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'Die-in' held outside City Hall ahead of Yonge Street vote

Last Updated Mar 26, 2018 at 11:58 pm EDT

Dozens of demonstrators lay on the ground at the doorsteps of City Hall for a ‘die-in’ on Monday evening.

Pedestrians and cyclists who participated say it was a vigil for those who have died on our streets, struck down by motorists. Some of those who attended have been affected firsthand.

“I hope this dramatic sight of all of these bodies on the ground will drive home the fact that people die. These are real people, they have families, they are loved, they should still be with us. It was senseless that they died, it was completely preventable. We need to create safer streets” said Jessica Spieker, a volunteer with Friends and Families for Safe Streets, an organization made up of people who have had similar ordeals.

The demonstration was held on the eve of a crucial vote that will decide how a major stretch of Yonge Street in North York will be re-vamped, a stretch of road which hasn’t been upgraded since 1975.

The organization was hoping to send a message to Mayor John Tory that the road has become far too dangerous for some.

“It’s very scary biking there,” says cyclist Jonathan Farrell. “Cars go very fast, doors are always opening, it’s a very busy street.”

One plan includes dedicated bike lanes, and enhanced pedestrian crossing and – controversially – cutting Yonge Street from 6 lanes of traffic to 4, north of Sheppard.

An alternative measure includes having the dedicated bike lanes on Beecroft Road, a side street that is one block west of Yonge St, something the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee has supported.

The mayor has been clear that he also supports the latter.

In an email statement to CityNews, Tory’s office says, “The Mayor believes bike lanes running on neighbouring streets along with public realm improvements to Yonge would be a win-win for the area that wouldn’t increase congestion.”

But not everyone agrees.

“As far as public safety goes, we need wider boulevards and you can’t do that unless you remove lanes of traffic on Yonge Street,” says Ward 23 Councillor John Filion.

According to Ken Greenberg, an Urban Design Expert with Greenberg Consultants Inc., this decision could be a defining moment for Toronto, choosing to follow other cities around the world in becoming more safe and friendly for cyclists and pedestrians

“I think this plan is a once in a generation opportunity to build Yonge street for the 21st century, not the 1960’s where we give priorities to motor vehicles.”

It’s been a deadly year on the road so far for Toronto’s pedestrians – as of mid-March, 11 people have died.

That’s four more than the seven fatalities the same time last year.

Jessica Spieker is lucky – she is just one of the many pedestrians and cyclists who have narrowly escaped death on the roads.

“A careless driver managed to not see me during a left hand turn,” she recalls, “She T-boned me and in the crash my spine was broken, I sustained a brain injury and the left side of my body was badly injured.”

Dr. Samantha Green, a family practitioner, says these injuries are all too familiar and adds shes seen too many patients get struck and killed this year.

“People can’t protect themselves just by wearing a helmet and pedestrians can’t protect themselves just by walking slower, what we need is better infrastructure.”

City council is expected to vote on which plan to adopt on Tuesday.