Toronto’s third cyclist fatality sparks safety concerns

By Daryl Gonsalves –

 Driving northbound on Bay­view Avenue near the Don Val­ley Parkway off-ramp, you will notice a new bleached-white ‘ghost’ bicycle chained to a pole above a metal guardrail. This honours Vlad Zotov, who died after being hit by an SUV on April 8.

Zotov was a husband, a father of three, a grandfather, a scien­tist and a cyclist. His cycling club, Morning Glory in associa­tion with Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists, organized a memo­rial ride a week later across the city in remembrance and soli­darity.

Zotov’s death has led to grow­ing calls for the city to radically rethink its Vision Zero strategy and for Ontario to reassess the safety implications of larger ve­hicles.

I joined hundreds of cyclists on the commemoration ride, which was filled from start to finish with emotion and empa­thy. Speakers remembered Zotov as a “sensational human being” with a “zest for life”.

Police escorted hundreds of cyclists across the city, closing Bayview briefly as the memo­rial concluded at the accident scene. In conversation with cyclists, I heard that many had already experienced dangerous near-misses this year.

Zotov’s death on Toronto streets makes clear that the city’s Vision Zero plan (road de­sign that reduces traffic-related deaths and injuries) is failing to prevent careless drivers from putting vulnerable road users at risk. Toronto’s cycling-related fatalities already number three this year, surpassing the annual totals for 2021, 2022 and 2023. Although the City may continue to use communication talking points that they are commit­ted to Vision Zero, the number of deaths is telling us the plan is fundamentally not working and additional investments are needed.

Cyclist fatalities give rise to a sense of danger and a culture of fear on city streets. The most common reason I hear why cy­cling isn’t more used as trans­portation is that it is not safe. By making cycling safer, we incen­tivize more people to use it as a form of transportation. It also positively contributes to solving Toronto’s congestion problem which is a hot topic given the recent required maintenance on the Gardiner.

Is the City doing enough? The city installed 115 kilometres of new bike lanes between 2018 and 2023, and upgraded 90 kilo­metres of bike lanes. Although City Council continues to man­date new dedicated bike infra­structure, road safety advocates call for safety to be a higher priority: public education cam­paigns coupled with strong and consistent enforcement of driv­ers. For example, cyclists should be able to easily report drivers illegally parked in bike lanes, which forces cyclists into mo­torized traffic.

The 38-year-old driver who struck Zotov was driving a Ford Bronco SUV. In 2021, an Ontar­io Ministry of Transportation report found 61 per cent of road fatalities involve SUVs, even though they make up only 41 per cent of road vehicles.

According to the Econom­ics of Transportation Journal (Tyndall, 2024), a 10-centime­tre increase in the height of a vehicle’s front end increases the fatality risk by 22 per cent in a collision with a pedestrian. In other words, SUVs and pickup trucks are more likely than se­dans to hit pedestrians from the chest-up.

Government needs to start assessing special safety initia­tives focused on larger vehicles, such as SUVs or trucks. A new report from a coalition of safety advocates, recommends special licenses for such larger vehi­cles, reduced size requirements for manufacturers, and banning SUVs and pickup trucks from certain busy areas, like school zones.

Vlad Zotov’s death was pre­ventable if we collectively en­able a culture shift and rethink how we create the conditions to enable road safety

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