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Matt Elliott: 10 steps to marginal improvement for Toronto's pedestrians

A memorial lies across the street from a closed foot path (orange fence) where an 11-year-old boy was killed by a car last month near Kennedy Public School on Canongate Trail and Purcell Square.
A memorial lies across the street from a closed foot path (orange fence) where an 11-year-old boy was killed by a car last month near Kennedy Public School on Canongate Trail and Purcell Square.

Imagine you live on a Toronto street where drivers routinely go way too fast — it’s dangerous.

So you decide to request that the city install traffic calming measures like speed bumps.

So far, so good, right?

But here’s where things get weird. Because the process at Toronto City Hall to get those speed bumps installed on your street is anything but simple. Instead, it’s a bureaucratic ten-step process that takes months to complete.

I’ve been thinking about this after news of the tragic death of 11-year-old Duncan Xu, who was hit by a driver on Feb. 27 while walking near Kennedy Public School in Scarborough.

In the days following, Coun. Jim Karygiannis – who represents the area – successfully pushed to fence off the pedestrian pathway that connects to the street where the driver hit Xu. Karygiannis says the closure is temporary, a stop-gap until the city can go through the necessary process to approve and install “mitigating measures” like stop signs or speed bumps.

And while I disagree with closing the pathway — removing pedestrian infrastructure to improve pedestrian safety is counter-intuitive — I do think Karygiannis’ response to this tragedy highlights something important: the city’s process to install stuff to slow down traffic is way too complicated.

Closing off a pedestrian pathway should not be simpler than slowing down traffic.

Which brings me back to the process required to get speed bumps installed on a dangerous street.

First, you need to kick things off with either a petition signed by enough of your neighbours to reach city-prescribed thresholds or a request taken up by your city councillor.

Then come the reports. So many reports. The second step is a consideration of area-wide impacts. Third is a review of the current road design. Fourth is consultation with the TTC and emergency services.

Fifth is a traffic study. Sixth is a consideration of options and alternatives. Seventh is transportation staff writing a report summarizing all their findings and analysis.

The eighth step gets us to a community council meeting, where politicians finally vote on the traffic calming measures. But even if they back the speed bumps, the process isn’t done yet.

Because the ninth step is a real doozy, requiring the city to conduct a formal poll of households on the street, asking if they’re really sure they want speed bumps. For the result to be valid, the city requires that at least 50 per cent of ballots mailed out get returned, and 60 per cent need to be in favour — a threshold that far exceeds what’s needed to elect politicians at any level of government.

Whether the poll comes out in favour of speed bumps or not, the tenth step is another community council meeting, where politicians vote again. If the response threshold on the poll was not met — and it often isn’t, because getting 50 per cent voter turnout is hard — they can opt to approve the speed bumps anyway.

If they do, congratulations — after months of petitions and politics and polls, your street is slightly safer. Ten steps to marginal improvement.

In a city that professes to care about making it easier to walk safely, isn’t it odd that slowing down traffic remains so devilishly difficult?

This post was originally published at on 2018-03-11T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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