Construction hub pilot project aims to make Yonge-Eglinton safer for pedestrians

City officials have launched a new pilot project to make the Yonge-Eglinton area "less dangerous" for pedestrians, but residents who work and live near the busy intersection say they remain skeptical.

The project, known as the construction hub co-ordination pilot, began on Monday. There are about 30 condo developments underway in the area, in addition to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project, according to Coun. Mike Colle, who represents Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence. 

Dozens of construction sites in a concentrated area have created hazardous conditions for pedestrians.

Colle said the year-long pilot is intended to improve road safety, manage the flow of construction vehicles "in a sensible way," connect travellers with real-time information, and minimize construction-related disruption. The pilot is set to end in December 2020. 

"It's about some kind of order in a very challenging situation," Colle said.

"We have more construction here than anywhere else in Canada. We are just trying to make it less dangerous for pedestrians. Traffic management is a huge challenge here because of reduced lanes and because of the volume.

According to the city, Toronto has the largest number of major construction projects underway among the 13 largest cities in North America with 120 cranes at work.

Hub to regulate movement of vehicles

A hub co-ordinator, Stuart McGhie, will initially be located in a small office. He will work with contractors, review construction management plans and collaborate with police. He will also communicate with businesses and residents. Scheduling will be a large part of his job.

"It will be able to ensure that not all of the heavy construction, cement trucks, dump trucks, are in one area on a specific day on a specific week," Colle said. 

"It will basically ensure their coordination doesn't just go off the rails here. It's coordinated and it's also put in a calendar, so they don't all do the same thing at once and they don't go on the same street at once."

Chris Langenzarde/CBC

The projects have brought a high volume of construction vehicles and heavy machinery to the area every day.

The project will give city staff the ability to create schedules for all trucks moving in and out of the area, and keep big construction vehicles away from intersections through the creation of staging areas where they can wait until they are needed.

Colle said the plan is to do a better job of policing vehicles not connected with construction as well.

He noted that the city has received several complaints from parents with children in schools near construction zones. People have about complained dangerous vehicles, lots of noise and about not being able to cross the road and to walk down the sidewalk.

Full-time crossing guards, from morning to night, are now stationed at the intersection.

"People walking to the subway, people walking to this shopping plaza, we have schools here, we have all kinds of activity in this one intersection," Colle said.

Pilot may not work well, pedestrians warn

But a handful of pedestrians who spoke to CBC Toronto said they aren't so sure that the pilot project will make a difference. 

Chris Langenzarde/CBC

"I don't think a pilot project like that will work effectively," said area resident Abdul Rahim Bangura. 

He thinks more people should work from home to avoid commuting altogether, and said the situation is quite bad right now. "It's indescribable how bad it is."

Gilda Karp, another resident, agrees, saying: "Now, it's just madness, 24 hours a day."

If the pilot project can bring some order to the area, it will benefit the community, she said. "If it happens great, if not, I won't be surprised."

Added Andrew Mandyam, who works in the area: "I'd have to see it to believe it."

Pilot project follows death of pedestrian

The construction hub comes after a pedestrian, Evangeline Lauroza, 54, died on Sept. 10 after she was struck by a cement truck while trying to cross Erskine Avenue, near Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue.

According to Colle, contractors who fail to comply with the new hub co-ordinator could face tickets and fines or they could lose their building permits.

If the hub proves to be successful, Hakeem Muhammad, spokesperson for the city of Toronto, says the city will set up others. The city says a similar construction hub began in Seattle in 2016, and according to city staff there, it helped to reduce the number of days of construction.

Chris Langenzarde/CBC