Special Report: Walkable Streets

Traffic Engineers Reorganized into Multiple Divisions

Will the reorganization of the city's traffic engineers into more integrated divisions help to effect the shift in priorities on which our Transportation Master Plan is founded?

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 31, 2012

One of the questions I've been asking, and which I'm starting to hear from people inside City Hall, is: who's in charge of our streets? Why does there seem to be so much resistance to re-engineering our streets so that they are more accommodating to pedestrians, cyclists and local traffic rather than fast through traffic?

Last year, after Hart Solomon retired from his position as the City's head of traffic engineering, his position was never replaced. It recently came to light that the traffic engineering office was reorganized and the traffic engineers dispersed to other groups within the Public Works Department.

Kelly Anderson, the public affairs coordinator for the Public Works Department, was kind enough to provide some details on the reorganization that followed Solomon's retirement.

Engineers in Three Divisions

Some engineers were moved into the Environment and Sustainable Infrastructure Division, Transportation Planning. Their responsibilities include managing and developing transportation policy, including the citywide transportation master plan and transportation master plans for specific areas. This office also looks after community traffic issues, like requests for traffic calming measures, stop signs and so on.

The second group is the Transportation, Energy and Facilities Division, Transit/Transportation. This is part of the integrated transportation organization that Council established last October to "support, over the long term, an integrated public transportation program for the City that encompasses provincial, inter-regional, inter-city, rapid transit, public transit, active transportation and transportation demand management".

Anderson explains, "The objective was to develop an organizational structure that encompasses an integrated approach to public transportation. As such, staff resources with responsibilities in the foregoing areas have been reallocated into a consolidated program under Don Hull, Director of Transit".

Its responsibilities include: the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) and specialized transit; Rapid Transit, including B-Line LRT planning; regional integrated transit, including all-day GO train service; active transportation, including cycling and pedestrian initiatives; and transportation demand management (TDM) initiatives like Smart Commute.

The third group is the Environmental and Sustainable Infrastructure Division, Engineering Services. This group looks after asset management, lifecycle analysis, budget preparation for transportation infrastructure, detailed design and engineering for capital projects, and traffic engineering functions around development, redevelopment, signal design and so on.

Transportation Master Plan

The overall policy direction and guidance for the traffic engineers still flows from the Transportation Master Plan, which the Environment and Sustainable Infrastructure Division, Transportation Planning team oversees.

The Transportation Master Plan is based on seven key objectives:

The overall vision for the Transportation Master Plan is "anchored by the City's Vision for Sustainability - Vision 2020." So how did we end up with the fiasco of the Longwood Road Preferred Alternative, which sacrificed the objective of complete streets in order to retain the overwhelming priority of fast through automobile traffic?

How did we end up with the decision in December 2010 to retain the one-way traffic flows on Main, King and Cannon Streets as part of the city's B-Line Light Rail Transit design, after the Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis and the city's own planning consultants recommended two-way conversion instead? It's not enough to argue that these streets are "the primary corridors for through traffic", since that is precisely the problem with their current design.

How did we end up with TWINO on York Boulevard?

How did we end up with new signalized intersections that prohibit pedestrian crossings where they might conflict with fast automobile traffic flow?

How did we end up with engineering decisions that an intersection is simultaneously too dangerous to allow crossing and too safe to doesn't require a crosswalk?

Changing Priorities

Dozens of other cities across North America and around the developed world are in the process of changing their approach to street engineering to recognize a broader objective than merely optimizing/maximizing automobile traffic flow, and this is something Hamilton needs to embrace.

However, to do that, our traffic engineers need clear guidance and direction on what their priorities ought to be. Based on recent examples, the overarching priority for Hamilton's traffic engineers still seems to be maximizing traffic flow, even when that comes at the expense of other goals and indeed flies in the face of the city's Vision Statement.

Will this reorganization of the city's traffic engineers into more integrated divisions help to effect the shift in priorities on which our Transportation Master Plan is founded? We may get a chance to find out as the issue of walkable two-way street conversions heats up.

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 jason (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 10:49:14

don't bet on it. The over-riding priorities and principles haven't changed. We've just moved a bunch of pieces around the room...the same pieces who have happily ignored the over-riding priorities and principles for years.

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By Conrad66 (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 12:54:05

Boy i can`t wait for the next election this should be the # 1 THING FOR THE NEXT MAYOR To make sure it will happend ³(2 WAY STREETS)

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By where's bob? (anonymous) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 13:01:10 in reply to Comment 77664

It should be the #1 thing for THE CURRENT SITTING MAYOR to make sure it happens....but we're not hearing much of anything from the current sitting mayor...

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By Conrad66 (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 13:18:13 in reply to Comment 77665

Thats exactly why i said the NEXT Mayor .. lol .. but im with you .. it should be the one thing that they whould think that it mit put them back in office .. don`t get me wrong there is alot more stuff thats needs to be done , and this one thing is the start of all that , 2 ways more pls stoping in to local shops and get more pls to invest

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By (Hart) Solomon (anonymous) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 13:15:54

Then said Solomon, The one saith, This street should be eastbound, and that one westbound: and the other saith, Nay; but this street should be westbound, and that one eastbound.

