Special Report: Walkable Streets

Faults and Faultlines: On Making Safer Streets

We need an approach to traffic safety that assumes people are imperfect and establishes an environment that is more fault tolerant than our streets are today.

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 08, 2011

Four police reports in the past couple of days have detailed a string of recent tragedies on Hamilton streets.

On Friday, March 4 at around 8:30 PM, a 23-year-old woman crossing Barton St just east of Normanhurst Ave was hit by a westbound vehicle. She died in hospital six hours later.

Also on Friday night, at around 11:30 PM, a man driving a pickup truck with three passengers on Jerseyville Rd heading east from Alberton Rd lost control of the truck and rolled into a ditch, crashing into a tree.

One passenger - an eleven-year-old girl - died in the crash. The other three, all adults, were taken to hospital. One is in critical but stable condition and the other two have non-life-threatening injuries.

Yesterday morning, an SUV heading north on East 14th St at Howe Ave collided with a minivan heading west on Howe Ave and sent the van ricocheting northwest - right into a fifteen-year-old boy on the sidewalk walking east to school. The boy was rushed to hospital but pronounced dead on arrival. No one else was injured.

Almost two hours later, a vehicle traveling east on Main St through Ferguson Ave and struck a 56-year-old man running north across Main. The pedestrian went through the vehicle windshield and his vital signs were absent when paramedics arrived. He survived but remains in hospital with fractured bones and multiple internal injuries.

Police are still investigating these tragedies. If you witnessed either the Barton St or Main St incident, contact Detective Constable Hendrik Vendercraats at 905-546-4753; if you witnessed either the Jerseyville Rd or the East 14th incident, contact Detective Constable Jeff Majik at 905-546-4755.

Faultlines

Through their investigations, the police must determine who, if anyone, was at fault for each of these incidents. In the meantime, there will be no shortage of moralistic armchair commentary exhorting motorists and/or pedestrians to be more responsible and careful. I'm going to try not to add to the noise.

This kind of emotional reaction is understandable. The news that someone in our own community has died hits each of us at a deep, personal level, and - well, let's be honest, we all have complex emotional bonds to our lifestyles, bonds that make us defensive if we perceive that we are under attack.

The faultlines that run through our city also run through our hearts: urban vs. suburban, driving vs. walking, car culture vs. street culture. We tend to overload our living and transportation arrangements with character judgments - and the judgments flow both ways.

When tragedy strikes, we force-map the skeleton of events into our ideologies and make up our minds therein. We react to tragedy by moralizing, by looking for someone to blame. We all do this. I catch myself doing it, too.

We need to stop.

Train-and-Blame

If we really care about safety, we need to turn our attention to the framework in which the kinds of accidents that result in tragedy take place. Safety engineers in high-reliability industries understand clearly that train-and-blame simply doesn't work.

Exhorting people to be more careful doesn't stop us from making mistakes, getting distracted, losing focus, taking short cuts and so on. As aerospace engineer James Bagian puts it:

Telling people to be careful is not effective. Humans are not reliable that way. Some are better than others, but nobody's perfect. You need a solution that's not about making people perfect.

Motorists will drive too fast and run stop signs. Pedestrians will listen to music too loudly and play leapfrog through traffic. There may be a kind of grim satisfaction in concluding that people get what they deserve, but that mentality is simply no use for preventing additional harm.

When mistakes can result in the tragic loss of life, we need to do better than an approach that favours enforcement before the fact and assigns blame after the fact.

We Need to Do Better

We need an approach that assumes people are imperfect and establishes an environment that is more fault-tolerant than our streets are today: streets in which neither driver error nor pedestrian error are likely to result in loss of life.

Since vehicle speed is so strongly correlated with fatality risk, such an environment must necessarily slow the flow of automobile traffic down to 30 km/h or lower in areas where motor vehicles and pedestrians cross paths.

The answer is not to control pedestrians through rules that restrict their movement. People have the right to move freely under their own power in their own neighbourhoods. Nor is the answer to control motorists through arbitrary laws that require the motorists themselves to comply.

Instead, we need to engineer our city streets to be inherently safe so that mistakes are no longer deadly.

