Special Report: Walkable Streets

Vulnerable Neighbourhoods Should Be Highest Priority for Traffic Calming

When the City implements traffic calming measures in affluent neighbourhoods and ignores more vulnerable neighbourhoods, it actually deepens the inequality between them.

By John Neary
Published May 29, 2013

The recent Tactical Urbanism campaign took place at four street intersections in Hamilton. Three of these intersections - the Delta, Upper James and Mohawk, and Cannon and Mary - involve wide arterial roads with high-speed, high-volume traffic. The City of Hamilton's response to Tactical Urbanism has been to install bumpouts and crosswalks at the least problematic intersection of the four: Herkimer and Locke.

City-installed bumpouts at Herkimer and Locke (RTH file photo)
City-installed bumpouts at Herkimer and Locke (RTH file photo)

By contrast to the other intersections mentioned above, Herkimer and Locke is an intersection of two relatively low-volume, low-speed streets. Each of the streets is two lanes wide, not counting parking lanes. There was already a four-way stop sign at Herkimer and Locke, just as there were at some of the adjacent intersections (Herkimer and Kent, Locke and Charlton).

The obvious inference from the City's action is that traffic calming measures will only be implemented in affluent neighbourhoods. This response should come as no surprise to any informed observer: the entire city north of King and east of Queen has been treated as a sacrifice zone by Public Works for the better part of a century.

What is surprising is the reaction on Raise the Hammer, where a modest intervention in an already walkable neighbourhood has been treated as a major step forward for pedestrian safety in our city. The very inclusion of Herkimer and Locke on the initial Tactical Urbanism list implies a false equivalence between problems of vastly different magnitudes.

Here's a short list of intersections that needed pedestrian improvements more than did Locke and Herkimer:

For those who are keeping track, that is a list of every intersection of Cannon between Victoria and Wentworth. None of these intersections has any sort of signalized crossing. That's a distance of 650 metres, over which pedestrians never have an identified right of way to cross a four-lane street with high-volume traffic that routinely travels at speeds exceeding 50 km/h.

St. Brigid's School is located on Smith Avenue just north of Cannon. There is no signalized crossing of Cannon at Smith: no bumpouts, no four-way stop sign, no 40 km/h school zone.

The only concession to pedestrians is a single crosswalk painted on the road, which is routinely ignored by motorists. Why are we celebrating an intervention that will further deepen the inequity between St. Joseph's School and St. Brigid's?

Several years ago, when there was a campaign to install a pedestrian-activated traffic signal at Aberdeen and Kent, I encouraged the Beasley Neighbourhood Association (of which I am a member) to send a letter to our Councillor expressing our support for this project.

The City installed a pedestrian-activated crosswalk at Aberdeen and Kent in the summer of 2012 (RTH file photo)
The City installed a pedestrian-activated crosswalk at Aberdeen and Kent in the summer of 2012 (RTH file photo)

The BNA sent that letter because we believe that every neighbourhood in Hamilton deserves to have safe, walkable streets.

I support safer streets for Kirkendall and every other neighbourhood in Hamilton. But the City's response to Tactical Urbanism should be called out for its injustice, not cheered on. I implore Kirkendall residents, readers of Raise the Hammer, and supporters of Tactical Urbanism to tell their Councillors that our most vulnerable neighbourhoods should be the highest priority for interventions to improve walkability and traffic safety.

Three weeks passed between Gerry Davis' memo and the painting of zebra crossings at Locke and Herkimer. If we ask for zebra crossings at Cannon and Mary, or Cannon and Smith, will we get them in three weeks?

If not, why not?

John Neary lives in Beasley Neighbourhood and practices general internal medicine at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. He would like Hamilton to develop an urban environment that creates less gainful employment for his profession.


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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2013 at 06:47:14

It seems to me that one of the conclusions we can draw from these issues is that even if a request is coming from an affluent neighbourhood, it takes years of community organizing and high-profile actions to get basic pedestrian improvements - and more vulnerable neighbourhoods don't have the resources, socioeconomic capital and so on to carry out these campaigns.

The bar is set ridiculously high for street designs the City should be doing of its own volition, according to its own stated vision and policies.

There's also a catch-22 that inveighs strongly against any pedestrian improvements anywhere: we're told major arterials can't get traffic calming and pedestrian infrastructure because they carry too much traffic, whereas minor arterials can't get traffic calming and pedestrian infrastructure because they don't carry enough traffic to warrant it.

