How Safe Is a Toronto School Zone?

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Moves are being made to make Toronto’s school zones safer.

The City of Toronto is rolling out school safety zones at every public school in the municipality at a time when the need for safer streets has become the subject of a citywide debate.

Corporate citizens are now joining the fray, such as Aviva Canada, which recently partnered with national injury-prevention charity Parachute to help tackle the issue. Parachute and Aviva Canada are working at the community level to improve knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of drivers and pedestrians through changes to infrastructure, legislation and enforcement to make Canadian school zones safer via a new program, Elementary Road Safety.

Photography by Erin Leydon

With the help of Brad Bradford, Ward 19 Beaches–East York councillor, and Sergeant Brett Moore of the Toronto Police Service, we explore how safe a Toronto school zone really is and what other steps could be taken.

George Webster Elementary School is tucked away in a residential enclave north of Danforth Village in East York. But Chapman Avenue, which the school fronts, is pretty much a straight shot across, and motorists tend to drive faster along stretches like this. Moore agrees that open, flat roads without any calming measures, such as speed bumps, are conducive to faster speeds. “Drivers travel at speeds that roads are designed for,” he says. “A road designed for lower speeds is often narrower, full of calming measures and engineered so that a driver feels uncomfortable to speed,” Moore explains.

To calm traffic as well as create a safer place for parents to drop off and pick up their kids, Bradford removed parking restrictions on the north side of Chapman through a motion at East York Community Council. This way, kids no longer have to cross mid-block to get to school. Before, parents were stopping along nearby side streets, and Chapman was chaotic with commuters trying to get to nearby Dawes Road, a busy East York thoroughfare. Parking is still barred on the south side, to discourage those mid-block crossings.

Across the city, Toronto Police Service identifies illegal parking as an ongoing safety challenge in school zones, even if motorists say they’re stopping for only a minute. “We hear it all the time throughout the year—from both police and the parking enforcement—about parents not following the parking regulations in and around their school,” says Moore, who adds that this is one of the keys to safer school zones.

Passing a school bus while it’s either loading or letting off kids is not only against the law and dangerous, it’s also an expensive risk to take. “There have been increased penalties,” notes Moore. The first offence results in a loss of six demerit points, with fines ranging between $400 and $2,000, depending on the specific circumstances. Subsequent offences carry a minimum fine of $1,000. The provincial government announced these new stiffer penalties this April.

At George Webster Elementary, students have the added benefit of a separate bus bay/car drop-off zone, which the Toronto District School Board installed less than a year ago. But the driveway entrance could’ve been better positioned, Bradford says. It’s too close to the intersection of George Webster Road and Chapman Avenue. “You can see the exit for the car drop-off goes right into a stop sign,” Bradford points out. “It’s problematic.” Also, the new sidewalk bordering the driveway isn’t flush with the intersection, creating potential confusion about where to cross.

Photography by Erin Leydon

Nonetheless, the school zone’s only intersection has seen safety improvements recently. It became a three-way stop this past January. Bradford says “it was actually crazy” that the intersection wasn’t set up like this before. City workers have also put down white paint bars to indicate where to stop, and they’re going to add striped zebra crossings in the future. “Zebra striping just highlights for drivers that people are going to be crossing there, and you should be anticipating that,” Bradford explains.

Throughout the country, Aviva Canada is working with Parachute at the community level to bring about changes like the kind being implemented at George Webster Elementary School.

Through the partnership, over five years, 20 elementary schools from coast to coast will be selected to take part in the Elementary Road Safety program to improve safety in their school zones.  For more information on how to make your school zone safer and other Take Back Our Roads projects visit TakeBackOurRoads.ca.