Special Report: Walkable Streets

Induced Demand in Action at Aberdeen and Kent

When an intersection is more pedestrian-friendly, more pedestrians use it.

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 30, 2013

After a group of Kirkendall residents asked the City to install a pedestrian-activated crosswalk at Aberdeen and Kent, the City's Traffic Engineering department went out and studied the intersection, which at the time sported big signs advising pedestrians to cross at Locke or Queen. The study was conducted in May, 2011 and reported:

The [Intersection Pedestrian Signals] IPS study times include 7:00am - 9:00am, 11:00am - 1:00pm and 2:30pm - 5:30pm. These cover all periods of high pedestrian activity. During the study we noted only 40 pedestrians crossing, which is well below the minimum standard.

The engineer denied the crosswalk request, also noting that pedestrians were observed to be able to cross during gaps in traffic. (In effect, the intersection was deemed simultaneously too dangerous to install a crosswalk and safe enough that it didn't need one.)

A sign at Aberdeen and Kent used to read, 'PEDESTRIANS PLEASE CROSS AT LOCKE OR QUEEN'. There is now a pedestrian-actived crosswalk there. (RTH file photo)
A sign at Aberdeen and Kent used to read, 'PEDESTRIANS PLEASE CROSS AT LOCKE OR QUEEN'. There is now a pedestrian-actived crosswalk there. (RTH file photo)

Induced Demand

One of the arguments the residents made is that more people will walk when there is better walking infrastructure. This is an instance of induced demand: the general principle that when the supply of a product increases, demand for it will also increase.

In transportation, we normally think of induced demand in terms of vehicle lane capacity and driving: when you make it easier to drive, more people drive longer distances more frequently. The inverse is also true: when you make it less easy to drive, people drive less.

However, there is also a lot of evidence that how much people walk is partially a function of how easy it is to walk. For example, a study published last year found that people who live in less walkable neighbourhoods have a higher risk of getting diabetes.

The important thing to bear in mind is that while induced demand is well established among traffic engineering researchers, traffic engineers themselves tend to ignore it in their forecasts.

Increase in Pedestrians

Now back to the traffic study on Kent and Aberdeen. When the engineers assessed the intersection for its suitability for a crosswalk, they measured the number of pedestrians when the corner not only didn't have a crosswalk but had signs warning pedestrians not to cross.

A study that took induced demand into account would have forecast that adding a crosswalk may induce more people to cross at the intersection.

So now that there is a pedestrian activated crosswalk at Aberdeen and Kent, I asked the City for usage data on the crosswalk.

Following is a table of the results I received, taken between January 18 and February 5 of this year. Note that it counts how often the cross button was pushed during the same study times as the May 2011 study: 7:00am - 9:00am, 11:00am - 1:00pm and 2:30pm - 5:30pm.

Pedestrian Calls (7hr) IPS Study Times
Weekday Total Calls # of Log Days Average Calls per Day
Monday 131 3 44
Tuesday 155 3 52
Wednesday 106 2 53
Thursday 99 2 50
Friday 141 3 47
Average 126 49

The City does not have a standard multiplier as to how many pedestrians are represented by a given button push (or call) at a crosswalk. Observationally, I can state that most pedestrians at that corner cross in groups of two or more. The most common case is a parent crossing with one or two children on the way to or from school.

If we take a conservative approach and assume an average of two people crossing per button push, that means an average of 98 people crossing on a weekday during the study times - a nearly two-and-a-half-times increase in pedestrians over the 40 in May 2011.

Also, keep in mind that the earlier traffic count was in May while this count was in January-February - the coldest season of the year. The City has agreed to send me more recent data in the next couple of weeks. We'll be able to compare that to see if pedestrian traffic has increased as the weather has gotten warmer.

