Special Report: Walkable Streets

Where Can Pedestrians Cross the Street?

Hamilton Police Constable Claus Wagner has kindly provided some clarification on what pedestrians are and are not allowed to do when crossing the street.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 15, 2011

Since Hamilton Police Services announced last week that Division One is targeting pedestrian non-compliance, some debate has sprung up over what actually constitutes a pedestrian infraction.

Hamilton Police Constable Claus Wagner has kindly provided some clarification on what pedestrians are and are not allowed to do when crossing the street.

No 'Jaywalking' Charge

First, Constable Wagner notes that there is no charge of "jaywalking" as such.

The term comes from the early 1900s American Midwest slang word "jay", meaning an inexperienced rural person - a "hick" or a "rube" - who visits the city and doesn't know how to avoid getting hit by a car.

As Wagner puts it, "A jaywalker was a newcomer to the city, green to the ways of those modern traffic signals that told folks when they could safely cross the road."

Highway Traffic Act

Wagner cites section 144 (22) of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, which states: "Where portions of a roadway are marked for pedestrian use, no pedestrian shall cross the roadway except within a portion so marked."

Wagner adds that the Act specifies how to cross legally on a crosswalk, i.e. inside the marked lines and with the lights or crossing signals.

Municipal By-Laws

Wagner also notes a number of sections of City of Hamilton By-Law 01-0215 that apply to pedestrians.

For example, pedestrians must walk on the sidewalk if a sidewalk exists on either side (Section 38) and must walk on the left side of the road where there is no sidewalk (Section 39).

Section 40 states, "A pedestrian shall not cross a roadway by other than by the shortest route, except within a crosswalk." This means no diagonal crossings - go straight across the street.

Section 41 prohibits pedestrians from climbing "over or under a railing or other such barrier permanently installed along the edge of a sidewalk." This applies, for example, to the barrier along Gore Park separating it from King Street.

Section 43 states, "No person shall walk or stand together with one or more other persons in such a manner as to impede pedestrians or vehicular traffic."

Section 44 prohibits playing games or sports on roadways and riding scooters, skateboards, roller skates, inline skates, etc. on the street other than to cross as a pedestrian.

Mid-Block Crossings

One area that remains unclear is the matter of crossing a street mid-block, away from a crosswalk.

How big is a "portion" of a roadway for the purpose of deciding if someone is crossing outside a marked crosswalk? If the nearest marked crosswalk is, say, 200 metres away, is it an infraction for a pedestrian to cross in a spot that is not so marked?

Wagner responded that the Police "have a high likelihood of getting a conviction" for mid-block crossings in the downtown area, since blocks are short and pedestrians are rarely far from a marked crossing. However, conviction is less likely in more residential areas where blocks are longer and crosswalks are farther apart.

He concluded that it comes down to whether a pedestrian "crossing outside the crosswalk area impede[s] vehicular traffic."

In cases where a pedestrian is crossing the street mid-block and there is no traffic approaching, Wagner suggested "most officers would not give you a ticket ... if traffic was not affected."

Bike Hounds Pedestrian Guide

Meanwhile, Sean Burak of Downtown Bike Hounds has taken the time to prepare a guide to the laws and by-laws governing pedestrians in Hamilton.

Burak qualifies the guide by noting, "these are my interpretations of the law and, since I am not a lawyer, do not constitute legal advice." Yet it goes into considerable detail on the specifics of pedestrian rules, particularly at the municipal level.

Burak concludes, "The bottom line is that you are allowed to cross mid-block."

R. v. Rados

However, the 2009 case R. v. Rados casts some doubt on this conclusion.

The case concerns an elderly man, Michael Rados, who was struck and seriously injured by a car while he was crossing Yonge Street mid-block in Toronto. Metropolitan Toronto Police charged him with violating Section 144 (22) of the Highway Traffic Act.

His defence argued that Rados has an "undoubted right" to cross the street at any point and cited the judgment of a previous case in support of this contention.

Justice Quon rejected this defence, concluding:

case law that is in conflict with a statute is overruled by that statute through the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty... Thus, even if there is an "undoubted right" for pedestrians to cross at a non-regular street crossing, that common law right can be supplanted by a statutory provision.

In other words, Section 144 (22) and other statutory restrictions trump common law. Pedestrians do not have an "undoubted right" to cross the street in such a way that it would impede motorists.

Conclusion

IANAL and you should not take this as any kind of legal advice, but I would conclude that you are taking your chances, legally speaking, if you decide to cross a street mid-block rather than at a marked crossing; but you likely have a reasonable defence if you cross safely when there are no cars approaching and you do not affect traffic.

