Prioritizing Pedestrians Is Prioritizing People’s Lives

During the three hours I spend each day in transit, I frequently feel rushed, exhausted, bored, and unhappy. My commute involves different modes of transportation, including commuter train and local transit, but things always look up when I walk.

The most direct route from Union Station in downtown Toronto (where I arrive on the GO commuter train) to the 8 80 office near Spadina Avenue is the 510 Spadina Streetcar — when it works. Because TTC (local transit) and Go train schedules aren’t synced, I often wait 15 to 25 minutes. I can reliably take the yellow subway line with no more than a five-minute wait, but this route requires a transfer to the 501 streetcar at Osgoode Station.

These options, my winter routine, not only take more time than walking, but they are also less pleasant. When the weather allows me to walk, life gets better. The benefits are enormous. Walking makes me feel relaxed. I get 20 minutes of exercise. I organize my thoughts and think creatively. Walking lifts my spirits. I discover new places: hidden gardens, shortcuts, alleys, public art and murals, graffiti, new buildings, and new coffee shops. I do what I love the most, which is observing people.

As 8 80 Cities founder Gil Penalosa states, “Every city should have a law of two words: pedestrians first.” But few cities apply this rule.

So why isn’t pedestrian infrastructure better? Discussions about improved active transportation rarely include walking. The sidewalks I frequent on my way to work barely accommodate all the pedestrians. We’re encouraged to wear bright colours to avoid being struck by vehicles during dark winter months, as if pedestrians are at fault. Older adults find crossing the street before the traffic signal changes a challenge.

These experiences aren’t exclusive to Toronto. We have a lot of work to do.

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