Traffic safety is an uphill struggle for this west-end Toronto neighbourhood. Here’s why

Residents in a west Toronto neighbourhood are facing an uphill struggle — literally — against traffic safety issues in their area and they want the city to fix the problem.

They live in an enclave in the Humber Valley known as Warren Park, near Dundas Street West and Jane Street, and their only realistic access to shops, schools and transit is by making their way up one of the city’s steepest hills on St. Marks Road.

In winter, that can be a serious challenge.

“Everybody going to school, having to commute to work, accessing our businesses, accessing our transit system, everyone; they need to use this hill,” said Erika Fraser, who is on the St. Marks Hill Safety Committee with the Warren Park Ratepayers Association.

“This is the only access to Jane Street from our neighbourhood.”

The city has tried to address the problem in the past by installing an all-way stop at the top of the hill. But residents say that hasn’t made it any easier to navigate in winter, especially after a storm.

A six-vehicle pile-up last winter inspired Warren Park residents to start pushing the city for a solution to issues the steep hill causes during the winter months. (Submitted by Warren Park Ratepayers Association)

Fraser said the problem is that the road is not just steep, it’s also narrow. A sidewalk runs along one side of it, routinely used by school kids. 

But there’s nothing that separates the pedestrians from the roadway, despite repeated calls from the ratepayers association for temporary barriers, Fraser said.

“We got organized a year ago after [a] six-car pile up on the sidewalk,” she told CBC Toronto.

“We realized there was a number of structural issues with the hill and there was also maintenance issues.”

Fraser said the sidewalk, which runs beside a ravine, is rarely salted or cleared of snow, leading to cuts and bruises for the kids who slip and fall using the hill to get to Humbercrest Public School at the top of the hill.

She also said the city hasn’t been properly clearing or salting the roadway, which has created slippery conditions, pedestrians and cyclists who also use the route.

“We’re looking at a long term, complete-street solution that includes pedestrian, cyclists and vehicle measures that make the hill … accessible to everybody that needs to be able to use our valley, and as well access the city.”

The group has been pushing for the installation of temporary barriers “actively for the last 10 months,” Fraser said.

It’s also launched a competition asking elementary, high school and post secondary students to come up with a design that could turn St. Marks into a safer street. Registration closes Feb. 15, Fraser said.

Gord Perks
Coun. Gord Perks, who represents the neighbourhood, says city staff are working on a solution to the safety issues posed by the steep hill. (Mike Smee/CBC)

Coun. Gord Perks, who represents Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park, said an effort is underway by city staff, approved at January’s community council meeting, to look at ways of improving the road.

“I’ve directed city staff to go and look at whether we should reconstruct the road, what design options are available to us.” he said.

“That was just passed at community council a few weeks ago, and I’m hoping we’ll see that report soon.”

In the meantime, local residents say they’re just struggling to cope.

Michelle Parker
Michelle Parker worries about what could happen if a car lost control on the hill while she was escorting her child, who has a disability, on the neighbouring sidewalk. (Mike Smee/CBC)

Michelle Parker, who’s lived in the neighbourhood for 11 years, says it’s especially nerve-wracking for her.

“I have a disabled child, and sometimes we can’t get out to services that we need to get to because they’re not able to physically navigate the icy sidewalk,” she said.

“If a car was moving quickly towards us, we couldn’t get away in time,” Parker added.

She said some of her friends’ kids are practising jumping the handrail that separates the sidewalk from an adjacent ravine in case a car comes toward them.

“I have a child who couldn’t do that,” she told CBC Toronto.

Rick Adams
Rick Adams, a 15-year resident of Warren Park, says he’s concerned about emergency vehicles getting to the neighborhood in winter. (Mike Smee/CBC)

Rick Adams, a 62-year-old cyclist, said buses are often cancelled after a storm because they can’t navigate the hill.

“As as a senior who doesn’t drive, it really becomes difficult,” he said.

“This is our only way out of the valley, so to be able to maintain a connection with the city, we need a way to get up the hill.

“There’s a great seniors community down here, people aging in place that really want to be able to stay in our beautiful valley,” he said.

“But they need an escape route, and we need a way for emergency services to get here as well, and if this hill isn’t being maintained, we’re going to run into problems.”

Crash aftermath
The aftermath of a crash that happened last winter when a car lost control on St. Marks HIll and slammed into the guardrail at the bottom of the street. (Submitted by Warren Park Ratepayers Association)

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