a vibrant street scene at Kensington Market
Cities can be vibrant places where all can flourish.

As the global population progressively concentrates in cities, urban streets have become the site of an unprecedented struggle for everyday safety and access. City streets should be livable for everyone, but roads remain a threat to cyclists. More people are overdosing on opioids than ever before. We see that social welfare systems sometimes harm those they aim to support. Many of these problems have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These aren’t problems that can be traced to one source or solved with a singular approach.

The diverse range of schools, researchers, and students that comprise Ryerson’s Faculty of Community Services (FCS) work collaboratively — across disciplines and in communities — to find practical ways to make city streets more livable for all.

Towards safer roads, for allFighting the opioid crisisEnding the welfare cycleWatch video
downtown street that has a sidewalk, a separated bike lane, and car lanes
Urban design can lend itself to safer, greener transportation options, business growth, and vibrant communities.

Towards safer roads, for all

Toronto saw a cycling boom following the COVID-19 closure orders, making the “Vision Zero” plan much more relevant. As a five-year program launched in 2017, this plan aims to eliminate road deaths. One of the plan’s key elements is to increase protected cycling infrastructure throughout the city through 2027.  

“As more and more people choose to bike, as well as walk and use transit, we need better infrastructure for all road users,” says Dr. Raktim Mitra, associate director of undergraduate programs and professor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP) and the co-director of TransForm Lab. Mitra’s research underscores just how significant the presence of separated infrastructure is in encouraging residents to view cycling as a viable mode of urban transportation.

After bike-lane construction in Toronto, 4 in 10 users were new cyclists.

Mitra found that after the construction of Bloor Bike Lanes and Woodbine Cycle track, four in ten users (40% overall; 46% on Bloor Street; and 30% on Woodbine Avenue) were new cyclists, who would have used an alternate means of travel before the protected infrastructure existed. Given the need to reduce congestion on city streets and public transportation vehicles, getting more people on bikes also has a trickle-down effect that improves transit across cities.

However, a key obstacle to getting people out of their cars and into the saddle is the perception of danger. Mitra and his team surveyed many cyclists and identified improved safety as a deciding factor in their decision to cycle instead of their previous travel mode.

Ryerson’s TransForm Lab, School of Occupational and Public Health (SOPHe), and City Building Ryerson (led by Dr. Pamela Robinson, director and professor SURP) are leaders in research devoted to shaping healthy communities. Two research teams from SOPHe, led by Dr. Anne Harris and Dr. Linda Rothman, have recently been awarded significant grants to build on this work with medical, police, and urban planning partners. 

“Physically separated infrastructure is the best method of protection,” explains Dr. Anne Harris, professor and SOPHe epidemiologist studying transportation injuries. Harris led a team report with City Building Ryerson on preventable bicycling injuries along Bloor-Danforth. The report, released in the fall of 2020, found that bicycling infrastructure on this corridor alone could prevent approximately 200 injuries over the next decade if it is fully separated from motor vehicle traffic.

 “When you physically separate cyclists … the risk [of injury] was about a tenth compared to [no separation at all]. That’s pretty dramatic.” In her newly funded work, Harris will explore how health care reporting and police reporting of accidents and injuries involving cyclists overlap and differ to improve surveillance and prevention of cyclist and pedestrian injury in Canada.

SOPHe professor Rothman is leading a multicentre team examining how pandemic management policies affect road safety. The team published a preliminary study in 2021. With the new grant, and will explore provinces across Canada to see how the implementation and relaxation of policies affect road safety trends between 2016 and 2023. Her team will also map collisions and examine how they link to roadway strategies that were put into place because of the pandemic, including road closures or new bicycling road space. 

As of 2019, there were over 15 kilometres of protected cycle tracks in the city, and data from the indicates that cycling rates have spiked in many neighbourhoods across Toronto where protected cycling infrastructure is readily accessible. During pandemic closures, entire roads were closed to vehicular traffic for cyclists and pedestrians, which has led to a cycling boom throughout the city.

To ensure that cycling infrastructure continues to grow in lockstep with Toronto and other urban centres’ growing populations, research centres like Ryerson’s TransForm Lab and School of Occupational and Public Health are crucial to providing insight into how people navigate cities and how we can better accommodate the diversity of users who travel city streets every day.

hands holding a Naloxone kit
Access to Naloxone kits and training saves lives.

Fighting the opioid crisis

For someone experiencing an opioid overdose, naloxone may make the difference between life and death. The medication temporarily blocks the effects of drugs like fentanyl and buys time for help to arrive.

There was a 74% increase in opioid-related deaths following the COVID-19 lockdown measures implemented in May 2020.

This has become increasingly important with the increase in opioid toxicity deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the six months following the implementation of the COVID-19 prevention measures (April to September 2020), there were 3,351 opioid toxicity deaths, representing a 74% increase from the six months prior (1,923 deaths between October 2019 and March 2020). This is an increase from 11 to 18 deaths per day.

“It’s not just vulnerable people who overdose,” says Dr. Corinne Hart, professor in the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing. “It’s also people who may inadvertently be taking [recreational drugs] laced with something,” she says, or even people prescribed opioids like oxycodone for chronic pain.

While on placement at St. Michael’s Homes, an addictions treatment centre in Toronto, Ryerson nursing student Toby Stevens-Guille received naloxone training from pharmacist Samim Hasham. 

Now a graduate, Stevens-Guille worked with Dr. Hart to bring Hasham’s training to Ryerson in 2017, introducing it for all third-year nursing students. To date, close to 500 students and faculty have learned how to administer naloxone using a nasal spray.

“Naloxone is a miracle drug,” says Stevens-Guille. “You can learn how to use [it] in less than five minutes and save a life instantly just by carrying a little kit on you.” 

Working together, the diverse range of researchers in the Faculty of Community Services are driving change, helping to make the streets and their communities more livable.

a boy looking at a lined notebook with an adult next to him
Our research aims to find alternatives to placing children in the system, where chances of homelessness or involvement in the justice system increase.

Ending the welfare cycle

Ryerson’s downtown location allows the FCS to work with many communities. Dr. Julian Hasford is using those connections to address disparities in the Ontario foster and child welfare systems.

42% of the children in care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto were black in 2020.

In 2014, the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto revealed 41 percent of children in its care were Black. Although some improvements had been made, before the pandemic, the number was always disproportionate. More recent studies, from 2020, show 42% of children in care were Black. Black people make up just eight percent of the population.

“The largest referrers to children’s aid societies are police and education,” says Hasford.

“If a young person presents with an issue — perhaps they come to school with a bruise or a lunch that doesn’t look particularly nutritious — they are much more likely to refer that child to children’s aid if that child is Black.”

Once in the system, the chances of homelessness or involvement in the justice system increase.

“Black youth in particular are less likely to be reunited with their families or to be adopted, so you get this real concentration of youth in the system,” Hasford says.

Hasford is finding solutions to this complex issue. Connecting families with resources, adequate housing, and culturally appropriate support may prevent Black children from entering the system and improve their chances at a better future.

FCS in action

Here are a few more ways we’ve contributed to building livable cities over the past year.

  • More than 560 children came into the world with the help of an FCS Midwifery student this year.
  • 15 students became certified midwives in 2020 and 28 in 2021, almost a 100% increase. They will fill in-demand positions in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia.  
  • Bicycling infrastructure on Danforth Avenue may prevent up to 200 bicycle/vehicle collisions.
  • An FCS alumna committed $450k towards awards for nursing students.