With the City in the midst of developing a Pedestrian Master Plan, there is no better time than the present for us to formally shift our priorities away from traffic-flow-at-all-costs and toward the inherent safety of people moving through their communities via all modes.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 08, 2011 at 12:39:17

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 08, 2011 at 13:03:42

Just today on my way to work, I was at Main and Dalewood and traffic was backed up for a bunch of vehicles in the right lane.

1) An ambulance

2) A pulled-over SUV with the drive walking around looking nervous

and

3) A smallish bicycle lying on the sidewalk.

I'm guessing that right-on-red and cycling on the sidewalk claimed another casualty.

edit: @nobrainer - yeah, that looks like the story. Good to know the kid's okay.

As for the article, this is something industry has known for a long time - exhorting your employees to just work harder and be more careful is a recipe for failure. You have to change processes, change signs, change structures to make things stick.

And once again, coming back to something I keep pointing out: all the horrible pedestrian/driver accidents happening on King and Main streets happen away from the traffic lights. The last three accidents I've heard about have happened at uncontrolled intersections with pedestrians (and one e-biker) darting across all the lanes of traffic. If there were a light at Ferguson Ave, would that man have felt the need to dart through traffic or would he have waited for a green? People seem to respect a red light and a don't-walk sign far than the frustration of waiting for a nebulous gap in traffic.

If the city wants to run a highway through downtown, then they have to be willing to handle the expenses of making that highway safe, such as more frequent traffic lights. That's not even getting into protecting the pedestrians on the sidewalk through barriers or distance - traffic on the mountain is often just as fast as the crazy downtown streets, but those mountain streets often have wide grassy boulevards between the sidewalks and traffic.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2011-03-08 13:07:55

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2011 at 13:13:38

I urge everyone interested in pedestrian issues to help the city in developing their Pedestrian Master Plan by using the following link and adding markers to show the city how you move about (including favourite pedestrian), and where your areas of concern are. They include, as areas of concern, unappealing pedestrian environments that have, for example "large parking lots".

I'm sure we can find a few of those...

Here is the link:

http://www.communitywalk.com/StepForwardHamilton

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By hammertime (registered) | Posted March 08, 2011 at 14:34:46

How about everybody slow down and learn to drive. I wonder how many of these accidents were caused because of cell phones, text messages etc. All accidents affect everyones insurance. Its time we took some pro active actions and start reporting these dangerous drivers to the police before they cause accidents!

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By MattM (registered) | Posted March 08, 2011 at 14:45:07 in reply to Comment 60799

I guess that was a good example of "train and blame" there. Lots of assumptions.

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By hipgnosis (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2011 at 14:52:08

I live on Dundurn North near York and I have seen people hit trying to cross the street along a stretch that currently has NO actual signalled crossing between York and King. That whole stretch is residential. Luckily they are putting in a proper pedestrian crossing this summer as far as I know.

The way I see it there is no mutual respect between drivers and pedestrians currently. They both feel that they have the right to do what they are doing be it legal or no. This is only going to lead to disaster.

These recent deaths are tragedies and I know that the heart of the City goes out to everyone affected.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 08, 2011 at 18:08:45

When tragedy strikes, we force-map the skeleton of events into our ideologies and make up our minds therein. We react to tragedy by moralizing, by looking for someone to blame.

Thank you, thank you, and thank you. Very well thought out article.

I'm ever so tired of hearing people blame "people" for all of the world's problems. For one individual, in one instance, it's often very easy to say that laziness or carelessness played a role. But when such things become trends that show themselves over many people and many instances, one has to as: are people suddenly all becoming much more careless? Or is there something else at play?

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By Valour (registered) - website | Posted March 08, 2011 at 19:48:02

Robert D. I added to the map and passed it on. It it interesting to read some of the comments and am looking forward to read more of them.

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By PaulV (registered) | Posted March 08, 2011 at 20:06:29

Traffic engineers know the risks of high-speed traffic in residential areas, yet our roads are overwhelmingly car-centric anyways. We`re WAY behind reverseing this but the new master plan and study is encouraging. Safer streets, yes, but they will also be calmer and more desirable which leads to healthier neighborhoods.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 08, 2011 at 20:24:44

I keep thinking, How many more people need to die before we decide our traffic system just isn't worth it.....and the answer keeps being, At least one more. What is the matter with us?