In the case of Aberdeen and Kent, the Traffic department simultaneously argued that the corner was too dangerous to allow a pedestrian crossing and safe enough that it didn't need one!

If Public Works is serious about committing to Tactical Urbanism, it's imperative for them to start tackling the biggest problems on Cannon Street now, not in some unspecified hand-wavy future after yet another comprehensive study has been completed. Start making iterative, incremental changes right now, measure and learn so the community can start to benefit right away.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2013 at 16:48:33 in reply to Comment 89117

It is just me or...


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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 07:50:44 in reply to Comment 89117

It took only the Ivor Wynn Meighborhood almost 2 years to do theres

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 07:48:24

And don`t forget Sanford on Main King Cannon and Barton needs it as well actuly all the nayborhoods in the lower city needs it

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By rednic (registered) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 08:32:29

With the current drain and water main reconstruction on the blocks in the southeast section of this block there is the opportunity to make some changes in the very near future. It should be a top priority for at least these two blocks to be fixed as a 'test case' for the rest of Cannon. I continue to believe that the crossing guard at Steven and Cannon is the bravest person in Hamilton.

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By grahamm (registered) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 08:36:24

I wrote several pieces on the Herkimer and Locke project and agree wholeheartedly with your critique. In response, I would like to make the following points.

Herkimer and Locke was selected because it is about as non-contentious an intersection as we could think of. There is a school, a church, a busy commercial stretch nearby, and so there is a lot of existing pedestrian traffic. The existing traffic is important because it allows the project to demonstrate, on a small scale, the ultimate results of this type of pedestrian improvement.

When we spoke with the City regarding its installation, we were very deliberate in our position that this should be the start of these types of projects, not the end, and that they need to start happening across the City in order for them to be ultimately successful and not seen in the way you describe.

So let's stay positive and hopeful. We're to meet with the City soon and discuss how similar projects can occur in other locations and we'll definitely be pushing for less obvious intersections. And I don't expect much push back.

I think the excitement on RTH you note is in response to the speed and relative lack of red-tape experienced by this project. I, and I think others, are hopeful that this is indicative of a new attitude within City Hall and that this is indicative of a shift in an exciting new direction.

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By JM (registered) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 09:09:32

Don't forget Cannon and Mary - tactical urbanism was also tried there, and the Citys response was to immediately remove the painted lines. i agree with the comments relating to injustice above.

the challenge now should be to have the same conversation regarding Cannon and Mary and have it implemented in the same fashion!

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 09:24:05

It's actually kinda embarrassing to see how twitter lit up yesterday over this new crosswalk. This has been standard design for decades in other cities.

Ottawa: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-pd1FIzT08Ew/T9...

Even Burlington has these style crosswalks in total suburban areas: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-JDv1KtcRY_M/UI...

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By Gotta Agree (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 16:07:04 in reply to Comment 89123

I gotta agree with you here Jason... the City using a best practice standard everybody else does wouldn't be such news almost anywhere else.
BTW, I think we'll have to drop "Even" when referencing Burlington soon. They're sadly outclassing us on all sorts of urbanist fronts right now.

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By solidarity (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 09:24:07

The author makes excellent points but IMHO hurts his case by turning it into an us-v.-them argument. I bet the people who oppose change love to see us fighting amongst ourselves.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 10:09:47 in reply to Comment 89124

Exactly. The people who live in neighbourhoods bisected by four-lane freeways should be grateful that any change took place anywhere and wait their turn.

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By Gored (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 11:32:56 in reply to Comment 89127

No need to be like that.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 13:03:38 in reply to Comment 89134


Obvs should have bollarded my sarcasm.

(Barris gong, vaudeville hook)

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By johnny velvet (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 09:31:14

The author makes a brief mention of it, but does not hit the mark exactly. Along with neighbourhood and community engagement, the Ward 1 Councillor is a very active within his ward. I wish the same could be said about the Ward 3 Councillor's attitude toward his community. Elected officials are people too and therefore have their own priorities. Unfortunately, sometimes it conflicts with what the community wants, as what can be seen in neigbhourhood mentioned by the author.
I will have to agree that we should not consider this project an end but more of a means to a beginning. We should not forget various pedestrian initiatives done throughout the city such moving the buses out of the Gore, upgrades to Pier 8, the Gage Park redevelopment (on tap for 2014), upgrades to the waterfront trail just to name a few.
Community development requires all in the community to be actively involved and engaged - from your neighbour to elected officials to city bureaucrats. In my humble opinion, when you get two out of the three - you start seeing progress.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 10:57:18 in reply to Comment 89125

Along with neighbourhood and community engagement, the Ward 1 Councillor is a very active within his ward. I wish the same could be said about the Ward 3 Councillor's attitude toward his community.


