Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Toronto has no money to study future pedestrian scrambles? OK, I’ll do it

By: Metro Published on Wed Apr 08 2015

Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon seemed to have a pretty frustrating day at last Thursday’s city council meeting.

It didn’t call for immediate construction. It didn’t ask for any new money. In the wake of removing a piece of infrastructure designed to serve pedestrians, it was a basic request for a report on possible replacements.

Simple, right? Not in Toronto, apparently.

Why would such an innocuous motion lead to such consternation? Minnan-Wong, who has expressed concern about pedestrian scrambles in the past in part because he says they delay cars and cause pollution, told council that it came down to a lack of resources within Transportation Services.

“I was supportive of Councillor McMahon’s motion,” the deputy mayor explained. “But on doing further analysis and asking questions of the general manager of Transportation Services, he has raised significant concerns with regard to the capacity of this department to actually follow through with this.”

Toronto Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong. (Torstar News Service)
Toronto Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong. (Torstar News Service)

Call me cynical, but I don’t buy it.

Sure, departments across the city are strained for resources, but McMahon’s request seemed easy. The city has already done a great deal of pedestrian scramble analysis through the pilot project evaluation of existing scrambles. Furthermore, the city already has data on pedestrian and vehicle counts at thousands of intersections.

If you want to play along at home, here’s a quick-and-dirty way to analyze city data to assess whether intersections may qualify for pedestrian scrambles.

First, let’s establish some ground rules for pedestrian scrambles. These can be refined or changed later.

Rule #1: Scrambles should only be placed at intersections where the eight-hour volume of pedestrian traffic — as counted during daylight hours — is greater than the volume of vehicle traffic during the same period.

Rule #2: Scrambles generally shouldn’t be placed in areas where they’d affect busy surface transit routes, like streetcar lines.

Rule #3: Scrambles shouldn’t be placed directly adjacent to existing scrambles. That’s not to say they never should be, but for now let’s focus on getting the most bang for our buck and spread them out a bit.

With these rules in mind, let’s get the data.

The city has released three different data sets of “signalized intersection traffic and pedestrian volumes” — each covers a different subset of intersections, though there’s a bit of overlap.

Conveniently, the data is available in simple Excel format. Annoyingly, the columns are not quite consistent across all three sets. But a quick adjustment and some copy-pasting makes it relatively easy to combine the data into one list of 2,972 intersections.

A quick sort by eight-hour pedestrian volume gives us these intersections as the busiest pedestrian crossings in the city. Remove those where vehicles outnumber pedestrians, and we’re left with 59 that may make for sound scramble locations..

Weeding out the ones that obviously don’t agree with our criteria whittles the list to these 11 contenders, all with daily peak period pedestrian volumes of more than 20,000. They’re presented in reverse order, mostly to add drama.

The Yonge-Dundas pedestrian scramble affords actors Johnny Wright and Elizabeth Gordon to do a little Dirty Dancing. (Torstar News Service)
The Yonge-Dundas pedestrian scramble affords actors Johnny Wright and Elizabeth Gordon to do a little Dirty Dancing. (Torstar News Service)

11) Church St. & Wellesley St. E

Eight-hour pedestrian volume: 20,851

Eight-hour vehicle volume: 18,222

Count data: August 16, 2011

10) St George St. & Harbord St.

Eight-hour pedestrian volume: 21,163

Eight-hour vehicle volume: 10,431

Count date: January 13, 2010

9) University Ave. & Wellington St. W

Eight-hour pedestrian volume: 21,585

Eight-hour vehicle volume: 20,684

8) York St. & Wellington St. W

Eight-hour pedestrian volume: 21,676

Eight-hour vehicle volume: 10,874

Count date: August 7, 2012

7) Yonge St. & Gerrard St. E

Eight-hour pedestrian volume: 22,771

Eight-hour vehicle volume: 18,749

Count date: August 19, 2009

6) University Ave. & York St.

Eight-hour pedestrian volume: 24,056

Eight-hour vehicle volume: 21,126

Count date: December 14, 2009

5) Yonge St. & Adelaide St.

Eight-hour pedestrian volume: 25,543

Eight-hour vehicle volume: 11,784

Count date: August 13, 2012

4) Bloor St. E & Church St.

Eight-hour pedestrian volume: 26,556

Eight-hour vehicle volume: 18,894

3) Bay St. & Adelaide St. W

Eight-hour pedestrian volume: 27,086

Eight-hour vehicle volume: 18,630

2) Bay St. & Wellington St. W

Eight-hour pedestrian volume: 32,319

Eight-hour vehicle volume: 16,188

Count date: August 12, 2009

1) Yonge St. & Eglinton Ave. E

Eight-hour pedestrian volume: 40,740

Eight-hour vehicle volume: 23,542

Count date: September 20, 2011

That’s an imperfect list, of course. Some of the counts are more than a few years old. Some happened in the summer, so you’d of course want to know what they look like in colder seasons. Some areas don’t seem to have any counts at all. Lastly, the combined data set includes duplicate counts for some intersections — notably Yonge and Eglinton — that presents a different perspective.

In all cases, you’d need to do further research before saying, “Yes, put a pedestrian scramble here.”

But the readily-available data gives us a fine start, right? Fine enough that it makes one wonder what Minnan-Wong was talking about when he questioned whether the city had the capacity to follow up on McMahon’s simple request to look at making the city a little safer for pedestrians.

Fine enough to make one wonder if maybe his objections weren’t really about departmental capacity, but instead about political priorities.

This post was originally published at on 2015-04-08T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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