By RON FANFAIR
When the city’s Pedestrian Safety Committee approached the Toronto Police Service (TPS) Board four years ago seeking solutions to curb a spate of pedestrian fatalities, board member Hamlin Grange asked members if they had thought about zebra crossings.
“They all looked at me confused,” recalls Grange who steps down from the board next month after serving two terms.
Denver was the first city in 1952 to implement the signal system throughout its entire downtown business area that allows pedestrians to cross in any direction while all the lights are red and Grange, who was a student at the University of Colorado in the 1970s, saw first-hand the effectiveness of the system.
After graduating with a Journalism degree, Grange worked as a reporter with Denver’s Rocky Mountain News before returning to Canada to work as managing editor of the now defunct Contrast newspaper.
“It was obvious that no one on the committee had heard or thought about it,” said Grange. “I thought it was intriguing that this system helped move people from one side of the street to the other in an efficient way.”
In August 2008, the City of Toronto implemented a pilot scramble crossing at the busy Yonge and Dundas Streets intersection which allowed pedestrians to cross diagonally as well as north, south, east and west while all traffic came to a halt.
With the success at Dundas and Yonge, the crossing patterns at the intersection at Yonge and Bloor was changed in October 2009 and at Bloor and Bay earlier this month as part of the city’s sustainable transportation plan.
A fourth walker-friendly crossing was earmarked for Bay and Dundas, but city staff are rethinking the location because of its close proximity to Yonge and Dundas.
Grange also helped to lead the board’s newly created mental health sub-committee and he spearheaded the discussion that led to the creation of the Futures Program.
At its August 2005 meeting, the TPS board approved a motion for $100,000 to be diverted from its Special Fund for the next five years to kick-start the Futures Program which is focused on families and youth projects in police divisions in conjunction with the Mayor’s Panel on Community Safety and the Community Safety Secretariat.
“The money raised from auctions on lost items goes to that Special Fund and is used for things like awards to police officers and community safety initiatives,” Grange said. “The reason I thought it was important to have this Futures Program was that the Mike Harris government had cut a lot of funding to community-based organizations that could no longer provide programs for young people to keep them engaged.”
Some of the organizations that have benefitted from the Futures Program are the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) which received $30,000 for a mediation project that brought Lawrence Heights community residents together to attempt to settle disputes before they escalated to acts of criminality and the Jamaican Canadian Association and Tropicana Community Services Association which were each awarded $35,000.
Grange joined the board as a provincial appointee in December 2004 and was reappointed three years later.
“It’s been quite a remarkable six years in the life of the service, the board and the city,” he said. “A lot of changes have taken place, including the face of the service that has been transformed dramatically.”
Chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee paid sterling tribute to Grange at the board’s last meeting of the year earlier this month.
“During his two terms, Hamlin has been a strong force on the board, actively engaged in a multitude of important issues,” said Mukherjee. “He has consistently championed efforts to increase diversity on the service, seeking innovative ways to reach out to all segments of our community.
“He has been a passionate and steadfast champion of equity, equality and inclusivity in all we do. At the same time, he has taken a balanced approach, always interested to research and gather more information about a subject and to listen to the perspectives of others.”
Grange attended Chetolah Park and Grove Town Primary Schools in Kingston and Mandeville in Jamaica before immigrating to Canada in 1964 at age nine.
He held reporting roles at the Toronto Star – he was the first Black reporter to work in the mainstream’s newspaper main newsroom – and Global TV before joining CBC TV where he held positions as assignment editor, host and news anchor. He also hosted Newsworld-TVO’s Workweek and CBC’s More to the Story.
The founding president of the Canadian Association of Black Journalists is a mentor to young media practitioners and a co-founder of the Black Business and Professional Association which honoured him with the President’s award at last April’s Harry Jerome awards.
Grange and his wife, Cynthia Reyes, also a respected media executive, established the annual Innoversity Creative Summit nine years ago to build bridges between the media and their communities.