It’s a harsh reality.
The Toronto van attack happened 17 months ago and if there are any lessons learned it’s that there isn’t much to be done to prevent a similarly horrific incident from happening again.
The extreme solutions are infeasible. Actual solutions may not be enough.
Paul Hess, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, says we have to keep “ramming attacks in perspective and have a proportional response.”
“It was a horrible event but 40 pedestrians or so are killed every year or so. There is an issue making the street environment safer, rather than focusing on what is a kind of rare event,” he added.
Hess explained the response to these events “comes out of older ideas of securitization,” adding, it involves “hardening the buildings themselves” and the surrounding area by using concrete jersey barriers and metal bollards (posts).
While the city could spend millions of taxpayers dollars erecting permanent concrete jersey barriers along roads, it’s simply not a good solution given the tension between the integration of different modes of mobility along Toronto streets.
“Street design has changed rapidly over the last decade trying to make (streets) more bike and pedestrian-friendly,” Hess said.
The city has taken some protection measures in certain areas, says David Leinster, of The Planning Partnership — an organization looking to create award-winning urban design projects.
Leinster pointed out that temporary and permanent protective measures have been built to increase pedestrian safety in some high volume areas like Nathan Phillips Square and Union Station.
Nothing is a sure-fire solution though as jersey barriers and bollards are created to withstand only so much impact.
“They are effective but they have to be designed to meet certain standards in terms of the size of the vehicle and the speed that it’s going,” Leinster said. “I think (violent attacks) are something that is being thought about more in public space planning, unfortunately.”
Hess also spoke about the effectiveness of some of the protection measures that have been adopted, saying they seem to “have been effective, you can only say by the lack of incidents, that’s following practices elsewhere.”
Some things urban designers are working on integrating protection into things like street furniture and planters.
Authorities are trying to “incorporate them into benches and planters to make them feel a little more friendly,” Hess said.
Mark Sterling, director of the Master of Urban Design Program at the University of Toronto, spoke about what the “public realm” is meant to be and how our conception of public spaces would change if we committed to preventing these kinds of attacks.
“If the public realm is about people being able to walk around freely, the heavy barriers and protection from attacks are the symbolic capitulation of bad things happening to people,” Sterling said. “The public realm is a place to be there in public. It’s a real dilemma we have in response to events like this.”
“We have to find a balance between those things,” he added.
Leinster also mentioned conflicting interests such as AODO regulations, explaining we can’t fortify every part of the public realm from attack.
“You want clear walkways and zones where pedestrians can move unencumbered,” he said.