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A Famous Former Planning Director and the 'War on Cars'

Former Toronto Planning Director Jennifer Keesmaat is responding to rising pedestrian and bike fatalities in the "Vision Zero" city with a series of calls for action.
June 19, 2018, 5am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Roy Harris

Former Toronto Planning Director Jennifer Keesmaat has been blasting Toronto's approach to traffic safety through a variety of media channels, provoking some backlash.

First, Keesmaat told Toronto Star reporters David Rider and Samantha Beattie that a "state of emergency" was necessary to treat the city's traffic fatalities as a high priority for investment in the public realm.

The Star has completed its own analysis of traffic fatalities in the city, producing a discrepancy with Toronto Police Department figures, because "Toronto police traffic fatality figures are lower because they do not include those on private property or 400-series highways in Toronto," according to the article. The Star counts 41 pedestrian deaths in 2017, with 18 so far this year. The Star also counts four cyclist fatalities so far this year.

Keesmaat followed up those statements by writing an opinion piece for The Guardian. There, Keesmaat repeats the language about a state of emergency and questions the wisdom of a century of designing urban areas to suit quick travel in cars.

Two fundamentally contradictory visions are bumping up against each other. In the old model, if driving is the key to freedom, then cyclists and pedestrians need to get out of the way. They are audacious, misplaced and – even worse – entitled. Who and what are streets for, anyway? They are places to get throughand fast. Lowering speed limits to ensure pedestrians are safe makes no sense.

In the new model, however, streets aren’t just for getting through – they are places in their own right, designed for people, commerce, lingering and life. It’s the people, the human activity, that should come first. Cycling isn’t just for radicals and recreation, and lower speed limits make sense: they protect and enhance quality of city life...

Keesmaat's round of media coverage provoked a response from the Editorial Board of the Toronto Sun, which accuses Keesmaat of reigniting the "War on Cars," and failing to grasp the reality of transportation for the majority of Toronto residents.

The Toronto Star is providing regular traffic safety coverage with its "Deadly Streets" series.

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Published on Wednesday, June 13, 2018 in The Toronto Star
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