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Pedestrians in low-income areas face higher risk of getting killed or injured in collisions

Heather Sim remembers her father as an avid cyclist who was very aware of the dangers on the road and how to safely cycle around the city.

He followed all the rules of the road but that didn’t save him, she said.

On a July afternoon in 2017, Gary Sim, 70, was knocked off his bike and killed by a delivery van.

“For it to happen to him, it could happen to anybody,” Sim told CBC Toronto.

The accident occurred near Jane Street and Eglinton Avenue West, one of the areas identified by CBC News as the most dangerous for pedestrians.

Bordered by Jane Street, Eglinton Avenue West, Weston Road and St. Clair Avenue West, this area has seen at least five pedestrian deaths between 2008 and 2018. According to police data spanning that same period, 25 other pedestrians in the same area suffered life-threatening injuries.

Pedestrians in low-income areas at greater risk

CBC carried out an analysis of 11 years of Toronto police data covering collisions involving pedestrians from 2008 to 2018. It shows that nearly 50 per cent more of the collisions in which pedestrians were either killed or seriously injured happened in the city’s poorest neighbourhoods, compared to more affluent parts of the city.

The discrepancy is even wider when it comes to vulnerable road users — children under 20 and seniors over 65, a CBC finding that has been confirmed by a recent study from the Hospital for Sick Children, which suggests children in poorer areas of Ontario face a greater risk of getting hit by vehicles than those in wealthier areas.

“We were not surprised, but we are disappointed,” said Dr. Linda Rothman, the study’s lead author.

“Kids should be able to walk wherever they want. The fact that richer kids get to walk safer than poorer kids is totally unacceptable.”

About a week ago, four-year-old Radiul Chowdhury was walking with his mother on Victoria Park Avenue near Adair Road when a motorcyclist struck and dragged the child before leaving the scene. The boy remains in serious condition in hospital.

That part of the street in Scarborough is a four-lane avenue with no traffic light or crosswalk.

Low-income people pushed out of walkable neighbourhoods

Inequitable road designs put pedestrians of all ages at greater risk, said Rothman.

As living costs in Toronto have climbed, families have been forced out of walkable downtown areas to the suburbs, said Dylan Reid, spokesperson for Walk Toronto, a pedestrian advocacy group.

“They’re being pushed into areas that were really built for cars, where the roads are really wide and the speeds are very fast,” he said.

A few blocks from the area where the the boy was hit, at Eglinton Avenue East and Victoria Park Avenue, the CBC News analysis shows six pedestrians were struck and killed over a three-year period.

The data shows that a higher rate of traffic collision involving pedestrians occurred at mid-block in poorer neighbourhoods.

“This is concerning,” said Coun. James Pasternak, who’s leading Vision Zero, a project that aims to reduce pedestrian traffic deaths.

“The question is: are they living on main boulevards where the distance between lights is long and there’s a propensity to jaywalk?”

Don’t wait for local complaints to make roads safer, critic says

In Toronto, traffic calming devices used to be installed by request, said Rothman, the lead author of the Sick Kids study.

Communities with louder voices end up with pedestrian-friendlier road environment because they have time to advocate, she said.

Though the city and traffic advocacy groups have organized consultation meetings that welcome all community members, turnout is poor in low-income neighbourhoods.

“The city needs to be actively looking for places where it can make improvements, as opposed to waiting for local people to get in touch with the councillor and start the process,” said Reid, the Walk Toronto spokesperson.

Since the $109-million Vision Zero plan was introduced in 2017, city staff have installed more safety zones and traffic calming strategies in areas where there is a high concentration of collisions.

The city also is taking a closer look at the initiatives in lower-income communities, Pasternak said.

However, the number of pedestrians victims has continued ticking up. Forty-five pedestrians were killed in 2018, the deadliest year in a decade.

“There is some progress, but that’s not enough. It’s a baby step, but we do need more than that,” Sim said.

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