Cyclist and pedestrians “die-down” for traffic fatalities and injuries ahead of council vote
Several demonstrators at the event displayed signs that asked for safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians alike. (Caitlyn Clancey)
Peter de Koning is fed up with what he says are unnecessary deaths happening on the streets of Toronto, so he’s lying down.
Dozens of demonstrators gathered in front of City Hall Monday night and lay on the ground in protest of traffic related deaths and injuries. The so-called “die-in” was intended to persuade city councilors in their Tuesday vote to remove two lanes of traffic on Yonge Street and replace them with bike lanes.
It was also meant as a vigil for those who have died, including a cyclist killed just last Tuesday.
De Koning doesn’t believe there is enough urgency given to issues of traffic fatalities and injuries.
“We treat [traffic death] almost as if it’s natural and we can’t do anything about it,” he said. “But most of these deaths are completely preventable, and the city needs to have the moral will to decide that we don’t want to have any more preventable deaths.”
The event was organized by Friends and Families for Safe Streets, a group made up of people who have had experienced traffic violence in the city. They were joined by cyclists and pedestrians who stomped their feet and chanted “build safe streets” in unison.
When the clock struck 6 p.m., the chanting stopped and the demonstrators laid on the ground for several minutes in silence.
Many of the signs at the event displayed pleas for Mayor John Tory to drop his opposition for bike lanes on Yonge Street. Another sign boldly announced the conservative majority have “blood on their hands”.
Cheryl Bigelow, a lawyer with Bike Law, a group of advocacy lawyers across North America who promote education, representation and activism for cyclists, hopes to see the “die-in” achieve safer roads for cyclists and pedestrians alike.
“People always blame the pedestrians or vulnerable road users,” Bigelow said. “But it’s a car versus a person. Obviously the car is going to unfortunately win. There should be slower speeds on roads, and there should be dedicated bike lanes and dedicated walking paths.”
She praised the changes made to the waterfront, with its inclusion of a bike path and a pedestrian area. But she also believes there’s always room for improvement.
“We need to work towards a better infrastructure,” she said.
Last year, Toronto city council committed to Vision Zero, a five-year plan that aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. However, de Koning doesn’t believe council as committed as they should be.
“When it comes down to it, a lot of them are prioritizing a one-minute delay for drivers over the lives of children and seniors,” he said. “I think that that’s crazy, and that needs to change.”
Council voted 20-15 on Tuesday to defer the “Transform Yonge” plan and is likely not to address it again until next term of city council.
The proposed plan had the support of the city’s transportation and urban planning departments, while Tory and other councillors supported an alternative plan, which will leave the traffic lanes on Yonge as they are, and install bike lanes nearby on Beecroft Road. This will cost upwards of $9 million more to implement than the proposed “Transform Yonge” plan.
Following a much-heated debate, Joe Cressy, councilor for the downtown Ward 20, put forward a deferral motion that Tory supported.