Special Report: Walkable Streets

Beckett Drive Closure Demonstrates Need for More Balanced Aberdeen

We can do a better job of balancing the understandable desire for cut-through drivers to save a bit of time with the equally-understandable desire of local residents to have a safer, more inclusive street for all uses.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published August 26, 2016

This past week, the Beckett Drive escarpment access (also known as the Queen Street Hill) has been closed for rock scaling and preventative maintenance work. That has given us an important insight into the character of the normal traffic on this busy arterial.

Aberdeen at Dundurn looking east during AM rush hour, August 26, 2016 (Image Credit: Nicholas Kevlahan)
Aberdeen at Dundurn looking east during AM rush hour, August 26, 2016 (Image Credit: Nicholas Kevlahan)

I have been astonished each morning, when waiting at the traffic signal at Dundurn and Aberdeen during morning rush hour, to see absolutely no vehicle traffic on Aberdeen travelling westbound toward Highway 403!

There have been literally no cars waiting at the red light.

This shows clearly and concretely that essentially all the morning rush hour traffic on Aberdeen consists of mountain residents trying to get to Highway 403.

Aberdeen just west of Queen looking west during AM rush hour, August 25, 2016 (Image Credit: Maureen Wilson)
Aberdeen just west of Queen looking west during AM rush hour, August 25, 2016 (Image Credit: Maureen Wilson)

Not Much of a Shortcut

Beckett Drive and Aberdeen is clearly serving as a slight shortcut for mountain residents. But is it even a shortcut?

According to Google maps, someone living at Bendamere and Upper Paradise in the middle of the west mountain should actually be taking the Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway (Linc) as the fastest route to the Highway 403/Aberdeen interchange (eight minutes with no traffic).

Google doesn't even propose Beckett Drive as an option!

Queen just south of Aberdeen looking north during AM rush hour, August 25, 2016 (Image Credit: Maureen Wilson)
Queen just south of Aberdeen looking north during AM rush hour, August 25, 2016 (Image Credit: Maureen Wilson)

Even for someone living right at the top of Beckett Drive at Fennell and Garth, Google says it is six minutes via Aberdeen and nine minutes via Linc/403 to the 403/Aberdeen interchange (without traffic).

That is, the biggest time savings based on starting location is just three minutes (assuming relative travel times are similar with traffic).

This problem is not exclusive to Aberdeen, either. One of my colleagues who lives in the west end of Dundas made a similar observation about his neighbours preferring to use Main Street to get to east Hamilton, even though Google maps actually advises taking the Linc/Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) as the fastest route.

We've spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the Highway 403/Linc/RHVP/QEW ring highway system precisely in order to provide regional driving connections around the various parts of the city so that neighbourhood streets can provide a better balance between cut-through traffic and local transportation needs.

Better Balance Needed

Aberdeen is four lanes wide - two in each direction - with very narrow sidewalks right next to the outside driving lanes for most of its length between Queen and Longwood. It has no bike lanes, even though it serves as a connection for bike trips using the Rail Trail connection with west Hamilton next to the CP railyard.

A few years ago, a cyclist was seriously injured on Aberdeen taking this very route home from work at McMaster when he was struck from behind by a driver.

Aberdeen looking west from Sprucecide in late morning on August 22, 2016 (Image Credit: Ryan McGreal)
Aberdeen looking west from Sprucecide in late morning on August 22, 2016 (Image Credit: Ryan McGreal)

I believe we can do a better job of balancing the understandable desire for cut-through drivers to save a bit of time with the equally-understandable desire of local residents to have a safer, more inclusive street for all uses.

Through drivers have alternatives to short-cutting through Kirkendall, whereas people living in the neighbourhood have no alternative but to brave the street. As such, the street should accommodate local active transportation as well as through traffic, instead of sacrificing the former to facilitate the latter.

Related:

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted August 26, 2016 at 10:14:06

To be fair, they're also going to McMaster/Westdale, not just the 403, although they could do that on the 403 too, or take Bay to King.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted August 26, 2016 at 10:31:11 in reply to Comment 119874

Yes, that's true, but I meant "403" as in the 403/Longwood intersection (or Main/Longwood), not necessarily continuing onto the 403 eastbound to Toronto.

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted August 26, 2016 at 14:17:03

Does anyone know the status of the Aberdeen Road Diet? The participatory budget for ward 1 directed my vote for it (referencing RTH) as " under the scope of a pending traffic-management plan"... what plan?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 27, 2016 at 18:02:10 in reply to Comment 119878

The road diet proposal was rolled into the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) review, which has been underway for more than a year and should be wrapping up soon. In the meantime, Council directed staff to look at what interim measures they could undertake to calm traffic while the TMP review is ongoing. I'll follow up with Ward 1 Councillor Aidan Johnson to see if anything came of that.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted August 26, 2016 at 14:18:19

...the street should accommodate local active transportation as well as through traffic

I strongly disagree with this statement. Through traffic in residential areas is only acceptable if it is by walking, cycling or public transit. Cut-through "rat-running" car drivers are never acceptable in residential areas.

Here is a video and description of how rat-running has been systematically eliminated on residential streets in an entire country:

http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/201...

And here is a video showing an example of how to use a ring road, just like our 403/Link/Red Valley/QEW/Burlington Street ring road. The specific part to watch is from 2:00 to 4:00, but the entire video is well worth viewing.

http://www.streetfilms.org/groningen-the...

In short, rat-running car drivers have no place on a residential street such as Aberdeen. Rat-running can and should be prevented on this street. The sky will not fall. I promise.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2016-08-26 14:20:14

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By Jane (registered) | Posted August 27, 2016 at 06:31:54

Not only do they use Aberdeen, they then take another short cut, well over the speed limit, down Stanley to avoid the lights at Aberdeen and Dundurn.

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