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted March 08, 2011 at 21:01:19

sent the van ricocheting northwest - right into a fifteen-year-old boy on the sidewalk walking east to school. The boy was rushed to hospital but pronounced dead on arrival. No one else was injured.

It's ridiculous when a pedestrian can't feel safe on the sidewalk, for crying out loud.

We need to have a standardized, safer width for sidewalks, at least. There are stretches of sidewalk on King St. E that I avoid using, because cars pass too close for safety - if I slipped on patch of ice I might end up under a tire.

When my husband was a teenager, he was one of numerous volunteers in his parish who took turns assisting someone close to his age who had sustained massive and debilitating permanent brain damage due to head trauma sustained when he was hit by the side-view mirror of a cube van that drove past him as he walked on the sidewalk, a little too close to the curb, I guess.

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By EMT (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2011 at 21:05:00

Firstly I think it should be noted that the rate of pedestrian fatalities in Canada is on the decline across the country.
http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/roadsafety/tp-tp2436-rs200401-page5-393.htm
in the period from 1992 to 2001 the rate dropped from 1.6 to 1.1 per 100,000 population per year.

This is a good thing but perhaps still unacceptable, so I would make a "modest proposal":

In about 80% of collisions resulting in pedestrian fatalities the driver was drunk. If we could effectively address the issue of drunk driving it seems to me we could deal with the vast majority of the problem. To this end I would propose the following changes in legislation:

1: Lower the BAC level of impaired driving from it's present value of 0.8 to 0.1
2: Require breath tests of all drivers stopped by the Police for any reason
3: Increase RIDE checkpoints significantly on a year round basis. test all stopped drivers, don't just question them.
4: Impose a mandatory lifetime diving suspension on all drivers found to be impaired
5: Impose a mandatory death penalty for any person found driving while under a lifetime suspension

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted March 15, 2011 at 11:06:08 in reply to Comment 60808

Why not just let the cop shoot him the first time?

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 15, 2011 at 11:21:53 in reply to Comment 60979

Come now, we need to follow due process before executing the guy who drove with a suspended licence.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 09, 2011 at 11:59:35 in reply to Comment 60808

I assume you have statistics demonstrating that a disproportionate number of traffic accidents happen when people have a BAC of between 0.01 and 0.08. Particularly when we've already got a functional limit of 0.05 thanks to the new "warning that isn't just a warning" law.

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By jonathan (registered) | Posted March 08, 2011 at 23:38:00 in reply to Comment 60808

I'm afraid you've completely failed at reading that report.

In 40% of the pedestrian fatalities, the PEDESTRIAN had been drinking, and 36% drunk (or, 90% of those that had been drinking were drunk, NOT 76% of them had been drinking).

Since in ~85% of the pedestrian fatality cases (per the previously posted study on pedestrian fatalities in Hamilton), the driver wasn't charged WITH ANYTHING...your numbers are just a little off.
Unless there's some other study you're referencing...

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By emt (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2011 at 00:00:31 in reply to Comment 60813

The figures on % of drunk drivers come from here
http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/roadsafety/tp-tp3322-2008-1144.htm
not from the Hamilton study
Sorry, I was unclear there

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By jonathan (registered) | Posted March 09, 2011 at 00:47:40 in reply to Comment 60814

No, I think you were perfectly clear:

"In about 80% of collisions resulting in pedestrian fatalities the driver was drunk. "

...and you then prattle on about toughening alcohol laws based on this supposed fact. The problem is, there is absolutely NO basis for this statement. Not in the first link. Not in the second link. Not in any link, anywhere, on any website, on the entire Internet. Guaranteed. It's simply Not. True.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 09, 2011 at 07:15:10 in reply to Comment 60816

Nor is there any basis for the notion that excessive punishments reduce crime. (That'd be the train and blame part, Jacob)

The death penalty for driving under suspension? Seriously? We don't even have the death penalty in this country and you want to reintroduce it for that?

