Christine Crosbie still has a lot of questions about her husband’s death.
Not about his final moments, because she heard from the cyclists who held his hands and stayed with him after he was struck on Dundas St. E. a month ago.
And not about whether he’d been at fault. There is video showing Doug had the right of way on a green light when he was hit by the front bumper of a truck as the driver made a right turn at Jones Ave., police told her.
What Crosbie wants to know is what she’s supposed to do with the rest of her life.
“When the police told me, I said ‘No, no, no. I believe what you’re saying but this has not happened. This is not our story,’ ” Crosbie says, sitting in the east Toronto home she bought with her husband six years ago so their two kids, Davis, now 18, and Marina, 22, would be closer to their French immersion school. The couple met when they were journalism students at Concordia in Montreal and had been married for nearly 25 years.
Doug died May 16 at the age of 54. A woman killed while riding her bike on Bloor St. on June 12 brought to 93 the number of cyclists and pedestrians killed since the city adopted Vision Zero — an initiative to reduce deaths on the streets — last year. The deaths raise the question — once again — of whether Toronto’s goal for safer streets is more rhetoric than reality. And they show the human cost of the failed policy, the lives upended and the trauma that spreads through the community like a widening ripple.
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Crosbie says that her husband was her rock, always there for her and “an amazing friend to so many people.”
“He was such an ideal male role model. He had a super feminist mom so he had all of those ideals,” she says. “He was a really ethical person. He was a really good friend to anybody. If someone was moving or if someone needed some kind of support, he was always there.
“I’m glad my kids are at an age where he’s kind of already bestowed that on them. They’ll take that away. If they were very young, they might not have registered that.”
Close to noon on the day he died, she was called into a meeting in the human resources department of OCAD University, where she works as communications manager. Police came in and told her they were sorry, that there had been an accident and that her husband was killed riding his bike to work that morning. They pushed Doug’s wallet across the table to her.
“It was OK that way because no matter how you do it, no matter how gently or slowly or nicely you do it, it’s just like a total nightmare,” says Crosbie, a former Global News reporter. “You’re in total shock.”
She was thankful there was no chance for her to think something had happened to her kids.
“Do you have a checklist, because I have no idea how to deal with this,” Crosbie says she asked police. “Can you give a checklist? Can you tell me what I’m going to tell my children? Because I don’t know what I’m going to tell my children. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. Can you just give me some direction? You tell people this all the time,” she said to them.
Afterwards, she went to the hospital and then to her son’s workplace with her brother-in-law to tell him his father had died. She called her daughter in Montreal, where she is a Fine Arts student at Concordia.
Crosbie says word of Doug’s death spread quickly in the neighbourhood and in Riverdale where the family used to live. She posted a kind of obituary and photos publicly on Facebook about Doug, who started his career at the CBC and produced Mayday, an award-winning show on the Discovery Channel, and instantly received hundreds of responses, comfort she says in an impossible situation where you can’t really be comforted.
Crosbie says she would have tattooed the words from the obit on her forehead, “that this amazing person is gone because of this stupid thing that happened. The more people I can tell, the better.”
Her husband’s colleagues at Cineflix Productions downtown reached out on Facebook to say what a fantastic boss he was. She heard from the cyclists who stopped to help Doug as he lay on the ground.
“Four people who were at the crash site when it happened messaged me and said, ‘I want you to know that someone called 911 immediately, that there were three people holding his hand and talking to him and there was someone with him the whole time until he was taken away. I’m sorry we couldn’t do more for you.’ Could you imagine they would do that?” she says of their kindness.
Crosbie doesn’t know all the details contained in the video of her husband’s death, but she knows he was both a cautious driver and rider. Police say he was not at fault and not distracted.
“Not that I would ever fault a cyclist for making any of those mistakes,” she says. “But he didn’t.”
Mayor John Tory called her a week later on the morning of the funeral, when 350 people attended the ceremony for Doug at Eastminster United Church on Danforth Ave., and invited her to have a private meeting with him to discuss ways to improve infrastructure, but as she struggled to even get into her dress, she really couldn’t think about it.
Crosbie says she’s not an activist — not yet.
“I’m not that educated on how things are being done, whose responsibility it is,” she says about road safety. “So I’m just learning that now in the worst possible way.”
She’d like drivers to be smarter, to understand how careful they need to be. “And consequences that go beyond punishment, that are more about educating,” she says. “I would like to see having to do safety lessons before getting your licence back. Having to maybe meet with the family if they (the family) were up for it. Not everybody will be.”
She doesn’t know if the driver will be charged, but she says that even if he is, it won’t bring her husband back. Police say they are still investigating and there is “no determination on charges yet.”
“I’m not looking for vengeance,” Crosbie says.
Now, she busies herself with all the things that have to be done when a person dies, changes to the mortgage, to insurance policies, visits to the bank. Davis, a student at the University of Guelph, will live with her for the summer. Marina goes back to Montreal soon. Friends stop by every day to visit or bring food.
Doug’s colleagues made her a little booklet and each person wrote a paragraph and pasted it in the book. She says someone included the last text message that he had sent them about what a good job they’d done editing some footage. Another said what an awesome boss he’d been.
She says all the care the family has received makes her wonder how elderly people cope, when the number of friends and relatives has dwindled with age and someone they know has died.
Crosbie and her husband did most things together, including picking out the furnishings and artwork in their home, and so she looks for things around her that are just Doug. She had his wedding ring made smaller and wears it with her own on her left hand. She and Marina found a pack of ticket stubs from concerts he’d attended and they plan to do a collage.
