The Public Works and Infrastructure Committee voted 5-1 in favor of scrapping the Bay-Bloor pedestrian scramble in a move that will cost the city an estimated $26,000 to undo.
While the intersection still has the chance to live on as Council has the final say, the move to kill the scramble has many implications for its’ regular users.
Scramble intersections, or Barnes dance, are more effective in reducing pedestrian crashes but less effective in reducing vehicle crashes according to a 2012 New York City study on crossings. The study says Barnes dance crossings are suitable for downtown locations where there are fast accumulations of pedestrians.
According to a City of Toronto report, 38 per cent of the traffic at the Bay and Bloor intersection comes from cars. Traffic from cars at Toronto’s most popular pedestrian scramble, Yonge-Dundas, is exactly half of the traffic at Bay and Bloor.
Leah Astley, an Edmonton resident who recently visited Banff, says the town has recently integrated a pedestrian scramble into their downtown. “I haven’t seen it in a heavier center, but from what I saw there, it seemed safer and more efficient for all involved.”
Whether it’s more efficient for cars is being challenged. Wait times for cars at the Bay-Bloor intersection went up from 40 seconds to 1.5 minutes during morning peak period, and 40 seconds to 2.5 minutes during the evening peak period according to the report. Drivers commutes were lengthened significantly due to the installation of the scramble signal in 2010.
Karl Valdez, a U of T student who commuted to school from Keswick says driving down Bloor during rush hour is horrible, and the scramble just makes it worse.
“I was driving six days a week. About four minutes a day at that light. 24 minutes a week. Gas pollutants add up,” Valdez says,
His frustration is echoed by many others. The number of collisions rose with the installation of the pedestrian scramble in 2010. Rear-end collisions rose from three to seven annually and sideswipe collisions rose from six to nine annually.
Incidents involving pedestrians did not rise or fall since introducing the scramble.
Despite the steady number, the committee is planning to report back on a comprehensive plan to reduce traffic related deaths and promote road safety.
The report will include the creation of a Road Safety Advisory Group and Task Force and will address which intersections need better pedestrian or cycling infrastructure.
Last year, 51 Torontonians were killed and many more seriously injured in traffic crashes.
Keith Kovacs, a Winnipeg resident who has used the intersection before on a visit to Toronto says city council is missing the point of a scramble.
“A pedestrian scramble is designed to improve pedestrian safety, not to save time. Studies elsewhere have shown 50 per cent drops in pedestrians being hit by cars when a scramble is implemented. Bottom line, I don’t think it’s worth risking people’s lives so motorists can save a few minutes.”