Comment edited by highwater on 2011-03-09 07:16:38

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By EMT (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2011 at 09:09:19 in reply to Comment 60817

Let me be clear, I said death for driving while under LIFETIME suspension.

I agree with you that increasing the duration of prison sentences often has little effect on recidivism rates. I trust you will agree with me that the recidivism rate following execution is zero.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted March 09, 2011 at 15:40:20 in reply to Comment 60820

Whether the punishment for driving while drunk or suspended is a fine, a slap on the wrist or death, people will still do it. People do it because they're drunk, they don't think rationally, and they think they won't get caught.

While I agree on stiff penalties, though admittedly short of killing the sons-of-bitches, we still have a systematic problem that is not related to enforcement. Why do people do such terrible things despite the consequences? People are told they have to drive, their environment is set up to encourage it, but we expect them to magically forget that as soon as alcohol is involved. Until we live in a world without alcohol (and who really wants that), we need decent alternatives for transportation that people will use, and not just when they're drunk.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 09, 2011 at 11:16:30 in reply to Comment 60820

By that logic we should put ALL offenders to death so there are no repeat offenders...

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By emt (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2011 at 12:32:48 in reply to Comment 60827

"By that logic we should put ALL offenders to death so there are no repeat offenders..."

Not at all, only in situations where the consequences of re-offending are potentially catastrophic.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 09, 2011 at 11:11:15 in reply to Comment 60820

Let me be clear, I said death for driving while under LIFETIME suspension.

Oh, well, ok then.

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By Jacob (registered) | Posted March 09, 2011 at 08:58:51 in reply to Comment 60817

ah ha - missed point number 5 there. Yeah that's nuts. But I don't think the rest fits under 'blame'; if those stats were true, and Jonathan may be on to something that they're not, then EMT's other recommendations don't fit the moniker, they are ways to disincentivize drunk driving. Your blanket statement about excessive punishments reducing crime, by the way, seems a bit of a stretch in the context.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 08, 2011 at 21:08:54 in reply to Comment 60808

Isn't that just more train and blame?

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By jacob (registered) | Posted March 08, 2011 at 21:43:54 in reply to Comment 60809

huh? how do you get that from EMT's post? Good post, EMT.

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By Oh boy (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2011 at 22:15:44

Obviously we have a lot more work to do here.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted March 09, 2011 at 00:45:28

"...an environment that is more fault-tolerant than our streets are today: streets in which neither driver error nor pedestrian error are likely to result in loss of life."

Can the idea of "Shared Space" gain traction in Hamilton?

Below are a few thoughts on this:

  • Shared Space Images

  • Designing the 21stCentury Street - was a design challenge to generate viable street design options - Their goal was to: "...think of our streets as first serving the basic needs of pedestrians, then bikes, then cars, but towards a balance of providing for all functions." Here are all the ideas they received, along with ideas that stood out.

  • "Ted Dewan is the pioneer of 'road witching'. Towards the end of this video he makes some connections with David Engwicht's 'mental speed bumps'. David also promotes safety through intrigue and uncertainty. -- Cars drove dangerously fast on Ted's residential street in Oxford, England - until he began installing activist art on the street. It brought the community together (even the mayor got on board), slowed the traffic, and improved the experience for everyone involved. -- Ted's talk also mentions the emerging possibilities of Shared Space. All of this is about reclaiming at least some of our street space as public realm again. It is about treating streets as places not highways."

  • Introduction to SharedSpace: A collection of 14 videos

  • The subtle art of traffic management

  • Integration or segregation in Urban Road Networks

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2011-03-09 01:26:10

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted March 09, 2011 at 08:12:38

First I would like to thank Robert D for his link to an interactive mapping project of trouble spots around the city. Fortunately for me, someone else has already marked my area of concern at the newly deranged Centre on Barton, a pedestrian no-man's-land. This is a tangible means for our solution centric comments to have a positive affect, thanks again.

Second I would like to thank Mahesh for his beautifully formatted collection of points regarding shared spaces. I know IT will require at least a few hours to absorb all the material presented in his comment alone and I shall endeavor to do this when I have more time.

