11/26/2014 07:10 EST | Updated 01/26/2015 05:59 EST

Narrowing Toronto's street lanes won't reduce collisions

The city's plan to narrow lanes on some streets in an effort to slow down traffic is unlikely to reduce the number of collisions between vehicles and pedestrians and cyclists on Toronto's streets. 

A memo from the general manager of the city's transportation services division Stephen Buckley suggests narrowing lanes would improve the flow of traffic and make more room for other road users. Indeed, the city has already begun the process on limited stretches of Danforth Avenue, University Avenue, Bay Street and Jarvis Street. 

But Murtaza Haider, director of the Institute of Housing and Mobility at Ryerson University, says that while the plan will slow cars down, it won't reduce the number of collisions. 

"The studies that have been done in the past on narrowing lanes suggest that narrower lanes have higher accident rates," he said. "In fact, the studies say that every one foot reduction in lane widths leads to a 3 to 5 per cent increase in accident rates."

While fewer of those incidents would be fatal due to lower speeds, Haider is not convinced that narrowing Toronto's streets is the right remedy. 

"Reducing speeds does not necessarily mean you should reduce lane widths. There are other calming devices in traffic engineering that can be used to regulate or slow the speeds down. It's just not the right tool."

"From Toronto's downtown perspective, we have other concerns. We have major hospitals here, all the major trauma centres and it will also slow down the ambulances and increase emergency response times," Haider said. 

Buckley's memo cites several U.S. cities, such as New York City, Boston and San Francisco that have had positive experiences in narrowing lanes. 

But Haider argues that those examples do not account for the specific circumstances in Toronto.

"It's comparing apples and oranges. If you go to Manhattan, you will see dedicated lanes in the middle of the road for emergency vehicles. We don't have any dedicated lanes for emergency vehicles anywhere in Toronto, so narrowing lanes doesn't make sense in that instance."

"Pretending to be New York would be naivety."

Toronto mayor-elect John Tory said Tuesday he still needs to "read the fine print" and will watch the project "like a hawk."

"To me, if it enhances public safety and causes traffic to move more smoothly ... I'm not going to raise my voice against it," he said.