By Ben Spurr, Tranportation Reporter, Toronto Star
Thurs., May 24, 2018
In a controversial last-minute decision at the end of a three-day council meeting on Thursday, councillors voted to streamline the process for installing traffic calming measures on local streets.
Under a motion put forward by Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth), community councils will now have the option of waiving a 2002 policy that requires local residents to first submit a petition, then vote in a poll conducted by the city clerk, before the city will agree to implement measures such as speed humps, pinch points and chicanes.
Road safety advocates have long argued the requirements are too onerous and discourage communities from taking steps to make their neighbourhoods safer.
“All Torontonians want to see Vision Zero move faster in their communities,” said Fletcher, referring to the city’s road-safety plan.
According to council rules, her proposal required two-thirds of members present in the chamber for it to pass, and it initially failed narrowly in a vote of 22 to 12.
But more than an hour later, as the meeting was about to wrap up, Fletcher moved to reopen the issue, which also requires a two-thirds majority. With some councillors already having left the chamber, the proposal was reopened and just passed on the second attempt, 23 to 10.
Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 25 Don Valley West), who voted against the measure both times, called the last-ditch manoeuvre to reopen the issue “completely inappropriate.
“I want to express my concern about what just happened here in the chamber,” said Robinson, who is chair of the public works committee and leads the city’s Vision Zero plan.
“I’m certainly going to use this strategy going forward on other motions and other items, that, when I don’t like the outcome I will simply … ask to reopen them a couple of hours later, with a different makeup in the chamber,” she warned.
Even some councillors who supported Fletcher’s proposal said they were uncomfortable with the process. Mike Layton (Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina) said there was “some unfortunateness” about how the decision came about.
According to a report from city transportation staff, it can take more than two years to install measures designed to slow drivers on local roads. Transportation staff received about 500 traffic calming requestsin 2017, and typically only fulfil about 30 to 45 each year.
Dylan Reid, co-founder of pedestrian advocacy group Walk Toronto, said giving local councils the ability to skip the petition and polling requirements should speed up the process.
“It’s definitely been a major complaint from a lot of people, is they can’t get traffic calming on their street, and it’s a big complicated process,” he said.
“Anything that makes that simpler, and this should make it simpler, is great.”
Community councils will still have the option of submitting traffic-calming proposals to a petition and poll if they choose.
Under the traffic-calming policy, more than 50 per cent of affected households must cast a vote, and 60 per cent must be in favour, for a poll to be considered valid.
Prior to the controversial do-over, council approved a separate proposal from Councillor Fletcher that would lower the required response rate to more than 25 per cent, as long as the measure is proposed in a school safety zone or community safety zone.
Robinson also successfully put forward a proposal to lift the 18-year moratorium on designating new community safety zones, and allow the general manager of transportation to actively recommend measures in school and community safety zones without requirement of the petition.
The changes to the traffic-calming policy come as the city’s efforts to improve road safety are under scrutiny. Council has committed about $90 million to its road-safety plan, but two years after it was approved, the number of road deaths has not declined much.
Seventeen pedestrians and two cyclists have been killed so far this year, according to statistics compiled by the Star.