I don't think the priorities and influence of the respective councillors can be overstated here. Not only does McHattie actively support these kinds of improvements, but he has built positive relationships with staff which goes a long way toward expediting these kinds of changes.

It can take a while to build this kind of capacity so I have hope for Farr, but implementing positive changes in ward 3 will continue to face unwarranted resistance until they have better leadership.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 10:01:19

I agree with the author, but I don't see it as an us vs. them situation. It may be politically tougher to implement traffic calming measures, as well as streetscape and cycling/pedestrian improvements along Cannon east of Victoria, but as long as RTH is advocating for that (which its many contributors and active commentators have) then it is more a question of building the critical mass required to move things forward. People from other neighbourhoods can aid in this, but as others have mentioned they can't simply step in without local involvement.

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 10:58:25

If the City is serious about urban vitality, it has to make change happen in contested zones as well as quick-win cases.

If nothing else, can we agree that any intersection deserving of a red light camera (eg. Ward 1's King & Dundurn, Ward 2's Bay & Main) should be a priority candidate for ladder crosswalks?

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 11:11:38 in reply to Comment 89131

Not sure if this baker's dozen is accurate or comprehensive, but it's a start:

Burlington & Gage
Cannon & Hughson
Cannon & Kenilworth
Cannon & York
King & Locke
King & Centennial
Main & Bay
Main & Sanford
Main & Dundurn
Paramount & Mud
Stone Church & Upper Wentworth
Upper James & Brantdale
Upper Sherman & Queensdale


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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 15:14:29

I think it is unfair of you to criticize other citizens for wanting something in their neighborhood and getting it done through action and quick response by the city. Sure, it would be ideal if we could take this case study and repeat it all over the city, especially addressing areas with more pressing problems. However, it is still a positive thing - you called it an injustice, and you insinuate that everyone who is happy about the positive change they saw in their neighborhood is necessarily ignorant to what you see as a more important need. Clearly the next step needs to be making more pilot projects like this happen, and in other neighborhoods where they are needed, but its not a zero-sum game. Paint is cheap.

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By textbook (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 16:01:28 in reply to Comment 89144

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 22:22:17 in reply to Comment 89147

You have quite a task convincing anyone that you're 'concerned'. Pedestrians, kids and cyclists have a tough go of it at this intersection. To be concerned over half a can of paint instead of human livelihood is a bit of a stretch.

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By Ugh (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2013 at 11:32:14 in reply to Comment 89161

No, I'm concerned about things that I should be concerned about. Not saying this isn't something that's good, but it's how it happened. There are dozens of intersections that "deserve" this more, and where additional treatment is warranted by collisions, near collisions, and operations. To my knowledge, this intersection is fine...and by knowledge, I'm referring to using it nearly daily...both as a pedestrian and a motorist.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 31, 2013 at 09:10:12 in reply to Comment 89168

There is nothing stopping you from installing guerilla bumpouts and cornstarch paint at the intersection you are thinking of that is so much higher of a priority. It's organic change. Someone saw a need and answered it - you can't criticize them for not seeing the need you see.

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By Ugh (anonymous) | Posted May 31, 2013 at 11:22:33 in reply to Comment 89186

What need was identified? Who identified it? Was it a "real" need? I'm assuming that no member of the tactical urbanism team is a traffic engineer or a traffic safety engineer...if so though, please let me know!

I'll go back to saying that there needs to be some order when it comes to PUBLIC streets. That order comes from the owner, which in this case, is the City. What was done here originally was illegal and I agree with the City that it was vandalism.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 31, 2013 at 12:39:13 in reply to Comment 89190

What was done here originally was illegal and I agree with the City that it was vandalism.

Vandalism that the City made permanent.

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By Gored (anonymous) | Posted May 31, 2013 at 11:40:51 in reply to Comment 89190

Your screen name is surprisingly apt. it's the exact sound I make when reading your authoritarian commentary.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 29, 2013 at 18:17:16 in reply to Comment 89147

Well...sure, if you want to. Tactical anti-urbanism? If you really think that is a necessary thing to do, go for it.

I would be interested to know why you think they were a waste of money...how much did they cost to install?

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