Complete Streets would mean a healthier Toronto

Photo by Tammy Thorne

Toronto Public Health: Complete Streets would mean a healthier Toronto

by Jonah Brunet

When Toronto Public Health put forward a proposal to lower speed limits in 2012, it was met with immediate, knee-jerk pushback from the city’s former mayor. But there has recently been a change in attitude at city hall that puts pedestrians and cyclists first in a long-term redesign of Toronto transportation. Its name is Complete Streets.

“There has been a big shift in the right direction regarding thinking about how we move about in the city,” says Monica Campbell, director of healthy public policy at Toronto Public Health. “I certainly notice it working with colleagues. They get it, and they’re doing what they can to change the shape of the city to make it more conducive for all modes of travel, not just motorists.”

Complete Streets is about much more than just lower speed limits. According to Campbell, other features that make roads safer include narrower lanes (as drivers tend to go faster the more space they have), improved pavement markings (such as the green “bike boxes” at intersections), and tighter corners that force drivers to slow down when making right-hand turns. Narrower lanes, in particular, are relatively inexpensive to redesign and would not only lead to more cautious drivers, but extra road-space to accommodate bike lanes.

“It’s more than just posting lower speeds,” says Campbell, who cycles herself and was a regular user of Bike Share when it was first introduced as Bixi. “You really need to design the streets to make them more conducive to people slowing down.”

An increasingly substantial body of evidence supports the kinds of changes Complete Streets is working toward in Toronto. According to Campbell, London, England recently lowered speed limits in many residential zones to 30 km/h and observed a 42 per cent decrease in traffic fatalities. Baden, Austria went even further, lowering limits for 75 per cent of its road network, and saw a 60 per cent decrease in fatalities. If the same changes are made here, Toronto can expect far fewer cyclists, pedestrians and drivers to be killed every year.

But even with the right attitude and a wealth of supporting evidence, Complete Streets is still in the early stages. Transportation Services is currently working on a report that, if approved, will function as a set of operational guidelines for a redesign of Toronto streets. Campbell expects the Complete Streets report to take another year-and-a-half to be approved, and then it heads to city council, where anything could happen.

“Historically, we have designed roads for cars,” she says. “And even with a change in thinking, it will still take years before we get the kinds of on-the-ground improvements that we need in our city.”

In the meantime, Campbell urges Torontonians to speak out in support of Complete Streets. She names Cycle Toronto and the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation as exemplary advocacy groups and encourages more people to get involved with these organizations. And, of course, there’s always the simple act of phoning, emailing or writing a letter to your local city councillor.

“It’s important that people who support this, citizens who support this, let their political leaders know that,” says Campbell.

Here at dandyhorse, we hope to see a pedestrian mall pilot project on King, Queen or even Bloor soon and, of course, a complete, connected bike lane network. Let's hope Toronto can catch up with the rest of the cities around the world embracing Complete Streets!

Related on the dandyBLOG:

TCAT hosts 7th annual Complete Streets Forum in Toronto

Talking Complete Streets with Nancy Smith Lea, Director at Toronto Centre for Active Transportation

Roundup of the 2013 Complete Streets Forum

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