Third and last, many thanks to Ryan for another passionate introspect. IT is his writing which often inspires the myriad of personalities within this intriguing on-line community.

Cheers

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2011 at 09:20:26 in reply to Comment 60818

You're very welcome. I'd encourage you to add a comment, or a flag of your own to Centre Mall, so they can see that more than one person is concerned about it.

I also agree that Mahesh has provided a great colletion of links that provide some really interesting thoughts on this issue.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 10, 2011 at 09:35:25 in reply to Comment 60860

Shared Space is one of those delightfully counterintuitive ideas that scrambles your preconceptions and forces a rethink of some pretty basic ideas about how to achieve a goal. I wrote about it in an earlier essay on enforcement:

Just as it's reasonable to conclude that the solution to dangerous streets is more enforcement, it's likewise reasonable to conclude that taking away rules will make streets more dangerous.

Again, the only problem with this perfectly reasonable conclusion is that it's wrong.

In cities that adopt Monderman's shared streets model - and cities across Europe have been doing this for several years - what inevitably happens is that rates of traffic collisions, injuries and deaths drop precipitously.

It actually gets weirder. Not only do collision and death rates collapse, but also overall road capacity actually increases and traffic jams all but disappear, even as the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists explode.

Needless to day, in a city that can't even abide two-way streets and pedestrian crossings at signalized intersections, the concept of shared space is so far beyond the pale as to be virtually unthinkable.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 09, 2011 at 10:27:02

I really enjoyed Jason's article and I mostly agree that we need to make our streets safer by making them more fault tolerant. And I really like the concise phrase train-and-blame.

But ...

We needn't all wield train-and-blame like a rhetorical cudgel to put down everyone who suggests rules & penalties instead of progressive measures such as narrow roads and pedestrian meadow medians and spike-belt roundabouts.

After all, if train-and-blame is such a dead-end strategy, why don't we just get rid of drunk-driving penalties altogether? And speeding penalties, for that matter. And maybe all those pesky four-way stops in Westdale? That's all just train-and-blame!

Oh ... right. They sort-of work. We can't completely rely on train-and-blame, but it is a useful tool. And one of the marvels of our civilization: we are taught the legal and moral rules of our society as we grow up and they guide our conduct, sometimes as internalized codes and sometimes as explicit external coercion.

The next time you are patiently waiting at a stop light on an empty road at 1:00 am ... think warm thoughts of train-and-blame. It's why you're still sitting there like a good Canadian.

Comment edited by moylek on 2011-03-09 10:35:13

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By myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted March 09, 2011 at 12:40:48

I think that we can reasonably say that the traffic planners at city hall are certifiably insane.

  • "We need 5 or 6 lanes of high speed Main Street / King Street" -- except that both currently have reductions to 2 or 3 lanes due to long term construction.

  • "Yes, 3 lanes across half of the Main Street / 403 bridge is safe" -- except that six foot wide lanes are narrower than nearly every single vehicle that the city operates.

  • "Since pedestrians are walking anyways, we can make them go the long way around at Dundurn/King" -- except that pedestrians are just as entitled to move around the city as cars are.

  • "Striped medians separate traffic travelling in opposite directions to make drivers safer" -- except that the 5 foot wide strip of pavement in the centre of Barton means that the edge lanes are only slightly narrower than the track of the 18+ wheelers loaded with steel that rumble through.

  • "Only poor people walk anywhere so we don't have to provide services to them" -- except that most people (who aren't self-important rejects) would like to get out and walk now and then as long as it's safe and easy.

I could go on and on... I'd just rather that we did some sane things:

  • Start preparing our city to support the pending HUGE number of boomers who will not be allowed to keep their licenses as age and disease make them unsafe. This means more sidewalks, better transit options, room for their mobility scooters to fly along the side walk at 20km/h

  • Restripe all city streets to have minimum 12' wide lanes -- if the road is 25' wide, you get 2 lanes, if the road is 35' wide, you get two lanes.

  • One-way streets are permissable ONLY where the road width itself is less than 24'.

  • All on-street parking is paid parking. Either with a meter or with a blanket pass you can purchase on an annual basis. If you want to (or need to) park on the street in front of your house, you can purchase rights to the spot on an annual basis - oversubscribed streets go into a lottery.