On the other hand, if you step out in front of a car and are struck, no amount of legal defence is going to prevent whatever injuries result from the collision. That goes whether you are crossing legally at a crosswalk, illegally at a crosswalk, or in the legal grey zone that obtains away from marked crosswalks.

As I have argued for some time, the best way to protect safety is not necessarily through enforcement, which ultimately cannot stop people from doing silly things.

Instead, we should start by assuming that people are imperfect and engineer our streets to be forgiving of mistakes so that no one has to pay for poor judgment with their life.

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 JonD (registered) | Posted April 16, 2011 at 08:32:19

In the early 1900s, when cars were sharing the street with less fortunate folk still riding horse and carriage, I don't think speeding cars where much a problem. From what I can see by [this footage] ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NINOxRxze... ) there were either a huge amount of "jays" in San Fran in 1906 or in actual fact "jays" where the exception and the only ones so nervous and unaccustomed to traffic they needed to go to the intersection. I don't doubt there were a fair share of people that where hit by cars. But I can imagine that the results were bumps and scratches rather than paralysis or death. The life of a pedestrian running errands must have been much easier back then. Zig-zagging freely on a whim from shop to shop. Is there any wonder why so few people walk to do their errands now? The problem is clearly the speed of the vehicles. Its sad to have to dumb it down this much but it seems some need the reminder that this is a city after all, not a transportation network grid that happens to have high buildings and lots of people. The priority must be the safety of the people that live here not the convenience of those racing their way through it.

Comment edited by JonD on 2011-04-16 08:43:37

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:53:54

IANAI - I Am Not An Idiot

Slide feet up street bend your back shift your arm then you pull IT back. Life's hard you know (oh whey oh) so strike a pose on a Cadillac. If you want to find all the cops they're hanging out in the doughnut shop. They sing and dance (oh whey oh) they spin the club cruise down the block.

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2011-04-16 11:08:06

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted April 16, 2011 at 11:08:47

Without getting into the usual 'pedestrian vs driver', 'don't we want a pedestrian-friendly city?' back-and-forths, maybe it might be worthwhile...even in an ancillary way...to take a look at how 'getting somewhere as expediently as possible in an urban setting' reveals about how we live our lives. What it has to do with the manifestation of Self, how we tend to use our cars to effectively validate our existences, etc.

I know for many, this is a worthless, even annoying examination; they don't want to examine anything, they just want to be able to do what they want to do. And yet I'm not sure that without looking at 'the reasons behind the reasons', much is going to be accomplished.

I believe that if it were possible, regular users of many of our main Hamilton roads...and I'm thinking Main Street especially...would be happy, even gleeful at an increase in speed limit. 60...70...80... WHEEEE!!! But often, when I've been standing at the bus stop near Queen and Main, I've found myself shaking my head at the indisputable 'thoroughfare' nature of this strip of road as it's contrasted with its name: 'Main West Esplanade'. (As if this is a place for people. It should be known as the 'Main West Expressway'.) I watch drivers booting it five, ten percent over the speed limit and I think 'You do realize that there's nothing worthwhile you're speeding your way to...' And then, the next time I'm driving my dad's car heading east on this very strip, I'm thinking 'You do realize that you're behaving just as 'they' are...' LOL

Even though I may be seen as a contrarian with some of my comments (almost always predicated on a criticism of the approach to a better result, not the proposed result itself), I still see this whole discussion as madness. There is nothing pleasant about so many of our Hamilton streets. As a born-and-bred Hamiltonian, they turn my stomach. Because as an indicator of lives lived, they're nothing to crow about. Ditto for some of the reactions to wanting to reduce speed limits and enhance the pedestrian experience; it's funny, but I'm often reminded of the obdurate, splenetic Second Amendment adherents in the US. Or of this recent ad campaign:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHlN21ebe...

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted April 16, 2011 at 20:49:26 in reply to Comment 62369

almost always predicated on a criticism of the approach to a better result, not the proposed result itself

REALLY?

Good enough reason to down-vote others as well eh creeker? I am so happy that everything is so right with the world that all we have to discuss is how and where we cross the street. And I am also tickled to death that a portion of the $137.7M secret HPD budget is being used to intimidate foolish pedestrians.

Aren't you glad we got our priorities straight? Buzzy Buzzy Bees, WHEEE!