Here are the full 24-hour, seven-day results for the same period:

Pedestrian Calls (24hr)
Weekday Total Calls # of Log Days Average Calls per Day
Sunday 92 3 31
Monday 184 3 61
Tuesday 213 3 71
Wednesday 153 2 77
Thursday 130 2 65
Friday 198 3 66
Saturday 122 3 41
Average 156 59

These results support the argument that our decisions about how to design our streets for pedestrians should be based on our goals, not on merely reflecting the status quo we're trying to change.

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.

10 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 31, 2013 at 08:20:40

Real data FTW!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Signalguy (anonymous) | Posted May 31, 2013 at 19:40:57

Correction, the traffic engineering department does not have any engineers since the departure of Hart Solomon. There are only traffic technologists which do not have engineering degrees.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Modo (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2013 at 19:07:20

How about a pedestrian-activated light on Dundurn between Herkimer and Main? It's a high volume street and impossible to cross at many times during the day.

Anyone who is disabled and/or elderly, and there are more than a few of us both east and west of Dundurn, has no option but to walk several blocks to get to a safe place to cross. The traffic around the Beer Store and Liquor Store is crazy, and when the new condos are built at Dundurn and Chatham it will be a real killer.

Permalink | Context

By Rational Optimist (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2013 at 08:43:19 in reply to Comment 89245

You're absolutely right about the traffic around the LCBO and Beer Store- I have seen a number of near-misses with people on foot who happened to be walking across the driveways at the wrong time. Generally this stretch is a bit too busy and fast, and I'd like to see it slowed down somehow.

Why do you need to cross Dundurn? I think about Dundurn quite a bit, and feel that I want a crosswalk, but I only occasionaly have to cross as there's so little on the west side. My best guess would be at Hill Street as the Unitarian Church (and also the Surplus and the couple other businesses in that vicinity on the west side) must generate some foot traffic from the east side of Dundurn, and the dog park must likewise generate some foot traffic from the other side. But I'm not sure if I'm thinking about it right, so I'd be curious about what others think about making this stretch a bit more accessible.

Permalink | Context

By Alkie (anonymous) | Posted June 05, 2013 at 10:58:18 in reply to Comment 89268

The side-by-side beer and LCBO stores create a total booze ghetto in a neighborhood that deserves better.

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 05, 2013 at 13:49:55 in reply to Comment 89319

They're the only driveable locations in the western half of the lower city, and walking or biking with a 24 or a box of wine bottles stinks. The next LCBO and Beer Store is out in Dundas (University Plaza and Cootes Drive, respectively), and the Jackson Square LCBO isn't really accessible by car.

I would be surprised if Dundurn wasn't the most profitable LCBO and Beer Stores in the city, given the fierce amount of traffic they get. Either way, it's a brutal volume of cars coming and going for such a cramped area.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2013-06-05 13:50:07

Permalink | Context

By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2013 at 09:06:23 in reply to Comment 89323

Since you brought it up, we have wire baskets for under $25 that fit any bike (without front suspension) which can comfortably carry a 12-pack of ontario microbrews (I know from experience ;-)

Permalink | Context

By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 07, 2013 at 09:57:42 in reply to Comment 89346

Since you brought it up, we have wire baskets for under $25 that fit any bike (without front suspension) which can comfortably carry a 12-pack of ontario microbrews (I know from experience ;-)

Those panniers at the back can carry a pair of 6-packs with room to spare, too, if a basket doesn't suit your personal aesthetic or aerodynamic ambitions.

Permalink | Context

By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 05, 2013 at 21:57:28 in reply to Comment 89323

They're the only driveable locations in the western half of the lower city, and walking or biking with a 24 or a box of wine bottles stinks.

Well, not necessarily. You just need a non-sport bike with a decent basket ...

Bike with basket Posted at flickr.com

A single 24 is a breeze; two 24s and a few bottles of wine is quite doable with a bungee cord and a bit of care.

Comment edited by moylek on 2013-06-05 21:59:18

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Gored (anonymous) | Posted June 04, 2013 at 14:37:46

Good to know next time PW tries to say an intersection doesn't need a crosswalk because not enough people use it.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds