Special Report: Walkable Streets

Walkability Website Launches Local Campaign

A new website provides the ability for community organizers to launch local walkability campaigns.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 11, 2011

A new website provides the ability for community organizers to launch local walkability campaigns.

The website, walkablehamilton.org, is "designed to provide individuals, neighbourhoods and the whole city with the tools and methods to make a lasting difference by helping to transform Hamilton into a walkable city."

It features a general, city-wide Walkable Hamilton campaign, and provides tools for people to launch local campaigns in specific areas.

It was created by a group of volunteers led by Dr. Madeleine Verhovsek, a southwest Hamilton resident who recently launched a local campaign to create a safe pedestrian crossing on Aberdeen Avenue at Kent Street.

She and a group of volunteers took a petition door-to-door and spoke with neighbours about the issue. They collected several hundred signatures, but wanted a website to expand the campaign and reach supporters who are hard to access in person.

They also wanted to make it easier for volunteers throughout the city to organize similar campaigns in their own neighbourhoods. Thanks to the work of local programmers and designers, walkablehamilton.org is now online and available as a community resource.

The site includes a contact form for anyone living in another neighbourhood who wants to start a local walkability campaign.

Cross at Kent Campaign

The "Cross at Kent" campaign started with a letter from Verhovsek to Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie last October. In it she noted that the intersection has bus stops on both sides of Aberdeen, and that Kent is the only north-south street that runs all the way from Glenfern Avenue to Charlton Avenue West and ends at H.A.A.A. Park and Ryerson Middle School.

She argued that Aberdeen is a pedestrian-unfriendly thoroughfare with two lanes of high-speed traffic in each direction, narrow sidewalks, and no buffer between the sidewalk and the speeding cars.

"Kirkendall is a vibrant, active community," says Verhovsek. "Unfortunately, we have a busy four-lane road running through the neighbourhood, with relatively few existing points to cross safely."

"[Aberdeen and Kent] is already a very popular spot to cross," she continues. "I walk by this intersection at least two times a day and frequently see pedestrians of all ages trying to find a gap in traffic so that they can dash across."

'Pedestrian Safety'

During a 2008 Kirkendall walkability study organized by Environment Hamilton, a number of residents requested a crossing at Aberdeen and Kent. Instead, City staff installed signs at Kent instructing pedestrians to cross at Locke Street or Queen Street - a 400 metre round-trip.

"The Kirkendall Traffic Management Plan recommended that signage be installed at this intersection to direct pedestrians to use the signalized crossings at either Locke or Queen - and this signage has been installed," explains Daryl Bender, the city's project manager of alternative transportation.

"That plan, and a review of collision history (zero pedestrian incidents), is the extent to which this intersection has been studied," he continues.

According to the city's Installation Criteria for Intersection and Mid-Block Pedestrian Signals, "mid-block or intersection pedestrian signals shall not be installed less than 215 metres from another protected crossing."

The policy explains this minimum distance on the basis of pedestrian safety. "If two traffic signals or other devices are located in close proximity, there is a significant chance that the driver may look past the first device and take his cues from the farther location. This could result in a pedestrian being struck or rear end collision occurring."

Challenging the Staff Position

In December, Verhovsek and approximately a dozen area residents met with Councillor McHattie, Bender and Public Works staff to discuss the issue.

Bender confirmed that the only way to overturn the mid-block crosswalk policy would be through a city council vote.

Staff highlighted the upcoming Pedestrian Mobility Master Plan, which will establish a 20-year capital spending schedule to improve pedestrian infrastructure throughout the city.

The city has created an interactive map on CommunityWalk that has already garnered over 300 responses from the public highlighting problem areas.

Councillor McHattie supports the request to add a crossing at Kent, calling it "a true grassroots initiative ... to gather support for a safe crossing of an extremely busy street in Kirkendall."

"Throughout Hamilton, busy streets are curtailing more pedestrian movement, resulting in folks continuing to use their cars as the primary mode of travel" he adds. "Safer crossings will mean more pedestrians, with a concurrent reduction in greenhouse gases and air pollution, better health outcomes, and a generally more sane way of life."

McHattie encourages citizens to reach out to neighbours to build support for the proposal, noting that broad community support "becomes invaluable for the Councillor, especially when there is a need to challenge the staff position."


first published on OpenFile Hamilton

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.

21 Comments

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 11, 2011 at 13:45:21

Convert Aberdeen into a normal street instead of a highway and make Queen 2-way, and finish Frid Street. Then drivers won't all be funneled onto Aberdeen but will spread throughout the city when Westbound.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 11, 2011 at 16:14:44 in reply to Comment 62047

Addendum: It just occurred to me that the city might do the opposite.

After all, with Frid completed we've got two ways to get to Beckett Drive from the West end.

What does the city do when they have two ways to get somewhere? They make it one. One way to get there, one way to get back.

I await he news that Herkimer will be tied into the Frid Street extension at McDonald and Aberdeen will be converted into a 1 way street.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted April 11, 2011 at 16:21:12 in reply to Comment 62060

Good God man, don't give them any ideas!!

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2011 at 14:28:18

Nice to see this move along and I imagine the pedestrian crossing is a possibility but I but I can think of few more politicized patches of road than Aberdeen between Longwood and Queen. No idea what the need limit is there but if it's like most of the city it's probably 50kmh; cutting that to 40kmh would create a more easy-going pedestrian environment but wouldn't ease volume: Aberdeen's a collector road at heart, and that's part of the problem. If we had more collector roads we would see reduced volume – but of course that means that we would need more onramps. Lowering speed limit without having more collector roads brings the potential for another round of petitions aimed at alleviating Kirkendall gridlock.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 11, 2011 at 15:04:56 in reply to Comment 62048

There are a couple of mitigating circumstances:

1. Most of the Aberdeen traffic is between the West Mountain and West Hamilton. They only take Beckett/Aberdeen/Longwood because it's slightly faster than taking Hwy 403.

2. The total volume of traffic is not static, but induced by the available lane capacity. Reduce the throughput capacity and some of the traffic literally disappears.

As Jane Jacobs observed:

Planners' models assume that closing a road causes the traffic using it to move elsewhere ... The study team ... found that computer models used by urban transportation planners yield incorrect answers ...

[W]hen a road is closed, an average of 20% of the traffic it carries seems to vanish. In some cases they studied, as much as 60% of the traffic vanished. ...

The report at hand is a logical extension to a 1994 finding that building new roads generates traffic. If that's the case, "then the closure of roads is bound to cause less traffic," according to London-based transport consultant Keith Buchan. ...

[T]raffic vanishes because commuting habits are so variable ... Flexibility helps people cope with road closures ... Experts ... suggest that government should stop worrying about causing vehicular congestion by pedestrianizing sites.

-- Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead, 2004, p. 75

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-04-11 15:05:41

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted April 12, 2011 at 14:06:47 in reply to Comment 62051

Does that mean that if we closed 5 roads 100% of our traffic would disappear and Hamilton would be a wonderful place to live.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 11, 2011 at 16:09:43 in reply to Comment 62051

Let's not forget the possibility that some of this vanishing traffic could be in the form of reduced economic activity as people stop consuming or working at a place they can no longer conveniently access. I'm all for walkable cities, but I also want to make sure it's a vibrant walkable city.

Of course, that's statement about the general concept of blocked traffic vanishing instead of being rerouted. Not this specific case - Aberdeen is a damned silly place to put a highway, even sillier than King and Main.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 11, 2011 at 16:19:10 in reply to Comment 62057

some of this vanishing traffic could be in the form of reduced economic activity as people stop consuming or working at a place they can no longer conveniently access.

Except that streets that are optimized for through traffic are generally terrible locations to try and reach directly as destinations in themselves.

Locke Street South was a designated thoroughfare before the mid 1990s. It carried high volumes of high speed traffic most efficiently, and the local businesses barely hung onto life.

It was precisely by reducing the traffic speed and throughput capacity that Locke was able to become a vibrant destination in itself.

And of course, the traffic engineers avidly resisted putting stop signs on Locke and allowing all-day curbside parking, even going so far as to warn that there would be more accidents and business would die completely.

They said exactly the same things about James Street North when it was converted to two-way traffic.

How many object lessons to we need before we finally accept that status quo reasoning about roads, traffic and vitality are wrong?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 11, 2011 at 16:27:57 in reply to Comment 62061

Obviously, I don't mean reduced economic activity along the thoroughfare. It's absolutely obvious that the thoroughfare murders the neighborhood. I mean at the destinations at each end. In this case, businesses on the North-West Mountain and in West Hamilton.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2011-04-11 16:28:22

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2011 at 15:39:03 in reply to Comment 62051

"[W]hen a road is closed, an average of 20% of the traffic it carries seems to vanish."

LOL. Four in five drivers can't read "Road Closed" :)

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2011 at 15:30:23 in reply to Comment 62051

Well then that's two fait accomplits!

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2011 at 16:11:38

“A research team at University College, London, had analyzed – for London Transport and Britain’s Department of the Environment, Transport, and the Regions – sixty cases, worldwide, in which roads had been closed or their carrying capacity reduced. “

http://goo.gl/YGhqF

The study in question is S. Cairns, C. Hass-Klau, and P.B. Goodwin: Traffic Impact of Highway Capacity Reductions: Assessment of the Evidence. Landor Publications, London, 1998

In a 2002 follow-up, Dr. Cairns notes that the studies now include 72 cases in total:

“This research has recently been revisited, 12 new case studies have been added, and a survey of professional opinion has been undertaken, to see whether professionals were convinced by the earlier work. The main conclusion from the follow-up work is that the original results were robust – traffic levels can decrease as a result of well implemented schemes, not only because people may change how they choose to travel, but also because they make broader changes to their lifestyles (such as altering where they carry out activities and how often they make a journey, consolidating trips, occasionally working from home, car-sharing – right through to changing where they live or where they work). These changes, collectively, can result in reduced car use. The study also highlighted that patterns of travel are far more flexible than people traditionally assume. For example, according to surveys of peak-hour traffic on a major commuter route in Leeds, only about half of the cars are the same on two successive days.”

Given the generalizations we all make about traffic, that last line is fairly interesting.

Also, for all of these studies, that – with the notable exception of London’s congestion charge – official policy in the UK has apparently tended to tilt in the other direction.

“Given such evidence, it is disappointing that the Government’s first statutory progress report in response to the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998 was simply entitled Tackling Congestion and Pollution, and that the ‘Ten Year Plan’ for transport investment is based on a scenario of 17 per cent traffic growth.”

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By jonathan (registered) | Posted April 11, 2011 at 23:59:58 in reply to Comment 62059

For example, according to surveys of peak-hour traffic on a major commuter route in Leeds, only about half of the cars are the same on two successive days.

...explains why the other driver that's annoying me on my daily commute is never the same person... ;)

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2011 at 16:38:06

Surely there's enough sociopolitical mojo in Kirkendalls South and North to make Aberdeen anything they want it to be. Is it really so contentious, or is it just a matter of getting in line for the "official plan priority project timeline"? Anyone care to make a half-assed guess?

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By Kirkendaller (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2011 at 16:49:17 in reply to Comment 62066

Embittered longtime Kirkendall resident here. You would think this would be easy but we've been fighting for years now, this is just the latest pitched battle. The walls of Hart Solomon's bastille are tall and strong and resist the slings and arrows of mere angry citizens, even ones that have "sociopolitical mojo". I have to say I'm happy Dr. Verhovesk made the website easy for others to use, because people in poorer neighourhoods will have an even steeper hill to climb. Any bets on what the next campaign after Aberdeen will be?

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2011 at 17:07:03 in reply to Comment 62067

Not sure. Hopefully I'll be alive to see it.

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By jonathan (registered) | Posted April 11, 2011 at 23:57:18

According to the city's Installation Criteria for Intersection and Mid-Block Pedestrian Signals, "mid-block or intersection pedestrian signals shall not be installed less than 215 metres from another protected crossing."

This...boggled my mind. Really? 215m? That seems...excessive.

The policy explains this minimum distance on the basis of pedestrian safety. "If two traffic signals or other devices are located in close proximity, there is a significant chance that the driver may look past the first device and take his cues from the farther location. This could result in a pedestrian being struck or rear end collision occurring."

Ahh...that does kind of make sense. As one who drives a significant amount every year, I can understand this. I recall an incident a number of years ago where I fell to this exact problem, running right through a red light. But I know we have ways of combating this...there's special light fixtures designed to alleviate this exact issue. Though now that we've gone LED on our stoplights, the cost of one of these lenses is going to be much more than it could have.

Oh, I did the math. That would be a 3.2 minute detour (plus the timing of the light) for the average pedestrian. At my walking speed, probably closer to two. Not bad, in the grand scheme of things...but I'd still jaywalk to avoid it.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 12, 2011 at 09:24:21 in reply to Comment 62079

for the average pedestrian

Maybe the average able-bodied adult, but not the average pedestrian, at least today. Pedestrians are disproportionately composed of parents with young, pokey children and elderly walkers who no longer drive. For them, that same distance means a five- or even eight-minute detour.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-04-12 09:33:49

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 12, 2011 at 10:33:32 in reply to Comment 62085

That last paragraph, unfortunately, spells out one of the main problems here. There's a sense when reading these policies that people on foot just don't matter. They're too young, or old, or poor, or disabled, or parents (without a car!). Cars, on the other hand, are really important, and need to be given preference.

In this case I'd bet that the reletive affluence of this part of the lower city wins a crossing. Or at least that their chances are much better than York/Cannon.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted April 12, 2011 at 14:33:29

Where did this 215 meter rule come from? I assume is somewhat of an arbitrary number. If Kent is within 215 meters of Queen and/or Locke then it is pretty darn close. There is absolutely no reason to not put a pedestrian activated light or some other crossing there. I like the crossings that Toronto has, I think Hamilton should put in a few of them. When no one is around then the cars are free to pass by. When somebody needs to cross they can do so with virtually no waiting and cars can resume as soon as the intersection is clear. Almost perfect.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2011 at 08:59:47 in reply to Comment 62109

My disappointment with those crossings is that they're a flashing yellow (which means caution). I'd much rather see them be a flashing red - flashing red means "stop sign", so if the crossing is activated drivers must stop before proceeding instead of being able to see "oh, there's nobody in my lane, I can just roll right through".

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