Mayor Tory: Pedestrian countdown clock ‘problem’ needs to be fixed

Changes could be on the horizon for Toronto’s pedestrian countdown clocks.

Mayor John Tory admits the status quo of confusion and doubt about what the countdowns signal and to whom isn’t working. He says he is “deeply troubled” to know there are so many different interpretations of the displayed numbers, including by officials and police officers.

“That’s a problem that we have to fix and we will fix it and we will fix it before long,” Tory told reporters Thursday.

“If we can’t even get the message across to people as to how they’re supposed to deal with those numbers, then either you should be taking them out, or you should be engaging in a robust program of public education.”

The city’s website says that the countdown “indicates the number of seconds remaining for a pedestrian to complete his/her crossing of a street”. It advises pedestrians not to start crossing if the “helping hand” that accompanies the countdown is showing because they may not be able to do so in time.

This week, during a campaign intended to protect vulnerable road users, Toronto Police Sgt. Brett Moore tried to address some ‘misconceptions’ about the countdowns.

“They’re meant for people who are walking, crossing the street to give them an idea of how much time is left—not for drivers to hustle through the intersection, or people who have not yet started to cross, to begin crossing,” Moore said in an online video.

A 2013 study by the University of Toronto found that while countdown clocks had reduced the number of pedestrians hit by cars over a two year period, the number of cars crashing into other cars increased.

In searching for a solution, Mayor Tory isn’t keen on a lengthy study but says he has asked city staff for help.

“This clearly is one thing where there’s not adequate understanding of exactly how these signals are meant to keep people safe, which is the end objective, and so we’ll be taking a look at everything,” Tory said.

The mayor added that he will soon be announcing measures unrelated to countdown clocks to strengthen pedestrian safety.