Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Safer road design must prioritize pedestrians, not cars

This blocked crosswalk greets pedestrians at Parliament St. and Lake Shore Blvd.
This blocked crosswalk greets pedestrians at Parliament St. and Lake Shore Blvd.

In my downtown neighbourhood, one of the biggest middle fingers to pedestrians can be found at the intersection of Parliament Street and Lake Shore Boulevard.

There, beneath the roar of the Gardiner Expressway, walkers coming from the waterfront trail who want to continue north on Parliament find their most direct route blocked. An eastside crosswalk has been painted, but no walk signals have been installed. For months, barriers have blocked the way, with signage directing pedestrians to “please use other side.”

Before writing this, I took a stopwatch down to the intersection — for science — and timed how long it took me to cross legally from the southeast corner to the northeast corner.

The result? Five minutes and 50 seconds.

Yes, in this part of Toronto, it takes almost six minutes to cross the street.

For me, this is a constant source of frustration. Last year, Mayor John Tory and Toronto City Council decided a potential two- or three-minute delay to motorists justified spending a billion dollars maintaining the Gardiner East. But just below that same highway, no one seems to care much about making pedestrians wait an eternity.

This is not an issue confined to just one intersection. If you, like me, do most of your travelling on foot, there are probably intersections in your neighbourhood that are similarly frustrating.

And that frustration can easily facilitate dangerous behaviour. While I was out observing my most hated intersection, I witnessed at least a dozen people cross the road in ways that could be deemed illegal.

I don’t blame them. When street design shows such little interest in accommodating pedestrians, it’s no surprise that the rules are broken.

It’s the infrastructure — not the behaviour — that needs to change. Thirty-eight pedestrians were killed on Toronto’s streets last year, with another 16 killed already this year. As more people take to Toronto’s streets on foot, it’s becoming clear that our streets aren’t built to keep those people moving – or safe.

With recommendations to create pedestrian priority zones, Toronto’s new road safety plan — set to be debated by city hall’s public works committee on June 20 – looks to be a positive step. But I’m skeptical that our elected leadership will make all the necessary infrastructure changes – because those changes will invariably mean slowing down car traffic.

That’s something city hall hasn’t shown the stomach for yet.

For my own long-term safety, I hope my skepticism is unfounded. Down at Parliament and Lake Shore, when I was finished timing the signals, I threw caution to the wind and crossed the road illegally, before the light had changed.

Against the law, sure. But I’m a pedestrian — often an afterthought in my own city — and I’m tired of waiting.

This post was originally published at on 2016-06-13T00:00:00.000Z

About the author

Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
Website / Twitter / Email Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott


Follow Me on Twitter

Recent Posts

Recent Comments