In Toronto, one person is hit by a car every 3.5 hours. The pressure is mounting on decision makers to address our obvious road safety crisis. We quickly put together a meet-up on this issue, Toronto’s Streets at a Crossroads, calling on experts to provide insights and a way forward. Now, it’s up to City Hall to implement solutions.

Two days following our event, mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat announced her commitments to road safety. These are the kinds of ideas we need to operationalize–and enforce–to prevent further escalation of fatalities on our streets.

WATCH: Our video about Toronto’s road safety crisis on YouTube

Roughly 250 people gathered at the Ryerson Student Learning Centre to hear from:

  • Transportation leaders Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Transportation, and Barbara Gray, General Manager of the City of Toronto’s Transportation Services (check)
  • Data-focused researchers Anne Harris (Ryerson School of Occupational and Public Health) and Raktim Mitra (Ryerson School of Urban and Regional Planning) and Transportation Engineer Liliana Quintero (City of Vancouver)
  • Passionate city builders and advocates Gil Penalosa (Founder, 8 80 Cities), Mike Layton (City Council Candidate) and Nancy Smith Lea (Director, Toronto Centre for Active Transportation)

Steve Paikin of TVO’s The Agenda moderated an exciting conversation based on positive solutions and grounded facts. We explored why the crisis is happening, and what’s working in other jurisdictions.

Of course, with Polly Trottenberg on the panel, comparisons were made between Toronto and New York City. NYC has made great inroads on pursuing its Vision Zero targets, aggressively humanizing its streets, and many wanted to know if what New York City is doing is possible in Toronto. “Yes, but bear in mind we’re only a few years in to a culture change on this issue. It’s going to be a long and continuous climb,” said Barbara Gray.

“Start by mapping out the data of your high-crash streets,” said Trottenberg. “The data tells the story.”

Data was a common theme in the discussion. All the panelists pointed to different data that suggest there is a huge appetite and latent demand for greater active transportation among Toronto residents, if it weren’t for a lack of safe infrastructure. The consensus: people are simply too scared to choose walking or cycling in many cases, and those clamouring for change need greater support.

Where safe infrastructure does exist, it often lacks critical network connections that would make it convenient. In other words, we have bike lanes to nowhere.

How are other cities approaching education on Vision Zero? Vancouver has woven its Vision Zero goals into its overarching Transportation 2040 plan, linking infrastructure, education and enforcement efforts in with broader goals around an active transportation mode shift. It has begun by prioritizing physical and operational changes in “hot-spot” locations. Liliana Quintero noted that many of the smaller road safety improvements made to date were able to proceed without express approval from City Council.

In Toronto, the fact is that City Council holds the power to advance initiatives and projects to improve infrastructure, redesign streets, fund and enable Transportation Services, implement lower speed limits and stronger enforcement of road safety, and run the widespread educational campaigns that work in tandem to improve safety conditions.

“The solutions are scientific; the choice to implement safer infrastructure shouldn’t be political,” said Nancy Smith Lea (above, left), “But here in Toronto, that’s the way it is.”

Now more than ever, we need advocates of safe streets on Toronto City Council. With a municipal election coming up, let’s make road safety an election issue. This includes measures to make streets safer by design for pedestrians and cyclists, plus a plan to ramp up enforcement and education.


If you weren’t able to make it to the event, check out our Twitter Moment or watch our livestream recording. We sincerely thank everyone who helped make Toronto’s Streets at a Crossroads happen: our panelists, volunteers, the Ryerson SLC and Ryerson Media Services. Photos are by Alyssa Katherine Faoro.

This was the fourth meet-up event of the Ryerson City Building Institute. You can read about past meet-ups on our Events page. Our meet-ups bring together people passionate about specific city-building issues for lively, informed discussion and debate. Stay tuned for more meet-ups coming soon.


Our Video for #CrossroadsTO