And Solomon said, Bring me a paintbrush. And they brought a paintbrush before him.

And Solomon said, Divide the streets in two, and give half to one direction, and half to the other.

Then spake the first woman, for her bowels yearned upon her streets, and she said, O my lord, give her the streets as she requests, and in no wise divide them. But the other said, Let them be neither mine nor thine, but divide them.

Then Solomon answered and said, Give her the streets, and in no wise divide them: she is the traffic engineer thereof.

And all Hamilton heard of the judgment which Solomon had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of Dolbec was in him, to do judgment.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 01, 2012 at 10:29:48 in reply to Comment 77667

Amazing!

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted May 31, 2012 at 15:08:01

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Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2012-05-31 15:23:29

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By awkward (anonymous) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 19:32:29 in reply to Comment 77679

Sheesh... this guy is like a bad magic act.

Look at all this stuff over here! No, over here! Lots of flashy stuff, right? Now look again: a bunny! Where did the bunny come from? Doesn't matter! Fact is it's a bunny! See, now there's a row of ten bunnies! [wait for applause]

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted May 31, 2012 at 21:27:18 in reply to Comment 77693

Thank you awkward! I am aware of at least six projects of this scale and bigger that are being actively pursued in the core.

This are many parallel realities that exists in our city. One is that of the development world which is full of risks and hope, with no guarantees, and the other is that of such forums which is risk free, but full of angst, conjecture and projections that are rarely supported by facts.

Until we attempt to bridge this divide, both sides of the divide will continue to see bunnies on the other side. Which is quite tragic, because, bunnies are in fact cute and full of hope! Yet we fret, skulk and throw flaming bags at each others bunnies, instead of collaborating and learning more from each others bunnies.

If you call up the city, they may give you a more complete picture of many more development proposals presently under planning. This should give you a very good idea of the size, scope and cascading impact that all such developments will have collectively on our existing traffic patterns.

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2012-05-31 21:36:08

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 15:20:10 in reply to Comment 77679

Love the name "Phoenix Towers"....symbolic only?? Good luck getting anything built there while Denningers owns it. I'm not sure I get your point - a bunch of condo towers can't be built on 2-way streets?? They don't seem to have a problem in TO or Miami. We need a world-class transit system before you worry about a bunch of towers arriving on the scene.
And IF those towers are built after streets go 2-way, their residents now have 2 options when leaving the parking garage instead of just one. Not to mention, streets like Hunter, Wilson and Cannon could begin to see new developments and condo/apartment buildings after going 2-way, once the street environment is safer and more conducive to street life.

What you're describing here actually sounds like a real city.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-05-31 15:20:27

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted May 31, 2012 at 15:42:48 in reply to Comment 77680

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 16:57:24 in reply to Comment 77683

That bird cage on Ferguson is a joke. Lol. Time to get a private operator to run an open-air restaurant or something there. I don't think you'll see much in the way of good, urban development come to streets like Wellington, Victoria, Queen, Wilson, Cannon, Main and most stretches of King in their fast 1-way configuration.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted May 31, 2012 at 16:16:53

I don't think you can blame the engineers - traffic engineers are more than aware of alternate transportation, pedestrian flow etc - and are fully capable of producing roadway designs that take auto, public transit, bicycle and pedestrians into account. In fact most of the traffic engineers I know (at least the ones under 40) are the biggest advocates for modern street design.

The problem is the direction they are getting from City management and Council. What do you think happens when a traffic engineer studies an intersection that will have a D rating for turns because of a pedestrian crossing and an A rating without it - it goes to management/council and Ohhhhhh we can't have cars waiting that long to turn, they'll back up all the way down the street....bla bla bla - and the pedestrian crossing gets eliminated.

Why do you think we have so many big box parking lots that are like lobster traps that let you in no problem but have stupid exits that force you one way or another - because the traffic engineers are not given the authority to force the developers to put in a proper entrance / exit - instead they eliminate a left turn and bam - good enough.

Same goes for stupid needless political stop signs and traffic lights.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 16:59:40 in reply to Comment 77685

You're bang on with all accounts, except the 'needless stop signs'....normally, you'd be right - if we were engineering streets to be inherently safe and slow. But as the rest of your comment illustrates, we don't...and therefore fed-up residents begin to demand stops signs.
I'll admit - I've been one of them. Was absolutely thrilled to see stop signs come to Locke and Strathcona at all cross streets between King and York. It was a freeway without them.
I've never walked or driven around Amsterdam, but I'm guessing they don't have nearly as many stop signs as us....because the streets are engineered for safe movement by everyone.

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By shabooga (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 17:06:52 in reply to Comment 77688

Completely agree Jason. We asked for a stop sign in our neighbourhood only because we asked for other remedies to combat people using our local street as a raceway and all we got back from the city was "we don't do speed humps", "we don't do bump outs". The final and last option was a stop sign. Do I think the other options would have worked better, yes but there was no way to slow down traffic.