  • Reset all traffic lights to "scramble" mode -- three phase (or more) -- two phases for traffic (north-south or east-west) and one phase for pedestrians to travel in any of north-south/east-west and all combinations.

  • In addition to requiring new construction to have parking spots (with reasonable exceptions for intensification), before an occupancy permit is allowed, there must be clear, standards based, and obvious access for pedestrians from the street to the new construction (aka The Centre Mall Fiasco Prevention Law)

  • Sidewalk standards must have a minimum of 6' width in order to provide safely for two mobility scooters to pass each other -- anyone who thinks those things are going to do anything other than explode in number over the next 15 years is kidding themselves. (Funny story, the bus stop closest to my house has a shelter - thanks HSR! - except that the shelter takes up ~40% of the sidewalk width, and there isn't room for a mobility scooter to get by safely without travelling on the street!)

  • Eliminate through-traffic for commercial trucking - if your destination is serviced by a highway or highway-analogue (ie: Burlington Street) then you'd best be taking it. Random stops with intense fines to clean up the problem of trucks shortcutting from Burlington Street to 403 West via Cannon/King -- take the highways around, since you lobbied so hard for them.

  • Provide proper pedestrian crossing opportunities (either a scramble light as listed above or a pedestrian "X" crossing) every 200m along streets with more than 2 lanes.

And once you've done all of the above, then start aggressive enforcement activities against PoBs -- Pedestrians on Bikes -- to get them acting like traffic instead of unpredictable disasters waiting to happen (related to funny story from above, I'm regularly clipped by passing PoBs at the bus stop because they have /just/ enough room to get by the HSR shelter but not enough to miss someone standing in the shelter).

And like so many of my previous suggestions on this site to the lovely folks (usually acting like petulant children) who stand forever re-elected as our city government, the cost of doing all of the above (except the one-way deconversions) is effectively manageable out of the operating budget without capital expenditures... all they have to do is actually do it.

Not that Mayor Bob ever reads this blogsite or listens to some of Hamilton's most engaged citizens. Sigh.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 09, 2011 at 13:19:02

First off, for all the inherent dangers of cars, drunk driving is pretty unforgivable in my books. I've seen it go wrong enough times to know that I never want to be "that guy" (to say nothing of his victims).

That being said - we can't exactly be surprised. A huge chunk of our city is relatively unreachable by transit at the hours people tend to finish their drinking (and many of our neighbours are far worse). Cab rides aren't cheap if you're going a distance and/or alone, and while a long drunken stumble home might be something I enjoy, I can understand why people don't want to walk an hour in the cold, alone and impaired. Drinking, for our culture (and most subcultues within it) is one of our most important social rituals (and business ventures), yet we don't really put much though into how people are getting home if they're NOT driving.

My point, I suppose, is that until it's safe, cheap and easy to get home from the bar, people will keep driving. A city planned for cars is a city planned for drunk driving. Just look at the massive parking lots which accompany Hess Village.

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By Unintended consequences (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2011 at 15:27:57

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By hammertime (registered) | Posted March 10, 2011 at 00:02:16

Maybe we need a law no drunks period! That would solve 80% of the problem..

Comment edited by hammertime on 2011-03-10 00:02:29

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 10, 2011 at 08:04:47 in reply to Comment 60854

Maybe we need a law no drunks period! That would solve 80% of the problem

I don't know whether hammertime is kidding or not. But after reading the Police Blotter in The Spec, I incline to think the very same thing. It is astonishing how much of our crime and fighting and domestic violence is fuelled by alcohol. Which is not to say 'caused by drunkenness', of course - our individual and social flaws will out, more or less, one way or another.

And yet - dear God, would I be loathe to wish away beer, wine and whiskey. Even for peace on earth.

Not that wishing away is an option. And we know that prohibition doesn't work very well, either.

And there is a greater problem with just wishing away or banning alcohol: our world minus alcohol would not simply equal our current world minus alcohol & its alcohol-fuelled problems. It would be a different world with Lord-knows what new problems. Maybe a better world, but probably not quite so much better and not what we expected.

