Pasquina Lapadula left the lobby of her North York apartment building just before dawn on Thursday.
At 77, she was the type of senior who liked to stay active and took regular walks, police later said.
But she didn’t make it very far — she was hit while trying to cross Islington Avenue just a few minutes later. The driver of the dark SUV just kept going, police said, and another swerved around her body in the road without stopping to help.
And that’s where she died.
It’s an all too familiar story on Toronto’s streets, where at least 24 pedestrians over the age of 60 have been killed so far this year, 37 total. Lapadula was the third pedestrian over the age of 60 to die in the city in three days.
The spike in deaths comes as police and local politicians are under fire for handing out bright armbands to seniors at a Scarborough mall — an effort to help keep them visible and safe that critics have said missed the point on road safety.
It’s clear seniors make up a disproportionate number of road victims in the city, and as the population ages that may only get worse. So what do seniors actually need to stay safe? There’s no silver bullet, advocates say, but many of the things they need, like road redesign and lower speed limits, would end up benefiting everyone, from age eight to 80.
Adina Lebo, an ambassador for the Toronto chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), in her late 60s, has been fortunate enough not to be hit. But she’s had several “close calls,” including one last week at the corner of Bay Street and Charles Street West near her apartment.
It happened after she stepped off the curb with the walk signal.
A driver wanting to turn right at the red light was “looking left to see if there were any cars coming,” she remembers.
“When I smacked the top of his car he kind of saw me. The hood was right beside me.”
While she was lucky the driver wasn’t going faster, it’s the kind of situation where she believes “Vision Zero parameters” would have made a difference.
This summer, council approved a beefed-up version 2.0 of the city’s Vision Zero road safety plan, which included plans to add more red light cameras and reduce some speed limits.
But Lebo feels it hasn’t been “implemented fully.” She believes four things would make a difference for seniors, right now: lower speed limits, no right turns on reds, more drivers slowing at yellow lights and crossings where pedestrians, cyclists and drivers are not competing to cross all at once.
“It’s going to take time. I know you don’t want to blanket the city with these four recommendations, I understand that, but when there are accidents, and where there are accidents, you can already put those four into process,” she said.
The existing rules, she added, also need to be enforced by police. “People have to understand that yellow means slow, not go.”
Earlier this month, Toronto police released statistics showing a sharp, citywide drop in traffic enforcement in the last six years, coinciding with the closure of a dedicated traffic enforcement unit. The police services board agreed to reinstate the enforcement unit last week.
In 2018, police charged fewer drivers with a criminal offence than in any year since amalgamation 20 years earlier.
Seniors aren’t the only ones who will benefit from road safety improvements.
“If you plan for seniors you get everybody,” Lebo said, from people on wheelchairs to moms with strollers.
Gil Penalosa, founder and chair of non-profit 8 80 Cities, which works to improve cities for all ages, rejects the idea of seniors as a special category, calling campaigns specific to them “ageist.”
“If you are 90 and you are like Hazel McCallion, you can go up and down the stairs and you can skate and you can bike, you don’t need special considerations,” he said (McCallion is actually 98).
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It’s more useful, he said, to instead think about what you can do for people with mobility issues — a category that includes both 90-year-olds with walkers and 30-year-olds in wheelchairs.
Penalosa would like to see Toronto police share detailed data on all crashes, not just ones where people are killed or seriously injured, “to get a more clear picture of who is being hit by drivers.”
According to the police data, seniors are much more likely to be killed in a crash than younger pedestrians. At least 238 pedestrians over 60 have been killed in Toronto since 2007, a majority of the 410 killed in the city in total — a rate that far exceeds the over-60 share of the population as a whole. Meanwhile, seniors make up less than a third of the much larger number of people who have been seriously injured since 2007.
Penalosa suggests several things that would make roads safer for everyone, including lowering speed limits to 30 km/h on residential roads and 50 km/hour on arterial roads.
Better lighting on crosswalks, and islands where people could rest in the middle of crosswalks on the bigger arterials would also help, as would more photo radar cameras.
He wants to see “consistent” leadership from politicians on Vision Zero, rather than arm band giveaways. He also calls on police to better enforce existing laws, and would like to see the province hike fines for speeding and the automatic penalties for hit-and-runs so that leaving the scene of a crash becomes “totally unthinkable.”
“This not about gimmicks,” he said. “People are dying.”
“We need to build our cities so that no one will die in traffic incidents.”
Mayor John Tory told reporters Wednesday that part of the problem with the discussion around road safety is “it’s presented as if the only thing that anyone is thinking of doing or wanting to do is fluorescent arm bands.”
Asked what can be done to make roads safer for seniors, he said it’s “a very large series of measures that we have to undertake,” and the city is already working on many of them, including redesigning roads, changing speed limits across the city and installing “hundreds” of red-light cameras, “that we are installing as we speak.”
Photo radar will also be installed, he hopes, next month.
“To me, it’s not an either-or proposition,” he said. “It’s, we should be doing every single thing that we possibly can, all road users, but the biggest onus being on car drivers to make sure people are safe.”
Susanne Robarts, president of the United Senior Citizens of Ontario, a non-profit that represents seniors, said she’d like to see more easy access to curbs.
In her 70s, she uses a walker, and can get tripped up by sidewalks in bad condition. “Timers that beep” are also always helpful, even if people aren’t blind, as they’re another signal people can use to navigate an intersection.
On top of that, she says drivers just need to be more careful. “The distracted drivers are becoming a real menace,” she said.
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