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2011-04-16 21:06:52

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:19:58

I can see I'm not the only one who's been digging through the history of "jaywalking" lately. Peter Norton's work, especially, is a goldmine for information. Did you know that when they first attempted to enforce these laws, they were so unpopular that ladies attacked policemen with their parasols?

What really blows me away is how willing advocates of the motorcar were to use legislation and the power of the press to enforce their new vision of cities built for cars. And of course, how anyone who questions this is now accused of trying to "force" something on the public.

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By A. J. Widdershins (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2011 at 22:29:03

...Wagner cites section 144 (22) of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, which states: "Where portions of a roadway are marked for pedestrian use, no pedestrian shall cross the roadway except within a portion so marked."
-- Great, how about the countless crosswalks through Hamilton that receive ZERO maintenance, and at which NO MOTORISTS stop for pedestrians, ever? James St. N and Colbourne St., for example. Or perhaps the numerous crosswalks which are Clear and Visible to motorists, yet across which pedestrians cannot walk safely, regardless, due to blatant motorist neglect?? How often are Motorists ticketed for failing to stop at a crosswalk?? This is an Automatic Fail during Ontario Drive tests, by the way.


... "No person shall walk or stand together with one or more other persons in such a manner as to impede pedestrians or vehicular traffic."
-- Equally outrageous. Does this apply merely to crosswalks? Is Wager here supporting the suggestion that community members aught not engage in any form of dialogue when running into each other along a sidewalk, because it may 'impede pedestrians'? James St N. as an example again -- Market vendors at James and Robert St. line the sidewalks with produce. Businesses rely on a sidewalk, constricted by a pudgy roadway, to attract patronage. This patronage naturally 'impedes pedestrians'. Are groups of businessmen caught chatting on the corner of Hughson and Main going to be ticketed for it? Or just youthful people at King and James who have no where better to go?


... [Wagner] concluded that it comes down to whether a pedestrian "crossing outside the crosswalk area impede[s] vehicular traffic." ... "... 'case law that is in conflict with a statute is overruled by that statute through the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty...' "
-- I.e. "It's our house, it's our rules -- we don't care what you have to say." No?

(From JonD) "The problem is clearly the speed of the vehicles. Its sad to have to dumb it down this much but it seems some need the reminder that this is a city after all, not a transportation network grid that happens to have high buildings and lots of people."
-- I agree! Motorist efficiency in this city has taken priority for too long. There happen to be human beings in Hamilton whose lives exists beyond motorised metal containers, and those humans tend to enjoy interacting with other humans.



The fact of the matter here is that the growing enforcement for piddley laws and by-laws like this is being pushed more and more heavily. Results are that the people who use these spaces are forced to give up, move away, or spend what little money any of us has these days on tickets (or purchasing more vehicles, so they can attain privileged motorist status).

If Hamilton intends to focus its energy on being "the best city to raise a child", perhaps it could begin considering that raising a healthy child can happen within thriving and vibrant communities, made up of individual humans whose lives cannot be contained to white lines and cars on the streets.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 17, 2011 at 21:31:36 in reply to Comment 62383

... "No person shall walk or stand together with one or more other persons in such a manner as to impede pedestrians or vehicular traffic."

This pretty much makes any unlicensed protest march illegal, as well as many rallies. Thankfully there's also that bit in the charter about 'peaceful assembly'.

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By A. J. Widdershins (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2011 at 22:45:52

... Hm, yea, I feel really confident in this. I'm curious: Now that iI've posted it sans registration, would it be poor etiquette to go with what I've just written and strengthen it for submission to other local media???

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted April 17, 2011 at 12:23:24

For example, pedestrians must walk on the sidewalk if a sidewalk exists on either side (Section 38)

Cranky old man point: The running crowd here on Stoney Creek mountain who jog singly or in large groups in the bike lanes when wide sidewalks are available everywhere drive me absolutely insane. I really do wish the police would ticket these people, I find it unsafe, rude to both bikers and drivers and completely unnecessary as the sidewalks are very wide.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted April 17, 2011 at 17:35:29 in reply to Comment 62387

The reason that they do it is that the asphalt is a more forgiving surface to run on than concrete.

Not excusing it as it drives me crazy too, just explaining it.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2011 at 21:49:35

Great video. Nobody was in a hurry. I believe in the whole video I saw 8 pedestrians hurrying everyone else seemed to be on a leisurely stroll, at least those that were moving a whole lot were just standing in the street. Traffic was pretty slow the occasional horse did not seem to have any problem keeping up. Far cry from today were everybody is in a hurry.

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