Oct. 12, 2004. 06:50 AM
Look who's walking
45% city dwellers walk to office, T.O. studies show
Pedestrian revival `blew me away,' city planner says
Liz Mastrotucci loves walking to and from work.
She's less frazzled and much healthier, having lost 30 pounds, since she
stopped riding the King streetcar and started walking to the office 18
"That route is very congested and very slow," Mastrotucci said. "I found
I would leave home in the morning feeling very chipper and very
cheerful, looking forward to the day, but by the time I'd been jostled
and pushed and punched and shouted at on the streetcar, I would get to
work feeling all bitchy and crabbed out."
Mastrotucci, who works at The BrainStorm Group, an advertising agency at
Richmond and John Sts., discovered it took only a half-hour to 40
minutes to get there from her home in the Distillery District. Most
days, it took as long, if not longer, by transit, she said. And,
walking, she was even relaxed coming home in the evening. "It's a great
way of leaving the office behind. I feel energized because I've had a
good brisk walk after sitting behind a desk all day."
Walking is making a comeback among downtown dwellers.
Studies cited to support the city's official plan show walking is the
preferred choice of mobility for people who live and work downtown. The
studies focused on people who live along the waterfront and in the
"Kings" — the King-Spadina and King-Parliament areas.
While slightly more than half own a car, only 16 per cent drive to work
if they work downtown. A full 45 per cent walk to work; 32 per cent take
"What we found, it blew me away," says Rod McPhail, the city's director
of transportation planning. "As a transportation planner, and I've been
doing this all my life ... I never would have guessed the number would
have come back that high."
The number of walkers will only grow as the city prepares for an
expected 1 million more residents over the next 20 years. Already,
condominiums sprouting on and around Bay St. and the waterfront will add
another 40,000 homes within two kilometres of Union Station.
But it's not a walk in the park if you're a pedestrian in this city.
Forty-three pedestrians were killed in 2003 and 15 have been killed so
far this year. More than 2,400 pedestrians are injured on Toronto's
roads every year; that's an average of six people per day, according to
city statistics. Over the past five years, about half of all fatal
vehicle accidents involved people jaywalking or crossing between
intersections. "We're still seeing far too many people, pedestrians,
killed on the streets each year," says Helen Riley, who belongs to Feet
On The Street, a pedestrian advocacy group, and helped found the Toronto
"If that same number of deaths and injuries happened anywhere else — an
epidemic, a nursing home — there would be a huge outcry and serious
steps taken to avoid it happening again. That's not happening."
Walkers, for starters, want police to do a better job at enforcing
"I guess they need to get people to stop talking on their cellphones,
which is 98 per cent of the time, or enforce the fact that if you're
turning right at a red light, you still have to stop and perhaps check
for pedestrians," says Paul Girling, who walks every day from his home
in the Dundas-Sherbourne area to his job at the Eaton Centre. "It's
always the people turning right."
Mastrotucci, too, has had near run-ins with cars. "I find the average
Toronto downtown driver wouldn't think twice of running you over and
leaving you in a pool of your own blood if they can make it through the
light doing it," she says. "There's very much a sense of entitlement
that drivers feel and the pedestrians are very much on the defensive."
Pedestrians also want wider sidewalks, something especially important to
seniors and the disabled, who say sidewalks should be wide enough to
handle two scooters or wheelchairs side by side.
"Sometimes the sidewalks on Bay St. are so crowded you have pedestrian
traffic jams," commuting expert Janet Lo told a conference last month in
support of car-free day.
Wayne Scott, a member of the Hoof and Cycle Courier Coalition, says the
city could marry its commitments to both pedestrians and cyclists by
removing parking from city streets and giving half the lane to cyclists
and the other half to a wider sidewalk.
"Why do we have dormant vehicles taking up in the most valuable space in
town?" says Scott, outlining his idea to remove the parking lane. "I
really think that's the way it's going to go. There's not really much of
an alternative. We can't move the buildings back, so we've got to make
the most use we can of the downtown area.
"The merchants are always held up as the sticking point because they
need the parking out front of their stores. You just have to turn to the
vendor and say, `You can use the extended sidewalk for your business and
draw in all these walking customers, or you can take all the stuff back
inside the stores, so we have enough room for garbage cans and people
Transportation planner McPhail says he understands the needs of cyclists
and pedestrians and they will all be taken into account as the city grows:
The proposed waterfront development will take pedestrians into account
with the creation of a public promenade, 25 metres in width, which would
run along the water's edge.
The refitting of Union Station will allow for more pedestrians and
better foot traffic flow with larger subway platforms. More bicycle-only
lanes are on the way following the success of the transformation of the
Dundas St. E. route between Kingston Rd. and Broadview Ave. to two lanes
from four, to accommodate cyclists.
An expanded underground PATH network for pedestrians, which currently
covers 27 kilometres as far north as Dundas St., as far south as the Air
Canada Centre, as far west as Simcoe St. and as far east as Yonge
St.While sidewalks won't be made wider, they will seem more spacious as
the city tries to reduce the clutter of newspaper and pamphlet boxes.
"We are really starting to appreciate the importance of the pedestrian
amenity in the downtown," says McPhail.
Walking to work isn't really a choice in suburban areas. But the city
believes the car doesn't have to be the first choice. Officials picture
the day when more than half the workers heading to Scarborough or North
York work centres will take transit, cycle or walk, and car trips will
be less than half. Currently car trips into those suburban centres
represent 60 to 70 per cent.
"It's a long-term plan," says McPhail. "I remember the Yonge-Sheppard
area 30 years ago when it was just ma-and-pa retail stores with some
apartments over it. A lot changes over time."
And it won't come too soon for gridlocked Toronto, where rush hour is an
oxymoron that means three hours twice a day that force commuters to
spend more time in cars and less with family.
"We might think about what our city might look like if it were designed
for children instead of for cars," says Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's
medical officer of health. "We could learn how good it feels to ride a
bicycle to work. We might realize how cars separate us from our
neighbours. We might discover how rich our lives could be if we
reclaimed more of our streets for pedestrians, bicycles and healthy
Transportation reporter Kevin McGran wants to hear what you think on
this subject and any transportation related issues. You can send him
your thoughts via our Talk to us about transportation page.