Kingston makes it around the corner – a little right hand turn – and is down to 60km/h maybe, and then [in an instant] I’m gone,” said the resident at the June 25 meeting.

His words mimicked the thoughts of many of the Scarborough residents that gathered at Immaculate Heart Of Mary School (101 Birchmount Rd.) to discuss the Danforth-Kingston Complete Street project which aims to “make travel safer, more inviting” for community members between Victoria Park Avenue and Scarborough Golf Club Road.

Over the years, Scarborough residents are more likely to be involved in traffic incidents involving injuries and death more frequently than members of other regions in the Greater Toronto Area. Although boasting the least amount of auto trips, according to the Scarborough District Safety Action Plan, Scarborough has the highest rate of fatal collisions.

City officials connect this to the fact that Scarborough has the longest stretches of high-speed arterial roads in the GTA.

With 90 per cent of fatalities occurring on these roads, Vision Zero, the city’s action plan aimed at reducing traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries, is focussing on improving the safety measures on arterial roads such as Kingston Road.

However, many Scarborough residents, such as transportation planner Kevin Rupasinghe who placed second in the Scarborough Southwest council byelection in November of 2023, believe changes to Scarborough’s infrastructure are essential to meeting the city’s Vision Zero targets.

“The bus is what moves the most number of people in Scarborough,” said Rupasinghe. “If you’re on the bus, you’re walking to and from a station; you’re crossing the street and waiting at bus stops. That means you’re exposed to people driving and the way Scarborough streets are designed is only with people driving in mind.”

Along with having the longest high-speed arterial roads in the GTA, Scarborough also has the longest distances – 871 metres – between safe crossings. This means Scarborough residents have to walk an extra six minutes between safe crossings compared to residents in the rest of Toronto.

With most Scarborough residents using buses and not willing to add an extra six minutes to their trip simply to get to the other side of the street, jaywalking across these high-speed roads which cut through residential areas has become a community culture.

According to the City of Toronto, the most common attractors to midblock crossings that lead to serious or fatal accidents are nearby retail shops or TTC stops.

Rupasinghe believes much of the problem on Kingston Road is that it was constructed as a highway. However, over time Scarborough has attracted more residents who have created communities along this stretch, converting what was once just a high speed roadway to a residential area.

“People are moving their vehicles at lethal speeds that if collision occurs–when a collision occurs–it’s hard to survive,” he said.

“Projects like the Danforth-Kingston Complete Street are exactly the kinds of projects we need to be doing more of to help Scarborough think about its future. Not to keep building roads like we did in the past but to say ‘how do we make these streets work for everybody.”

Rupasinghe told Beach Metro Community News that one way to fix this problem is to lower the speed limit in a way that matches its surroundings.

He also suggested that the city implements transit lanes to create a free flowing system for TTC users. The idea is that an efficient transit system within Scarborough will incentivize people to use transit more often and leave the cars at home, thus leading to lower chances of auto related deaths.

Rupasinghe said that converting the parking lanes along Kingston Road to transit lanes – rather than reconstructing – would be the easiest plan of action.

“Kingston Road is already a very wide road,” said Rupasinghe. “I don’t think widening it makes it a more comfortable place to be. And we also don’t have the money to do that.”

Kingston Road has enough space to experiment with ideas to create a safer system that still encourages free flowing traffic. But, one community member at the June 25 meeting inquired about the stretch of road between Victoria Park and Warden avenues where drivers reach – and surpass–speeds of 70km/h in very close proximity to children riding bikes on very narrow sidewalks.

Although just 26 per cent of Toronto’s school-aged children live in Scarborough, they make up 34 percent of pedestrian and cyclist accidents amongst the demographic, according to the Scarborough District Safety Action Plan.

Nonetheless, officials say a full road reconstruction would be needed to “capture space”, admitting that the current scope of this project does not include reconstruction plans for this stretch of Kingston Road in Birch Cliff.

The intersection of Kingston Road and Warden Avenue is shown in this Beach Metro Community News file photo.

Scarborough Southwest Councillor Parthi Kandavel, who was present at the June 25 meeting, said that although the city isn’t yet entertaining the idea of reconstruction, there are other measures that can be put in place to promote safety.

“I’m in favour of providing protected bike lanes that are not at the expense of motor vehicle lanes,” he said at the community meeting.

Kandavel suggested that a good way to mitigate accidents in such areas is through enforcement by adding speeding cameras.

“We’ve got a number of streets with the same width and the same traffic flow so we have to look at it from a system perspective,” said Kandavel.

Considering Scarborough’s heavy reliance on cars, road safety measures have become vital in the minds of many residents. According to the City of Toronto, 23 per cent of Scarborough residents believe road safety is the most pressing issue as opposed to 12 per cent in the rest of the city.

With some at the community meeting protesting against bike lanes at the expense of free flowing traffic, others, like Jess Spieker, a member of Friends and Families For Safe Streets who survived a near fatal accident, believe that slower traffic is little sacrifice to protect a human life.

“When you have roads that are designed with only lanes for cars, no barriers between people outside of cars and car traffic, that guarantees that people will be severely injured and killed in collisions,” said Spieker.

In 2015, Spieker was struck by an SUV that “made a negligent left turn” as she rode her bike to work. She suffered a broken spine, severe soft tissue damage to her left side, and a brain injury.

“If you do not support safe street design, what you are actually supporting is more people – more loved ones – being killed and devastated,” said Spieker.

“If you could understand and be in my shoes, and the shoes of my colleagues whose loved ones were killed – gone forever and never coming home – I hope that you would choose safety over driving convenience too. I would spend the rest of my life in a traffic jam to bring back the loved ones of all of my friends.”


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