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By hump (anonymous) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 19:34:22 in reply to Comment 77690

Apparently now they do speed humps. There's one on Stanley they just installed.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 22:33:29 in reply to Comment 77694

The funny thing about the speed humps on Stanley is that they're not nearly as effective as their siblings, speed bumps. Unlike a speed bump, you can go over one of these at 50 km/hr and it will rock your car back and forth, but it's not really a big deal (I keep seeing people speed over them when I cycle down Stanley in the morning, so out of curiosity, I tried this). A speed bump will basically destroy your car at 50 km/hr.

I think the speed hump elevation on Stanley is simply too small to make much difference. I saw a guy who must have been going 60 km/hr go over them without braking, and he went over both of them that way, so he clearly wasn't deterred. I still see people braking for them, but I have a feeling that won't last long.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 23:04:06 in reply to Comment 77700

Yea, I drive over them a few times a week now and I wondered if they were steep enough. The ones in TO are WAY steeper than the ones on Stanley. Wouldn't surprise me one bit....we always water down any initiative that is meant to slow down cars.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 19:59:44 in reply to Comment 77694

There's also a bump-out at the corner of Queen and Charlton.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted June 01, 2012 at 14:44:14 in reply to Comment 77695

It may seem counter intuitive - but there are tons and tons of studies that show over and over that stop signs do not slow traffic at all - except for the minimal distances it takes cars to brake and accelerate.

Nor do they make streets safer. On the contrary, streets with unnecessary - ie politically motivated - stop signs generally have higher speeds as vehicles accelerate between stop signs to make up time - and they are often more dangerous as drivers not expecting a stop sign at an illogical location routinely drive through them.

On the other hand - speed humps, bumpouts, street parking, islands, street landscaping etc have all proven to be effective in reducing traveled speed.

The bottom line - and this goes for all roads - is that drivers will drive the speed that feels appropriate to them. If the road is 5 lanes wide and feels like a highway - drivers will drive like they are on a highway - regardless of the posted limit, enforcement, stop lights, stop signs etc. See Main/King/Canon/Burlington/Victoria etc.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 21:55:55

EDIT: I meant Caroline and Charlton, not Queen and Charlton.

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By donnajeanmcnabb (registered) | Posted June 01, 2012 at 10:10:23

On Monday morning, I ran into (almost literally) a man from Toronto who was travelling the wrong way on Duke Street, between Queen and Hess. Actually, he almost ran into me as I was attempting to turn left from Hess onto Duke. As we chatted after the near miss, I noticed that he seemed near frantic in his desire to leave this mess of one-way streets and get on the highway. I mentioned the one-way streets, and he said that with one-way streets and insufficient signage it was "hellatious" and that he would not be coming into Hamilton again in the near future. I missed an opportunity to plug G0 Transit, but I don't think he was in a very receptive mood.

We've lived in this neighbourhood for almost 30 years and weekly see cars sailing down the street going in the wrong direction. This can be very time saving for the wrong-way traveller as there are no stop signs if you are going the wrong way. The only problem, of course, is if you run into someone driving the right way or a pedestrian who believes they only have to look one way when crossing a one way street.

My weekly travels take me by St. Joseph's Hospital, where I regularly encounter numerous vehicles being driven by people who have never been in our one-way neighbourhood before. Talk about slowing down traffic. There is nothing which slows down traffic more than people who don't know where they are going, unless it is people who don't know where they are going and can't get there because every street they want to turn into is going the way they don't want to go. Or something, anyway I think you get the drift.

But on the other hand, if the rest of the city thinks that one-way streets are such a good thing, let's expand one way streets to every neighbourhood in the city. Let's see how they like making at least two, and as many as four left hand turns to go the direction they want to travel every time they leave their home. And if you think that traffic moves too fast on Fennell, Mohawk, Upper Wellington or Sherman,wait till you see four lanes of traffic lined up at the light waiting for the flag, I mean, green light. Then stand back (way back) and watch the fun. Actually if we went to all one-way streets, there wouldn't be any need of roads like the Linc and the Redhill Creek Expressway. All of our street would be expressways (witness Main Street, if it only wasn't for those darn stop lights).

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 01, 2012 at 10:24:50 in reply to Comment 77740

I noticed that he seemed near frantic in his desire to leave this mess of one-way streets and get on the highway.

:) That's the "rite of passage" (mentioned in another thread) for teen drivers from Burlington.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-06-01 10:25:42

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 01, 2012 at 10:21:05 in reply to Comment 77740

I mentioned the one-way streets, and he said that with one-way streets and insufficient signage it was "hellatious" and that he would not be coming into Hamilton again in the near future.

Yes - that's it absolutely! I recently wrote about a somewhat similar exchange with a disoriented out-of-town motorist trying to find the 403.

Would you be interested in expanding your comment into an essay as part of our Walkable Streets special report? If so, please email me.

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