Those who knew Evangeline Lauroza say she was a kind, shy woman, who was quiet most of the time. The exception was on Sunday afternoons, when the 54-year-old would pick up a guitar and lead members of her North York Catholic church group in religious songs.
“She’s a phenomenal player,” said Andrew Pisani, who knew Lauroza through the church. He described her as “the sweetest individual you could possibly meet,” and said she was one of the people who made him feel welcome when he started attending the group.
“She was always so caring. Every time I went there we’d share a couple of laughs together,” he recalled.
Lauroza, who was born in the Philippines and worked in Toronto as a caregiver, died on Tuesday morning when she was hit by a cement truck driver as she crossed Erskine Ave. at Yonge St. Police told reporters she was dragged for several metres before the driver came to a stop. She died at the scene.
The incident was part of a troubling trend. For years heavy trucks have accounted for a disproportionate number of pedestrian deaths in Toronto.
Concerns about industrial vehicles have been particularly acute in the midtown area where Lauroza died. For years both politicians and area residents have been warning it was only a matter of time until local traffic, which has been severely disrupted by lane closures and construction activity related to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and multiple highrise developments, would turn deadly.
At a press conference at the crowded and partially fenced-off intersection of Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave. Wednesday evening, local councillors called for a pause in new development approvals until the implementation of better training for truck drivers, developer-paid crossing guards and improved traffic management plans.
Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 15, Don Valley West) said Lauroza’s death was proof the measures were overdue.
“We all saw this was coming. We forecasted this,” said Robinson, who was joined by Councillors Mike Colle (Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence) and Josh Matlow (Ward 12, Toronto-St. Paul’s).
“It’s too much intensification, too fast, too much. You can see it all around us. And this community is fed up.”
But while Lauroza’s death has drawn attention to the potential hazards posed by trucks serving the many development sites across the rapidly growing city, pedestrians dying in collisions with heavy vehicles is a long-standing problem that isn’t confined to areas undergoing rampant densification.
Nine of the 26 pedestrians who have been killed on Toronto roads this year alone died in collisions with heavy trucks, according to the Star’s tally of traffic deaths. They included a 40-year-old man struck by the driver of a dump truck in North York, a woman in her late 70s run over by a transport truck driver in Scarborough, and a 58-year-old woman named Hang Vo who was crushed by a reversing garbage truck in an alleyway downtown.
According to a recent analysis conducted by University of Windsor associate professor Beth-Anne Schuelke-Leech for Toronto’s transportation department, between 2007 and 2017 there were 35 pedestrian deaths involving trucks. That represents 10.6 per cent of all pedestrian fatalities during that time, despite trucks being involved in just 4.8 per cent of the almost 2,000 serious pedestrian collisions that occurred during those years.
Collisions with heavy trucks are much more likely to be deadly than those involving other vehicles. Of 93 serious pedestrian collisions involving trucks between 2007 and 2017, 37.6 per cent were fatal, compared to just 15.9 per cent for other vehicles.
Even when not carrying loads, trucks weigh significantly more than other vehicles. Their mass means they require longer distances to stop, and their height creates numerous blind spots for their drivers.
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.
“Trucks are undeniably more dangerous to (pedestrians and cyclists) in a collision when compared to other vehicle types,” Schuelke-Leech concluded.
Measures to address risks posed by heavy trucks have so far not played a prominent role in the city’s Vision Zero road safety plan. The original 2016 version of the strategy, which the mayor and city staff pitched as a data-driven approach to reducing traffic deaths, contained no major new efforts geared at reducing fatal truck collisions.
“There wasn’t enough focus on this,” Robinson, who spearheaded the launch of Vision Zero when she was public works chair, said Wednesday. “We need to have a special focus on trucks.”
The city does have bylaws to regulate truck operations. City spokesperson Hakeem Muhammad said in an email that “heavy vehicles are prohibited on certain streets and at certain times — on some streets only during overnight hours and on some streets at all times.”
But trucks are exempt from the restrictions if the only way they can access their destinations is on a prohibited roadway, which can be the case with development projects. In such instances, the bylaws state truck drivers must take the shortest route to and from the site.
“Businesses must be able to operate within the city and the city cannot unreasonably deny access to the road network,” Muhammad said.
Sgt. Brett Moore of Toronto Police Traffic Services acknowledged heavy trucks pose a danger.
“Commercial vehicles are large, heavy, full of sight line challenges,” he said in an email. “Any time these vehicles are operated in areas used by vulnerable road users there is a risk to safety.”
He said front-line police are offered training to help them recognize truck safety offences, and provincial and city officers who are trained in commercial vehicle inspections are deployed on the region’s roads every day.
The provincial government has recently introduced new measures aimed at improving the safety of heavy trucks. As of July 2017, drivers in Ontario must undergo 103.5 hours of safety training in order to be eligible for a commercial truck licence. Last year, the government introduced a zero-tolerance policy for commercial drivers that prohibits them from having any alcohol or drugs in their system, under potential penalty of criminal charges.
“Ontario is committed (to) ensuring roads stay safe when it comes to commercial vehicles,” said ministry of transportation spokesperson Bob Nichols.
Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park) believes the city can do more. He’s supported a council effort to direct city staff to start buying smaller vehicles to use as municipal garbage trucks, fire trucks and paramedic vehicles.
The idea was in part inspired by the city of Hamilton, which has moved toward deploying smaller fire trucks and waste disposal vehicles that municipal officials say are better suited to the urban environment.
Perks called the number of people killed by heavy trucks in Toronto “shocking.”
“As the density of the city increases, the conflicts increase. We’ve had several generations of being very laissez-faire about large vehicles operating in the city of Toronto, and we can’t afford to do that anymore,” he said.
Since approving the road safety plan in 2016, Toronto councillors have also voted to have staff pursue installing side guards and other safety measures like on-board camera systems on some city trucks.
Although city-owned trucks are a minority of heavy vehicles operating on Toronto’s streets, improving their safety could help reduce deaths. According to the city, at least two of the heavy vehicles involved in fatal pedestrian crashes this year were municipal garbage trucks.