Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Toronto's plan to restrict right turns has drivers seeing red

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
May 5, 2009 at 3:27 AM EDT

As part of a plan that aims to make the city's streets safer for pedestrians, Toronto traffic officials are planning to experiment with banning right turns on red lights at 10 intersections next year.
A plank in Toronto's Walking Strategy, on the agenda today at City Hall's works committee, calls for a pilot project at 10 to-be-chosen intersections, likely in pedestrian-heavy downtown areas.

However, the chairman of the works committee, Glenn De Baeremaeker, says he has no plan to turn Toronto into Montreal, where a ban on right turns on reds is as much a part of that city's distinct urban identity as smoked meat and poutine.
But he said at intersections with high foot traffic, banning right turns on red lights could reduce the number of pedestrians who get hit and make Toronto an easier place to walk around.
An example of the signage used at intersections where no right turn on a red light is permitted, this one at Reese Street and Lake Shore Boulevard. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
"The downtown is transforming. At many intersections, you have more people, and cyclists and people on transit than you have cars," Mr. De Baeremaeker said. "But the intersections were designed 50 years ago for cars, and seeing pedestrians and everybody else as an afterthought."
One right-leaning critic of Mayor David Miller said the idea of right-on-red bans could spread across the city, increasing congestion and frustrating drivers.
"I know how these things work. They start with a few and they keep expanding it. ... I think this council is anti-car, there's no doubt about it," said Case Ootes (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth), although he added that it could make sense for particular busy intersections.
The idea is not new to Toronto, as any driver knows. The city already has 98 places - and not just in the downtown - where motorists and cyclists are not allowed to turn right on red lights, in some cases during particular times of the day. Toronto has more than 1,800 intersections with traffic signals.
According to a city study, drivers turning right struck 422 pedestrians trying to cross a Toronto intersection with the right-of-way in 2002 and 2003 combined, accounting for about 9 per cent of all pedestrians hit.
The experiment with banning rights on reds for the sake of pedestrians would follow the highly visible launch of Yonge and Dundas as the city's first "scramble" intersection last summer to allow the area's floods of pedestrians to cross diagonally. The city's official policy is to make its streets more inviting for pedestrians and cyclists.
Montreal, famous for its drivers' laissez-faire attitude, opted out of Quebec's move seven years ago to drop a long-time ban on right turns on red lights, in the interest of pedestrian safety. Pilot projects in other Quebec municipalities suggested there would be little safety impact.
Montreal - along with New York City - is one of very few jurisdictions in the United States and Canada where right turns on red lights are banned unless signs indicate otherwise. Mexican cities have similar bans.
Most U.S. states that had blanket bans loosened their rules more than 30 years ago. Most European Union countries ban right turns on reds unless a sign grants special permission.

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