GTA

After a woman was killed while crossing the street, what needs to change at Yonge and Erskine?

After 54-year-old Evangeline Lauroza was hit and killed while crossing a midtown street on Tuesday, public reaction was swift and furious.

Online, residents from the neighbourhood near Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue — Lauroza died while trying to cross nearby Erskine Avenue — demanded action, calling the intersection “terrifying” for pedestrians, and one that’s known for “close calls” making it a “death trap.”

Some are pointing fingers at the area’s rapidly increasing density, with condo developments bringing in more foot traffic and more construction vehicles like the cement truck someone was driving which killed Lauroza.

Others say the road design itself is the main problem, since drivers can easily speed around corners while turning from bustling Yonge Street onto increasingly busy Erskine Avenue.

So, with the site now known as a deadly intersection, what’s the fix?

The challenges

Spend some time in this midtown neighbourhood and you’ll quickly see the challenges both drivers and pedestrians face trying to get around.

Throughout the day, well beyond rush hour, traffic is heavy and pedestrians are plentiful. And Yonge Street and Erskine Avenue is particularly tricky intersection to navigate for people on foot: It’s not a typical cross-shape stretching across to Roselawn Avenue, which runs east-west like Erskine Avenue, and has no set of lights or a stop sign to slow drivers down.

“That intersection is horrible, it’s tremendously bad, because of the layout … You have another street across Yonge that’s slightly off-centre, and people want to [go straight through] which is particularly challenging,” said midtown resident Jeff Luciani.

It’s also where a main thoroughfare meets a side street featuring heavy construction, lots of seniors, and a public school (Toronto police have confirmed Lauroza was in that Erskine Avenue crosswalk when she was hit. The driver of the cement truck was heading north on Yonge Street then turned right).

“It’s extremely scary,” said local resident and mother Karen Brackley, who typically walks her kids to John Fisher Jr. Public School. “There’s people turning left, people turning right, construction trucks blocking the intersection.”

“It’s an obstacle course just to get down the street,” echoed fellow mom, Kristin Reid.

The solutions

On Wednesday, a trio of local councillors held a news conference focusing on the construction element, with Coun. Mike Colle calling for a pause in development in the neighbourhood until roads in the area are made safe for pedestrians

He’s also asking council to make several sweeping changes, including developing a traffic and pedestrian safety plan for major construction sites before city development approvals, hiring full-time crossing guards for all major projects, and immediately implementing a construction traffic safety management plan for the Yonge-Eglinton area.

Speaking one-on-one with CBC Toronto, the area’s direct representative on council, Coun. Jaye Robinson, said the speed limit on Erskine Avenue is 30 km/hour and there’s already a “no trucks” sign, but it wasn’t enough.

“Everybody knew this was going to happen … You look at all these measures that have been put in place and there are still problems,” she continued.

Robinson is now “demanding” police enforcement in the area, saying road safety issues have gone on too long already.

But road safety advocate Amanda O’Rourke, who heads 8 80 Cities — the organization behind a recent pop-up street makeover on the Danforth — said the central issue is the road design itself.

The whole area features decades-old infrastructure that wasn’t designed to handle the huge population growth, she explained, including narrower sidewalks that are tough to navigate for parents with strollers or anyone using a mobility device.

As vehicles turn left or right on and off Yonge Street where it connects with Erskine Avenue, O’Rourke continued, the lack of stop signs and the rounded corners of the sidewalk make it easy for drivers to maintain speed while turning onto the side street.

The solution, she said, is simple: Force those drivers to slow down on that turn.

O’Rourke proposed building out the sidewalk through bollards or even paint so that it comes closer to a 90-degree angle.

“Drivers are forced to slow down a little bit, look to see if people are crossing, and then turn,” she said.

She also recommended the city build an elevated crosswalk instead of just the painted lines that exist right now, since it would act like a speed bump, again forcing drivers to ease off the gas while turning into a pedestrian crossing.

CBC Toronto brought those proposals back to Robinson, who previously headed up the city’s multi-million-dollar Vision Zero effort to eliminate road deaths, which has so far failed to dramatically change the annual double-digit death toll.

Robinson said she would “entertain” any type of traffic calming treatment. Curb-radius widening and other efforts to slow traffic are a “must,” she added, but stressed her immediate priority is on-site enforcement.

The apparent delay doesn’t make sense to O’Rourke and other road safety advocates.

“There are simple solutions with simple materials that you could achieve relatively quickly,” she said.

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