A community group is calling on the city to make a stretch of Avenue Road immediately safer for pedestrians.
The Avenue Road Safety Coalition, made up of residents’ associations and school parent councils, wants the city to set up a pilot project by the end of the year that would widen sidewalks on Avenue Road between St. Clair Avenue West and Bloor Street West.
According to the coalition, a 2.1-kilometre stretch of Avenue Road is a six-lane street that is hostile to pedestrians and cyclists. The coalition wants the speed limit lowered to 40 kilometres per hour. The sidewalks on this stretch are “dangerously narrow,” the coalition says.
“This is a not a safe road,” Albert Koehl, a co-ordinator of the coalition, told dozens of people on Tuesday.
Speaking at Safety Awareness Day, a coalition event in Jay Macpherson Green Park at Avenue Road and Dupont Street, Koehl said the coalition has been calling on the city to make changes to Avenue Road for three years.
“We call this road home. It’s a place where our children grow up and go to school. It’s a place where our parents go to parks and to church. It’s also a place where the many new residents, including seniors, go to shop or go to restaurants and around their neighbourhood,” Koehl said.
“This street comes from another time, another way of thinking, another set of priorities. Our priority is the safety of our loved ones.”
Koehl said Avenue Road, an arterial road, is no longer consistent with city policies. For example, the city’s Vision Zero road safety plan talks about designing roads so that a small mistake by a motorist would not result in tragedy. Avenue Road doesn’t fit with that plan, he said.
He said the road is busy, there is heavy traffic and there is little room for pedestrians.
Koehl said an estimated 85 per cent of cars that use the stretch of the road go over the speed limit. Meanwhile, an estimated 70 per cent of people in central areas of Toronto, including near Avenue Road, walk, cycle or take transit, he said.
“This road is not shared in that way. It’s a long way from that,” he said.
Koehl said the city has shown through its ActiveTO, CurbTO and CafeTO programs that it can move quickly to reconfigure road space if needed.
A pilot project could be used for a permanent design, he added. But he said the only study that is really needed is for city staff to walk up and down Avenue Road to determine that the road is unsafe.
Sidewalks not safe for pedestrians, residents say
Susan Austin, a resident and mother of 11-year-old twin girls, said she and her family have lived on a small residential street near Avenue Road for the past eight years. Her daughters walk to school and to their friends’ houses throughout the neighbourhood.
“I am filled with dread every time they have to cross Avenue Road and I know I am not alone,” Austin said.
Years ago, she said one of her daughters nearly fell into oncoming traffic because she lost her balance while she was tying her shoelaces while on the sidewalk.
“With these sidewalks the way they are, there is literally no room for error,” she said.
Rita Bilerman, chair of the Annex Residents’ Association, said the sidewalks are “absolutely horrible.” Bilerman identified herself primarily as a pedestrian. When she was a mother pushing a stroller, she said she would avoid the road as much as possible.
“We have lobbied hard to seek improvements along this perilous stretch of road,” Bilerman said.
Bilerman said the coalition wants changes and the road, which has many users, should be made safe for all.
City says it is working on setting up a study
According to the city, the coalition and city staff discussed the possibility of closing the curb lanes on Avenue Road temporarily for cycling and walking, in addition to the programs set up in response to COVID-19, including ActiveTO and CurbTO, but it was determined that the measure fell outside of the scope of those programs.
The city said in an email to CBC Toronto on Tuesday that it has been working with the coalition to improve safety on Avenue Road since before the pandemic and the coalition was involved in the city’s 2017 Avenue Road safety review, which resulted in “experimental changes” to the configuration of lanes.
Last fall, the city began discussions with the coalition, at the request of council, as a follow-up to that review.
“The city is actively working to initiate an additional study to answer questions like those posed here concerning viability of pilot closures, appropriate speed limits and the shifting landscape of needs from this street,” the city said.
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