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FORUM: Our streets should be safer (Oct. 2019)

October 17th, 2019 · No Comments

Dump truck strikes woman exiting streetcar

Jessica Bell, MPP University-Rosedale

On the morning of September 17, a young woman exited the streetcar at Bathurst and Ulster and was hit by a driver of a dump truck who failed to stop behind the streetcar, as is the law.

The woman went to hospital and is expected to fully recover, but the dark truth is she should never have been hit, and there are many victims who never recover. 

There must be proper penalties for rule breakers. As the law stands, drivers who kill a pedestrian are sometimes walking away with just a fine. That is not acceptable.

Toronto has a road safety crisis. Every day six people are hit by vehicles in Toronto, and in 2018, 47 people were killed – a grim 10 year record that our city might exceed in 2019. 

As the Ontario NDP’s transit critic, I work with victims of road violence, like Meredith Wilkinson. In 2017, Meredith was hit by a truck that made a right hand turn into her cycling lane. Her leg was crushed under the truck, and eventually it had to be amputated above the knee. “Losing a leg is a death sentence,” she told me. 

Daniella Pinto-Levy is an advocate for Walk Toronto and is legally blind. She joined me at a press conference on September 24 to ask the Ford Government to approve the use of safety cameras on streetcars. Daniella described the feeling of exiting a streetcar like this: “I put my life in the hands of a driver I will never see. If I die on the roads I want a law named after me,” she said. 

There are many reasons why our roads are not safe. There has been a big increase in congestion. Toronto’s roads and intersections are engineered for the speedy passage of cars, and not for the use and safety of pedestrians and cyclists. For example, curved corners at intersections allow drivers to turn at speed, putting pedestrians at risk. 

Road rules are not properly enforced so drivers can break the law with impunity. The mass adoption of cell phones has led to a marked increase in injuries caused by distracted driving. Toronto’s speed limits in some urban areas are too high. 

When we walk our children to school, cross an intersection, exit a streetcar, or use our bikes we should not be killed or injured by a vehicle. 

All levels of government and the police should work together to reduce road deaths and serious injuries to zero. Ontario should develop its own Vision Zero plan, just like British Columbia and Alberta. This plan should include measures to redesign roads and intersections, funding for cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, and lower speed limits in key areas. 

Governments should do more to enforce existing traffic laws.  Cities like Seattle and Portland have proven that safety cameras that find and fine drivers who are breaking the law are a cheap and effective way to reduce injuries and fatalities. The Ford Government must stop stalling and permit Toronto to install safety cameras near school and community zones, such as Avenue Road, as well as on TTC vehicles.

There must be proper penalties for rule breakers. As the law stands, drivers who kill a pedestrian are sometimes walking away with just a fine. That is not acceptable. I will continue to advocate for the Vulnerable Road Users Law so drivers who are breaking the law when they kill or injure a pedestrian, road worker, or cyclist face tougher penalties, mandatory community service, driver re-education, licence suspension and a requirement to hear victim impact statements. 

Change happens when we fight for it. I encourage you to work with my office as well as groups that care about road safety, such as CycleTO, the Avenue Road Safety Coalition, Walk TO, the Harbord Village Residents’ Association, and the Annex Residents’ Association to advocate and build the safe streets we deserve.

Jessica Bell is the MPP for University-Rosedale.

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Tags: Annex · Opinion