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Residents Want Safety for Pedestrians

October 22, 2016

PHOTO CAPTION:  On June 11th, Mary McIntyre-Rafter gathered friends, neighbours and concerned community residents to build awareness of the need for a safe pedestrian crossover at McCowan District Park.

Cliffcrest resident Mary McIntyre-Rafter, a local artist who works with kids at St. Agatha Catholic School and at Anson Park Public School has been concerned about the safety of local residents who walk or bike to McCowan District Park since it opened in 2006. 

The park, located at 150 McCowan Road in Ward 36 began construction in 2004 on the site of a decommissioned former works yard.  Phase 1 of the two phase multi-year plan was completed in 2006.  This saw the site transformed into a community greenspace with playground, sports field and recreational trails.  Phase 2 consists of three sub-projects to be completed between October 2015 – August 2017.  The finished park will have new amenities, including: a washroom building, paved parking, new soccer field lighting, a skating trail and an artificial ice rink, as well as a splash pad.

Mary told us that her community is thrilled with the upgrades to their community park, and knows that even more residents will be attracted once the updates to the bike path, the beautifully landscaped gardens and a new splash pad are completed.  Increased use is expected to continue throughout the year as a new outdoor skating rink is expected to be completed before the end of this year.  The problem, according to Mary, is that as of today there is no safe crossing at or near the park.  Two proper pedestrian crossings can be found at south on McCowan Rd at HA Halbert School and north at the intersection of McCowan Road and Eglinton Avenue.  Both of these crossings are a ten minute, or more, walk from the park, which effectively adds close to half an hour to each way of your trip. 

Sabia Mir, another local area resident says “I asked Councillor Crawford for a safe crossing at the park 3-4 years ago. A crossing should have been put there as soon as they built a big playground there. All I got back was that it wasn't feasible there but that they lowered the speed (limit) from 60 down to 50km/h. As if that makes it safer to cross there. Hopefully, the new upgrades to the park will warrant a safe crossing.”  Mary recently started a petition of her own and has gathered support from hundreds of local residents for her request to have as safe pedestrian crossing installed on McCowan Rd., at the park’s entrance.  She has several copies of the petition circulating throughout the community, and has also posted it online at change.org.

Toronto City Councillor for Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest, Gary Crawford, made a request for pedestrian crossing protection on McCowan Road at Bridlegrove Drive in the spring of 2015.  His office received a reply from the City’s Traffic Operations department in late June of that year indicating that they had reviewed the matter, but that the installation of a traffic control device at that location was not justified at that time.  When Mary contacted his office, Councillor Crawford provided her with those reports, and confirmed that he will continue to support a safe crossing at this location by tabling a motion as construction progresses.

According to the memorandum, Toronto’s Traffic Operations conducted a vehicle speed and volume study at the location over the peak 8 hours of a typical weekday.  They used those results along with a pedestrian crossover study and a 5-year collision review in making their determination.  Although we have not seen the results of the 2015 study, we can report these findings from a 2011 study:  8,128 vehicles drove that stretch of McCowan Rd. in a 24-hour period, of those, 85% were travelling at speeds of approximately 70 km/hr.  According to the pedestrian crossover policy information found at Toronto.ca a minimum of 50% as many pedestrian crossings as vehicles is needed, among other factors, to meet feasibility requirements. 

To the local families and children who frequent the park, meeting those requirements seems like an insurmountable challenge.  Angelina Meighlal says “It is ridiculous that my children's bike path ends at a main street and starts across the street in the park without a cross walk! The City says we must walk to the nearest lights to cross, well that intersection of Eglinton and McCowan is an accident trap! I'm sure everyone has seen a major accident there!” 

The number of pedestrians counted during the 8-hour study was 79.  Interestingly, there are three age categories broken down on the study’s report: Assisted children (those crossing with a parent or ‘youth’), Youth/Adult and Senior.  In the Youth/Adult category were 64 pedestrian crossings, what we do not know though, is how many of those are children crossing on their own.  Four Assisted children were counted, and 11 seniors round out the total count. Community advocates like Mary, parents, and caregivers like Kelly Picket, think that the city should reverse its view of the data to look at what the vehicle to pedestrian ratio is, instead of the other way around.  “I am a daycare provider who uses the park and I believe we need a safe way to get into the park” says Kelly.

It is noteworthy that a safe crossing at this location would service not only the Cliffcrest communities that live on the east side of McCowan that wish to use the park, but also residents on both sides of McCowan who use the City Bike Trail, as well as TTC commuters as both sides of the road at the park have bus stops.  The evidence in support of the installation of a safe pedestrian crossing does seem to add up, but the community wants to know if and when it will actually happen.

Speaking about pedestrian safety recently, Mayor John Tory said “If you compare it to how much attention is paid each year to the number of people who are killed by homicide, or a number of other things, it has received less attention than it should, especially given the magnitude of the number.”  The Cliffside residents who support Mary’s petition, couldn’t agree more, but they want the City to take action by creating a safe crossing here before another tragedy occurs.

One of the incentives for Mary in organizing this petition and tirelessly advocating for this safe crossing, was the tragic death of Yan Zhang in July 2007 at this very location.  It had an impact on her that almost felt personal, and while that event was the result of drunk driving, she can’t help but wonder “if this accident could have been prevented if a crosswalk or traffic lights were there”.  On July 11th, 2007 Yan Zhang, 36 had been at McCowan District Park with her then 3-year-old son.  Without a pedestrian crossing it is necessary to stand at the very edge of the curb to watch traffic in order to know when you can cross.  Yan Zhang and her son were struck by a van, driven by 56-year-old Dragan Gorgijevski, which mounted the curb and failed to braked.  Gorgijevski was charged and later found guilty of impaired driving causing death.

Councillor Crawford says that he “… will be tabling a motion for traffic lights at the entrance to the park,” and that he “… continue(s) to be a strong advocate for keeping our roads and sidewalks as safe as possible.”  When we last spoke with Mary, she let us know that she has been sharing information with Councillor Crawford’s office in an effort to work collaboratively with the City.  She is happy to know that she not only has his support, but also his appreciation for her advocacy efforts.  They are also talking about taking some interim safety measures that Mary hopes will be put into place in the coming weeks. 

The Cliffcrest community in Ward 36 seems to have heard the call of Grace Lee Boggs, who said: “We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting a community garden or looking out for our neighbors.  That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.” For more information on Mary’s petitions visit www.change.org and search for McCowan Park.  Residents are also always encouraged to contact their City Councillor’s office regarding any safety concerns they have in their neighbourhoods and communities. 

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