Torontos latest toll of cyclists and pedestrian fatalities is scarcely unique, says urban planner Jennifer Keesmaat
In the last two years, 93 pedestrians or cyclists have died violently on the street of Toronto. Just out operating errands. Off to the doctor. On their style to job. Then without warning, human flesh encountered metal. The latest example on Wednesday, in which a woman on a motorcycle was killed in front of the University of Toronto, reflects a state of emergency.
If there seems to be a war zone, well, it can feel that style on city streets the world over. Anxiety will start to permeate everyday urban life: parents emphasize about their children walking home from school; office workers check and double-check the street before rushing to a nearby coffeehouse; cyclists act erratically when their truncated bike lanes dump them into fast-moving traffic. People are on edge everywhere.
Meanwhile, vehicle companies brand their vehicles with epithets like Explorer, Escape, Liberty and Journey. Cars are designed to look like fowls and rockets, and are sold to us via multimillion-dollar ad campaign complete with slogans such as” Hand of the free”, “Choose freedom” and” Adventure is calling “. After 100 years of marketing, we have continued to believe- and want to believe- that the car commits us unfettered personal liberty.
So we designed our cities and our streets for them. And the two-hour commute has become normalized to a public that invests the equivalent of 22 periods a year only getting to and from study. Meanwhile, others are seeking a new way to live. It doesn’t take long to expose the environmental, social and health costs of sitting in traffic. It is nothing like liberty. But the power of the notion that vehicles bring us freedom- despite the mountains of proof to the contrary- is so pervasive that active resist to change is fierce.
Some cities are fighting back, adding density, seeking revitalisation through infill builds, and creating complete, mixed-use communities where it is possible to live close to work. This may sound like land-use planning, but it’s really all about how we get around the city- the crux of our urban quality of life. When we design our metropolis differently, when we get the concentrations and the mix of uses right, then you can choose to forgo the long commute – you can walk or cycle.
But the tragic rise of cycling and pedestrian deaths in a city such as Toronto, the most difficult city in one of the world’s most progressive countries, demonstrates that we are caught in the transition. We are adding concentration and pedestrians and cyclists without transforming the design of our streets, and in many cases refusing even to lower speeds limits, which tends to reduce demises dramatically.
As Richard Florida has noted, Canadians like to criticise Americans’ inability to deal with gun deaths- but their own unwillingness to do anything about cycling deaths seems based on a similar myopia, and more Torontonians are killed by automobiles than guns.
Some will argue that street fatalities are inevitable- that even if drivers follow the rules, humans will attain mistakes, stray into traffic and die, and therefore we need to tolerate it. That is wrong. Humans will attain mistakes- which is precisely why the environment should be designed with them in brain. If someone wanders into traffic- a child, a senior citizen- they don’t “deserve” to die. We must design our cities knowing that people induce mistakes.
Two basically contradictory eyesights are bumping up against each other. In the old model, if driving is the key to freedom, then cyclists and pedestrians need to get out of the style. They are audacious, misplaced and- even worse- entitled. Who and what are streets for, anyway? They are places to get through, and fast. Lowering accelerate limits to ensure pedestrians are safe builds no sense.
In the new modeling, nonetheless, streets aren’t just for get through- the objective is places in their own right, designed for people, commerce, lingering and life. It’s the people, the human activity, that should come first. Cycling isn’t just for revolutionaries and recreation, and lower accelerate limits make sense: they protect and enhance quality of city life. In Oslo, for example, where vehicles move slowly, an easy sharing of space takes place.
Inspired by the Norwegians, as well as the Dutch and the Danish, some urbanists on this side of the Atlantic have been trying to introduce the notion that, as the city get denser, cycling and strolling can become a great transportation alternative. But a option must be made. The two simulates are based on competing philosophical premises. To straddle the two- as Toronto and so many other metropolis do- will continue to lead to tragic outcomes.
The promise of the car is a myth, and we cannot bide stuck between two worlds. It’s time to reclaimed our freedom, our sense of adventure in our everyday lives by embracing the walkable, cycling metropoli. To do so, we need to embrace a fundamental redesign of our streets.
Anti-cycling proponents are right about one thing: in walkable metropolis, pedestrians don’t follow rules. They can move informally, with ease. That’s true freedom.
Jennifer Keesmaat is CEO of Creative Housing and former chief planner of Toronto
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