Lo­cal laneway co­nun­drum

Google sends traf­fic onto non-roads

Bayview Post - - NEWS | NEIGHBORHOOD -

An un­in­tended con­se­quence of the re­cent trend of nam­ing Toronto’s laneways is more traf­fic and po­ten­tial risk to lo­cal fam­i­lies. Ev­i­dence sug­gests that as laneways be­come of­fi­cially rec­og­nized Google Maps and car-shar­ing apps are send­ing more traf­fic through these small lo­cal streets.

“I think there has def­i­nitely been an uptick in the use of laneways by Uber driv­ers and, to a lesser de­gree, taxis,” said Marc Hollin, a res­i­dent of Seaton vil­lage. “Be­fore the laneways were named I don’t think it came up on Google Maps. Since then, all my neigh­bours are notic­ing an uptick in use. Now it is be­ing used for through traf­fic.”

He said that peo­ple of­ten speed down the laneway be­hind his home in his Daven­port neigh­bour­hood and turn dan­ger­ously around blind cor­ners. He also noted that he has seen the Uber and Lyft signs on the cars in the laneway, and that some­times they are wait­ing to pick up rid­ers there, not know­ing it is the back of the prop­er­ties.

“The prob­lem for us is [laneways are] where our kids of­ten play, so we don’t love to see a lot of fast-mov­ing traf­fic back there,” Hollin said. “[It is] to­tally a safety haz­ard.”

In the be­gin­ning of 2013, the City of Toronto set out to name laneways to pay homage to Toronto’s his­tory, as well as help Toronto Emer­gency Med­i­cal Ser­vices (EMS) travel through laneways, ac­cord­ing to for­mer city coun­cil­lor Joe Mi­hevc, who helped lead the ini­tia­tive in Seaton vil­lage and the rest of his ward.

“We saw a her­itage op­por­tu­nity to cel­e­brate the lo­cal peo­ple who have con­trib­uted to their com­mu­nity, and the EMS peo­ple sup­ported the nam­ing of laneways be­cause it is eas­ier if there’s an in­ci­dent in a laneway to know the name of it,” Mi­hevc said.

Eric Holmes, spokesper­son for City of Toronto, Trans­porta­tion Ser­vices, con­firmed that roads ap­pear in Google Maps once they are named, due to Google’s al­go­rithm in its soft­ware.

“From my un­der­stand­ing, once a laneway is named, those are the ones that are ap­pear­ing,” he said. Michelle Se­nayah, co-founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Laneway Project, a laneway re­vi­tal­iza­tion ad­vo­cacy group, agrees that more traf­fic down laneways is a safety haz­ard. Se­nayah said that she has heard of speed­ing oc­cur­ring in laneways of neigh­bour­hoods where her group has been ac­tive for the past four years.

“Any­time you’ve got peo­ple mov­ing through a space at a speed that they’re not go­ing to be able to stop to avoid col­li­sion with an­other user, that’s a safety con­cern,” she said.

When it comes to so­lu­tions to calm the traf­fic go­ing through res­i­den­tial laneways, all par­ties have dif­fer­ent ideas. Mi­hevc sug­gested that the city should have a con­ver­sa­tion with ride-shar­ing apps like Uber and Lyft.

“I think the city talk­ing with Uber is the best [so­lu­tion to] get them to change their al­go­rithm so laneways be­come in­el­i­gi­ble when asked the short­est dis­tance be­tween A and B,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Holmes, there is cur­rently no code or by­law that pre­vents traf­fic on named laneways in Toronto, but res­i­dents can con­sult the city’s Traf­fic Calm­ing Guide for Toronto to see how they can make a re­quest for traf­fic calm­ing mea­sures in laneways, such as speed bumps.

Nei­ther Mi­hevc nor Se­nayah be­lieves sim­ply putting in more speed bumps is the so­lu­tion.

“That’s not go­ing to de­ter peo­ple,” said Mi­hevc. “If the com­puter tells them to use it, then they will use it.”

Se­nayah be­lieves the an­swer lies in what she calls “de­sign speed,” which is cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment in the laneways that presents them more as a liv­ing space than a through­way. This in­volves mea­sures like putting up mu­rals de­pict­ing chil­dren play­ing, in­creas­ing light­ing of the space and in­cor­po­rat­ing green­ery, to cre­ate a more peo­ple-ori­ented space.

“If peo­ple are us­ing them to cut around traf­fic or con­struc­tion, they can do so, but they need to re­al­ize that they can’t drive at street speed in these spa­ces,” she said. “That’s some­thing we hear very com­monly from com­mu­ni­ties we work in.” –– Eric Sto­ber

Laneway Project founder Michelle Se­nayah

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