Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Bay-Bloor scramble decision a glimmer of hope for a rational, factual Toronto

By: Metro Published on Mon Feb 23 2015

It seems like a very small thing compared to the bigger issues facing a city such as Toronto, but a recent report on a single intersection at Bay and Bloor streets gives me some hope.

Hope for a city that makes decisions based on facts and evidence, and not panic, pandering and gut feelings. Hope for a data-driven city.

First, we need a quick recap. In 2007, Toronto city council voted to implement, on a trial basis, some “pedestrian priority” intersections downtown. You probably know them better as pedestrian scrambles – they’re places where, once per signal cycle, cars at all sides get a red light while pedestrians are allowed to cross diagonally.

As someone who mostly gets around by foot, these scrambles can feel pretty great. It’s like, for a fleeting moment, I’m the king of all traffic.

Two such scrambles — at Yonge and Dundas streets, and Yonge and Bloor streets — have been deemed successful. In both cases, there are more than twice as many pedestrians passing through each day than there are cars, and plenty of people each day taking advantage of the diagonal crossing.

At the pedestrian-priority intersection at Bay and Bloor, however, the benefits are less clear. And so this week city hall’s public works and infrastructure committee will receive a report packed with real data about how the intersection has been used since it was scrambled.

Based on their observations, staff are recommending the intersection go back to its pre-scramble configuration, but it’s the mayor and council that will make the call.

But whatever their final decision, the process behind all of this needs to be applauded. It’s a textbook example of how Toronto should approach infrastructure issues.

Instead of debating endlessly over the potential merits and drawbacks of pedestrian scrambles, council decided to just implement a bunch of them on a trial basis. That allowed the collection of real-world usage data. Now, with that data in hand, a decision can be made.

It sounds simple, but it’s not a process that’s used very often at Toronto City Hall. That should change.

A similar approach could be taken to a range of issues facing the city. For instance, councillors have talked for years about potentially limiting car traffic on King Street to allow for better streetcar service. Why not just try it for a few months and report back?

The same goes for a range of other issues, such as the installation of separated bike lanes, one-way operation of certain streets, later last call at bars, or even legalized skating on Grenadier Pond.

Like with the scrambles, these are all issues where Toronto could use a little less conversation and a little more action — and yes, a lot more data.

This post was originally published at on 2015-02-23T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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