Doug had wanted to do a family tattoo and the two of them had been looking for designs, so she and the kids went and got one that says “Heart of Gold,” a song from Neil Young’s Harvest album, Doug’s favourite.
“I still don’t quite get it,” says Crosbie. “I’m fine a lot of the time. But then when I think about it — all these things that we wanted to do, travel plans — and that’s kind of like out the window. He was always there for me,” she says, her voice lowering to a whisper. “For 25 years. We practically grew up together.”
Can Toronto make Vision Zero work?
One of the pillars of Vision Zero, which was adopted by the city last year, is that people will make mistakes.
“In every situation a person might fail, the road system should not,” says the narrator of a video explaining the initiative, which began in Sweden in 1997. Another pillar is that no loss of life due to traffic is acceptable.
“Every crash with serious injuries or fatalities is something you need to carefully look at and say what was wrong here, what should I have done, not the citizen — what should I have done as a professional and responsible person in the system?” Claus Tingvall, a director of traffic safety for the Swedish National Road Administration and co-architect of the vision, says in the video. “That’s the real demand we need to put on ourselves as professionals.”
Sweden has managed to cut traffic-related deaths nearly in half. It has one of the lowest rates of road deaths among developed countries — 2.7 per 100,000 people. Canada has 5.4 deaths per 100,000, third-highest among 10 high-income countries after New Zealand and the U.S., which was at 10.3, according to a CDC report from 2015.
Swedish cities are building more roundabouts instead of intersections to reduce the risk of head-on crashes. Cars aren’t allowed to turn at intersections when pedestrians and cyclists are crossing. And they are building pedestrian bridges. Bicycles have separate lanes and police have cracked down on drinking and driving.
Toronto adopted the Vision Zero policy last year with a five-year action plan to reduce traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries in six key areas — pedestrians, schoolchildren, older adults, cyclists, motorcyclists and aggressive driving and distraction.
But with deaths mounting, critics say the city is failing to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe.
A Pembina Institute study of cycling in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa from 2015 found that Toronto had the second-highest crash rate — five per 100,000 cycling trips, — behind Montreal. The study also found that Toronto has the lowest bicycle infrastructure per capita.
A newly opened 1.4-kilometre separated bike lane on Lake Shore Blvd. W., between Norris Cres. and First St., is the only one that’s been built this year. Other improvements listed in a pamphlet being circulated at Vision Zero town halls by the city — such as advanced green lights for cyclists and automatic detection at intersections — have not been implemented.
Bike lanes separated from the road by a physical barrier, also called protected bike lanes or cycle tracks, are safer than even off-street bike paths. Riders in cycle tracks have one-ninth the risk of serious injury leading to hospitalization compared to a rider on a major street without any bicycling infrastructure, according to a study of cycling in Toronto and Vancouver in 2012.
“We were quite surprised to see that separated bike lanes made such a big difference,” says Kay Teschke, one of the study’s authors and a professor emeritus of the School of Population and Public Health at UBC.
The lanes typically have good sight lines, because they are on roads designed for cars, and are lit properly, she says.
The lanes also completely remove the risk of dooring, which accounted for 10 per cent of all crashes in Toronto during the study period, and eliminate the chance of being caught in a streetcar track, which accounted for a third of crashes.
But it’s at intersections that cyclists are most at risk.
Nearly three-quarters of deaths and injuries occur there, according to a Toronto Star analysis of Toronto Police Service traffic statistics from 2007 to 2017.
“Being hit when a vehicle is turning left or turning right are the two most common intersection manoeuvres that kill active transportation users,” says Teschke. “And it’s crazy.”
As they do after every fatal accident, city staff from traffic operations and the traffic safety group, along with Shawn Dillon, acting manager of cycling infrastructure and programs, went to Dundas St. E. and Jones Ave. after cyclist Doug Crosbie was killed May 16, to investigate whether elements of the intersection, such as road markings and signal timing, were working as they should.
The city is still compiling the report, which won’t be made public.
“In many cases there may not be anything,” says Dillon. “In this case I think there probably could be some improvements made at that intersection.” The timing of those improvements will depend on cost. Big-budget items get deferred to future years.
Toronto recently made safety improvements at two Queen’s Park Cres. intersections — Wellesley St. W. and Hoskins Ave. — where they put in a dedicated signal for pedestrians and cyclists. The Harbord-Hoskin corridor is the second-busiest cycling route in the city, with 3,500 to 3,900 bikes per day. An city engineering study found the separate signal caused the longest traffic delay, but was the safest for riders on the two-way track. There are also a number of intersections on Queens Quay W. that have a separate signal for pedestrians and cyclists.
Teschke says that separate signal timing is the true vision zero at intersections.
“For a driver there are so many more vehicles and the catastrophe for a driver is being hit by a moving vehicle,” says Teschke. “So what are they looking for when they’re turning right or left? They’re looking for other vehicles. And look but fail to see is the classic problem,” she says of drivers who often don’t see pedestrians, cyclists or motorcycles. Drivers are typically responsible for about 60 per cent of the collisions with cyclists, says Teschke.
At least 1,000 U.S. and European cities have managed to achieve Vision Zero, when there were no traffic-related fatalities for at least a year.
“Canada is better than the U.S. per population rate,” says Teschke, “but we’re still much higher than the best countries in the world like Sweden and Denmark, Germany, the U.K. We have a long way to go.
“And we could save half the deaths from overall traffic — not just bicycling, which is a small proportion because there’s not much bicycling — we could save a lot if we went to and really adopted Vision Zero.”
Patty Winsa is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @PattyWinsa