I wish I had a clever, thought-provoking solution to cap this off with. Not surprisingly, I don't.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 10, 2011 at 08:59:14 in reply to Comment 60858

The problem is already 80% solved, the 20% is what's left, and we know train-and-blame doesn't work for the last 20%.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 10, 2011 at 10:11:49 in reply to Comment 60859

The problem is already 80% solved...

Which problem? Drunk drivers? Drunken criminality in general?

I suspect that something like 80% of drunk driving has been eliminated - though I've never seen convincing figures relating to our drinking-and-driving habits today vs. those of, say, fifty years ago. I don't know about drunken criminality, though.

Comment edited by moylek on 2011-03-10 11:39:03

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 10, 2011 at 15:17:48 in reply to Comment 60862

Alcohol, and other drugs to a lesser extent, tends to appear in an enormous number of crime statistics. Especially assault, robberies etc.

It's thoroughly possible, of course, that these statistics are fairly skewed. The obvious explanation would be that drunk people are far less successful at evading police.

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By hammertime (registered) | Posted March 10, 2011 at 15:31:28

Moylek, I wasn't kidding. Grew up with a drunk for a grandfather. Nothing less than embarrasing. The man would wake up and pound back a beer every morning without taking a breath. Then he would go out and warm up the car in the middle of the summer for 15 minutes everyday. We always wondered why? One day we watched as he pulled a mikey from under the seat and drank it. This was a daily occurance for longer than I can remember. Then he would drive my grandmother and I to work. It all caught up with him one day as he died turning yellow in his 57th yr., from the poisons in his blood because his liver stopped working. No surprise, the doctors told him 10 yrs. earlier he had two choices, he made the wrong choice.. What was sad is he drove drunk like this everyday, risking not only his life but ours and everyone around us. He was so drunk you could smell the alcohol on his skin. It was discusting, sad, and a total waiste of a human life..

Comment edited by hammertime on 2011-03-10 15:33:27

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2011 at 20:40:19 in reply to Comment 60887

comment from banned user deleted

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By hammertime (registered) | Posted March 10, 2011 at 20:58:40 in reply to Comment 60892

Good point say what, just thought I'd share what an alcoholic will do for a drink, anything.. What is amazing is he drove his whole life drunk and never got a ticket. Now that says something about the acceptance of alcohol back in the day, don't you think??

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 11, 2011 at 08:11:21

FYI a version of this essay has been published in today's Spectator.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted March 15, 2011 at 01:39:05

Thinking back to the article or blog that cited all the pedestrian fatalities last year, I think that one or two of those fatalities MIGHT have been averted by such measures. Why are we taking responsibility away from people? We need to be more and not less responsible for our own actions. As a driver or pedestrian or cyclist taking responsibility away from the individual and trying to transfer it to someone or something else is a bad idea. Everybody needs to be responsible for their own actions. Even when an accident is someone else's fault legally there is often something the other person could have and maybe should have done. If walking along side a road we were taught years ago to walk facing oncoming traffic. More and more I see pedestrians ignoring such basic advice and walking with traffic. If an automobile strikes such a pedestrian it is unquestionably the drivers fault. However if the pedestrian had been facing the other way he might well have seen the vehicle and been able to avoid it. There is a lot more to safety than assessing fault. A little common sense goes a long way to making us all safer.

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted March 17, 2011 at 22:18:36 in reply to Comment 60958

That is absolutely right. I could not agree more. Also not only is it about individual responsibility it's about respect. Not just respect between driver and pedestrian but respect for ones self and society as a whole. People that have respect for themselves and society dont drink and drive or speed or cross the road when it's not safe to. Stop blaming the way roads and cars and neighborhoods are designed and take responsibility for your own actions and act accordingly.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 16, 2011 at 11:55:54

The police just issued an update on the incident involving the 15-year-old boy at Howe Ave and East 12th St:

As a result of this investigation, the driver of the Ford SUV has been charged with Careless Driving under the Highway Traffic Act of Ontario. He has been given a summons and is to appear in court April 26, 2011. Charged is Lawrence Wells, 55 years of age, Hamilton.

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