On October 24, elect politicians who will make road safety a priority

Before automobiles dominated the roads, horse-powered vehicles, thigh muscles and electricity made some road users anxious. However, it was the speed of the cars that changed the geography, severity and extent of the hazards and damage.

The link between speed and danger did not require scientific verification. « Cars go way too fast Good for tombstone men », a newspaper title confirmed in 1908. Ironically, it was more recent studies that reinvigorated community demands for lower speeds by quantifying the risk. At 30 km/h, a pedestrian hit by a car will almost certainly survive, but at 50 km/h the chances of survival drop below 50%.

A comprehensive by-law on Toronto roads, passed in 1890, prohibited drivers of horse-drawn vehicles from traveling at a gallop or other « inordinate speed. » When bicycles proliferated on city streets during the bicycle craze of the mid-1890s, a more specific limit – ranging from 6 to 10 mph (10 to 16 km/h) – was the subject of heated debate, resolved by extending the ban on immoderate travel. speed to cyclists.

Public hostility towards early motorists, both because of the new danger and the sometimes haughty attitudes of car owners, soon prompted calls for speed limits. In 1903, Queen’s Park set the city limit at 10 mph (and then increased it again and again over the following decades).

At the time, electric trams claimed even more victims. By the late 1920s, however, motorists in Toronto were killing as many people in a few months as streetcars, bicycles and horse-drawn vehicles combined in a number of years.

The poor quality of the roads initially served to control the speed of engines, but once road building became the government’s business, the deadly speed of cars, enhanced by increasing power, was unleashed. In the 1950s, building and widening roads became a manic government enterprise, causing more driving, more speed, and more casualties.

Priorities and values ​​have shifted again: the idea that death is an acceptable companion to modern transportation is largely rejected. In 2012, when Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health and Ontario’s Chief Coroner recommended lowering limits to 30 km/h on residential roads and 40 km/h on arterial roads, auto champions of the city laughed. But it quickly became apparent that the lower gears had strong popular appeal.

Toronto’s Vision Zero road safety plan, adopted in 2016, prioritizes speed reductions. Speed ​​cameras confirm that speeding is endemic. In April and May alone, the cameras “captured” 55,000 speeding motorists (near schools). But application alone is clearly insufficient. Actual speed reductions on roads built for speed require redesign for human safety, a goal that is achievable with significant dollar investment and political will.

Granted, the city is generally heading in the right direction when it comes to road safety, but the pace of action is still driven by a slavish devotion to outdated automotive priorities. The upcoming municipal election is an opportunity to elect candidates who believe security cannot wait.

Albert Koehl is part of the Toronto Community Bikeways Coalition, an organizer of the “Light Up Toronto for Safe Streets” rally on October 2.

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