Imagine, for a second, a major roadway in Toronto where you aren’t worried about getting hit by a car.
Mano Narayanan is skeptical of such a concept, which is why he usually attaches a pool noodle to his bicycle when riding along Danforth Ave. — a message to drivers to keep their distance from him and his kids in the bike-trailer.
On Saturday, though, the Danforth resident left the noodle at home.
Over the weekend, a non-profit organization called 8 80 Cities hosted a pilot project on the stretch of Danforth Ave. between Woodbine and Woodmount Aves., transforming the block from a four-lane thoroughfare with on-street parking to two lanes for drivers with separated bike lanes and more space for pedestrians.
Instead of parked cars lining either side of the road, tables and chairs were scattered between the bike lanes and sidewalks for people to sit. The reduction of lanes slowed vehicle traffic while plant boxes were used to divide the space between bikes and cars.
According to 8 80 Cities, the goal of the pop-up, which ended Saturday afternoon, was to demonstrate the principles of safer street design that prioritize vulnerable road users — namely, pedestrians and cyclists.
“This is to show what a safe street looks like when you prioritize people,” said Amanda O’Rourke, the group’s executive director.
The pop-up comes shortly after a string of grisly motor-vehicle accidents in busy areas of the city. On Thursday, seven people were injured at the intersection of Bay and College Sts. when an SUV ran a red light, including a 69-year-old woman and a baby in a stroller. On Wednesday, an elderly woman died after she was hit twice while crossing at a traffic light in Scarborough.
In total, 22 pedestrians have died on Toronto roads this year, a number on track to meet the 42 who died in 2018, along with five cyclists. According to 8 80 Cities, a pedestrian is struck by a car every three and a half hours.
Street-safety advocates have long called for improved infrastructure in Toronto’s downtown, including amenities like separated bike lanes and midblock pedestrian crossings to reduce the risk of injury.
O’Rourke says the pilot project demonstrates, in part, how easy it is to implement these changes quickly.
“It’s not difficult to paint bike lanes green for better visibility, or put in place dividers between cyclists and cars,” she said. “These are shown to be huge safety improvements and it doesn’t take much to create them.”
The temporary infrastructure was a welcome change for residents like Narayanan, who says he’d bike more often if the divided lanes were permanent and lasted for a longer stretch of the Danforth.
“Normally I worry about cars hitting me or getting hit by people suddenly opening car doors,” he said. “This way is clearly safer. It’s easier to navigate, and easier to get off your bike and stop if you need to.”
Get more of today’s top stories in your inbox
Sign up for the Star’s Morning Headlines newsletter for a briefing of the day’s big news.
The pop-up was approved earlier this year by Toronto city council as part of its Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths.
Funding came from a private donor whose friend died in a road accident in 2018, said O’Rourke.
Throughout Friday and Saturday, the group collected feedback from passersby and user data to measure the project’s effectiveness. O’Rourke said they plan to make the data available to help inform future decision-making about street infrastructure on the Danforth.
“It would be wonderful if this led to accelerating action on implementing longer-term changes,” she said. “We want to spark that conversation and get more engagement, and so we hope by doing this, our data can be public and people can use it to inform that process.”