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In the Wake of COVID-19, Bicycle Accidents Persist

At Will Davidson LLP, our team of car accident, motorcycle accident, truck accident, and bicycle accident lawyers keeps a close eye on road safety challenges and proposed solutions across the GTA. Our job is to help injured road users access accident benefits and/or compensation, but we also support preventative road safety measures that reduce the occurrence of injuries.

When the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying public health lockdowns arrived in Ontario, road safety experts hoped reduced traffic would translate to fewer fatalities and serious injuries. There was especially hope that pedestrians and cyclists – vulnerable road users – would face less danger on the roads.

The safety of vulnerable road users has been a major concern for road safety activists and politicians throughout the GTA for almost a decade. In Toronto, in particular, deaths and serious injuries among vulnerable road users had become a crisis by the end of 2019. The city’s Vision Zero road safety plan, unveiled in 2016, pledged to mitigate the danger. But, as all GTA bicycle accident lawyers know, the strategy failed to meaningfully reduce serious collisions.

In the first six months of 2020, however, everything changed. The city reported just 63 collisions causing death or serious injury to vulnerable road users, 54 involving pedestrians and nine involving cyclists. The previous recorded high was 82 collisions, in 2014.

‘The first six months of 2020 were the safest for Toronto’s pedestrians and cyclists in more than a decade,’ the Toronto Star reported, and lower traffic levels caused by COVID-19 were the reason why.

“There’s this idea that maybe pedestrians are distracted or looking at their phones,” said Nancy Smith Lea, director of the Centre for Active Transportation, to the Star. “Clearly when there are no cars, there are no fatalities. And that’s as simple as that. Cycling and walking are inherently safe.”

By the end of 2020, though, traffic had reached almost-pre-pandemic levels, and the three cyclists killed on Toronto streets matched the total from the previous year. According to Statistics Canada, there were 890 cyclist deaths in Canada between 2006 and 2017, an average of 74 per year. Seventy-three per cent of fatal accidents involved motor vehicles, 56 per cent occurred in urban settings, and 51 per cent occurred during evening rush hour. Clearly, the biggest threats to cyclist safety in Canada are motor vehicles – and the way motor vehicles are permitted to move through cities.

“The way that we’ve built out our street systems, especially in the suburbs, is very dangerous,” Lea said to the Star. “We’re not going to reach zero fatalities until we really tackle that street design in a major way.”

The issue of street design as it relates to cyclist and pedestrian safety resurfaced in Toronto after the death of an 18-year-old cyclist on Avenue Road in August. The Avenue Road Safety Coalition, a local advocacy group, wants the city to implement a drastic street redesign plan conceived of by Brown and Storey Architects Inc. The plan would reduce the number of traffic lanes between Bloor St and St. Clair Ave from six to four, add significantly wider sidewalks, make way for additional trees, benches, and art installations, and perhaps add bicycle lanes. The result would be lighter, slower-moving traffic with more room for vulnerable road users. Though not endorsed or funded by city council, the plan has attracted the support of Mike Layton, the councillor for the area. 

“…our plan that we’ve proposed is completely consistent with the city’s plans about getting people to walk and cycle more, getting people out of cars,” said Avenue Road Safety Coalition co-ordinator Albert Koehl, to CBC News Toronto. “It’s consistent with the city’s climate emergency declaration. It’s consistent with the city’s Vision Zero (to reduce traffic-related deaths) policy. So our plan is consistent with what the city says it wants for our streets, but isn’t doing.”

Implementing the coalition’s plan, like all other road safety initiatives in Toronto and the surrounding region, would be a deeply political endeavour. City council has pledged to reduce traffic fatalities, but the policies and programs that would truly help could make life slightly more difficult for commuters. The question for Toronto’s city council – and the city councils of Oakville and other cities in the region – is: what political price are you willing to pay for safer streets and fewer traffic deaths?

Our bicycle accident lawyers aren’t expecting to see major road safety changes for the foreseeable future. Luckily, if you or someone you love has been injured in a bicycle accident, we’re here to help. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced member of our team. We will listen to your story, assess the viability of your case, and explain the next steps in your legal journey.

Image: Unsplash

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