Walking a Clear Path: Sidewalk Hazards of Toronto

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Sidewalk hazard, Bloor Street at Parliament

Have you ever had to step into the road while walking to work in Toronto? Or had to backtrack and take a different route when the width of the sidewalk wouldn’t allow you to pass? Or been travelling merrily along until a sidewalk just… ended?

I used to think that these were simply annoying hindrances to walking in the city. But they are all potentially dangerous situations for walkers.

Recently I learned about Perils for Pedestrians, a non-profit video series focusing on walking hazards. The series focuses on existing hazards to walkers and ways to increase pedestrian safety. I’ve added it to the links on my Resources page.

Watching a few of the videos really opened my eyes to the safety risks that sidewalk obstructions represent. People using wheeled carts, strollers and mobility devices often face the highest risks.

Here are some examples that I come across frequently in Toronto.

Bins block the sidewalk

One of the most common sidewalk hazards in Toronto happens on garbage pickup day, which varies by neighbourhood. The bins are big and reduce the sidewalk space by about 50% depending on how they’re placed. They are a hazard.

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Garbage and recycling bins blocking the sidewalk on Church Street

It doesn’t help that the City of Toronto guidelines for placing the bins warn us not to obstruct the street – inexplicably failing to take into account those of us using the sidewalk.

This despite the aim of the Toronto Walking Strategy: to build a physical and cultural environment that supports and encourages walking … where people will choose to walk more often.

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Instructions for garbage bin placement, City of Toronto

Poles block the sidewalk

Another common peril I’ve noticed is poles blocking part of the sidewalk. The poles are for street signs, power, telephone, etc. Do they ever really need to be placed on the sidewalk?

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Pole embedded in sidewalk: Why?

Excavation of sidewalks creates dangerous conditions

A third common hazard is caused by construction, be it for access to the pipes below, repair or replacement of sidewalks, or larger projects like new condos. Sidewalk closures or detours are common.

We know that maintenance is necessary, but we can prioritize safe passage for sidewalk users as we would for road users.

Notice of upcoming construction can be placed where the path begins so that users can choose another route.

And sidewalks can be returned to safe working condition as quickly as possible.

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Sidewalk construction on Howard Street

Temporary signs block sidewalks

This tweet from Oliver Moore says it all.

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Large temporary sign blocks busy downtown sidewalk (Tweet: Oliver Moore)

Dirty sidewalk conditions discourage users

This last hazard is not a result of changes to walking infrastructure but the result of human behaviour. Sidewalks made perilous by dog excrement is the top offender, followed closely by litter, spilled food and drink.

There are laws on the books against this type of behaviour, but they must be difficult to enforce. Perhaps public service announcements on social media would help raise awareness that it’s not OK to make a mess on public property.

Bits of garbage and recycling land on the streets, sidewalks and front gardens of the city on garbage pickup day. More care could be taken in emptying bin contents without spillage.

These are not dangerous, but unnecessarily unpleasant and sometimes, downright disgusting conditions. For those with wheels, getting them clean after a journey through such sidewalk conditions will be an additional challenge.

We have street sweepers clean up the roads regularly. People using the sidewalk have the right to similar conditions.

Make noise to keep Toronto sidewalks clear of hazards

Toronto journalist Matt Elliott exhorts us to make some noise about our point of view in Toronto drivers are loud, cyclists and pedestrians should be too. As he wrote in his June 5 column for Metro News:

“When you encounter a barrier of frustration when walking, biking or taking transit in this city, don’t just sigh and soldier on. Instead, make like one of those angry drivers and register a complaint with the mayor or your city councillor.”

What sidewalk hazards have you come across?

I’d love to hear from you!

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