After years of neglect, there have been encouraging signs in the past couple of months that the City's attitude toward pedestrian safety is starting to change. It needs to change faster.
By Ryan McGreal
Published July 17, 2013
In the past couple of months, Public Works crews have been bolstering pedestrian crosswalks at various intersections across Hamilton. In the past month, this has included zebra crossings at several locations.
Zebra crossings are crosswalks defined by alternating bars of white and asphalt, which increase the visibility of the pedestrian crossing.
A new Zebra crossing marks the intersection of Locke Street and Hunter Street:
Zebra crossing at Locke and Hunter (RTH file photo)
The intersection is not signalized and there is no stop sign for drivers on Locke, though it is patrolled by a crossing guard during the school year. However, the City is reviewing the intersection and looking into the possibility of "additional or enhanced signing".
Bumpouts, knockdown sticks and Zebra crossings at Herkimer and Locke (RTH file photo)
Architect Graham McNally, who was one of the organizers of the Tactical Urbanism workshop and lecture in May, just posted a photo of a new zebra crossing at Aberdeen and Dundurn on twitter.
Zebra crossing at Aberdeen and Dundurn (Image Credit: Graham McNally)
McNally wrote, "The effects of tactical urbanism continue to spread!"
The intersection at Aberdeen and Dundurn is particularly difficult for pedestrians because of high vehicle traffic volumes and an awkward three-stage traffic light cycle that can leave pedestrians cooling their heels for a long time.
This is further complicated by the removal of the sidewalk on the southwest corner during construction of the new Urban West Condo development at 427 Aberdeen Avenue.
427 Aberdeen Avenue (Image Credit: Jason Leach)
The City is also installing zebra crossings at Upper Gage and Fennell and Upper Gage and Mohawk. Another twitter user, @danielacts1, recently shared a photo of the zebra crossing at Upper Gage and Mohawk:
Zebra crossing at Upper Gage and Mohawk (Image Credit: danielacts1 on twitter)
This is the intersection where an 83-year-old pedestrian was killed after a collision with an automobile on May 25.
As the Ontario Coroner reminds us, young children and senior citizens are the most vulnerable road users, and streets should be designed to be safe for everyone.
Historically, the City has been deeply reluctant to invest in pedestrian-friendly infrastructure where such investment might interfere with the fast, unimpeded flow of automobile traffic. Just last December, an 87-year-old pedestrian was killed on Governer's Road at the very location where hundreds of residents had signed a petition calling for a crosswalk. Dundas Councillor Russ Powers had responded to the petition by saying the street was due to be renovated in 2017.
There have been encouraging signs in the past couple of months that the City's attitude toward streets designed to accommodate pedestrians is starting to change.
John Mater, director of corporate assets and strategic planning for the City of Hamilton, explained in an email that the staff are "looking at this issue in terms of where and under what criteria we should consider" zebra crossings.
He added, "There is a lot of pent up demand, they are marginally more expensive than regular markings and as you know we are playing a bit of a catch up here."
Staff "do support the use of these markings in more locations" but are reluctant to adopt zebra crossings as a standard for all intersections. Again, according to Mater:
Traffic Situations and problems are dynamic and changing, and what might be an appropriate use of a measure somewhere could be a very inappropriate use of the same measure somewhere else. From a technical perspective, the first challenge for us is to try to identify the problem and then design an appropriate plan for response. Once we lock down a standard, it may become difficult to do this properly, but things like zebra crossings should and will absolutely be a tool in our traffic toolbox.
One thing is clear: the more safe, welcoming and accessible the city makes its streets for pedestrians, the more people will walk. After public works staff installed a button-activated crosswalk at Aberdeen and Kent last year, pedestrian use more than tripled.
Unfortunately, even now we are missing great opportunities to make more substantial improvements to walkability and bikeability on Hamilton streets.
The city just repainted the existing vehicle lanes on King Street instead of adding a protected bike lane at effectively zero cost. This is despite the fact that King has significant excess lane capacity - even during rush hour, there were no significant slowdowns during the roadwork.
King East between Steven and Ashley (Image Credit: Laura Farr)
King East between Sanford and Wentworth during rush hour (Image Credit: Bob Berberick)
Likewise, the city is not installing any cycling infrastructure on Barton Street between Centennial Parkway and Nash Road after it installs a new water main and reconstructs the traffic lanes, sidewalks and curbs.
According to Kelly Anderson, spokesperson for Public Works, the city was constrained by "the relocation of utilities and poles" and "property constraints and a nearby cemetery" that would interfere with "widening the road in this area to accommodate bike lanes."
Once again, the City is only prepared to add pedestrian or cycling infrastructure where that does not interfere with existing automobile traffic flow.
On the other hand, the City is counting down the days until August 12, when most North End Neighbourhood streets switch to 30 km/h speed limits. The North End Neighbourhood negotiated a 30 km/h neighbourhood limit as part of the North End Traffic Management Plan.
The speed limit will be enforced through design with bumpouts, curb extensions, enhanced crosswalks, lane narrowing and curbside parking, as well as posted speed limits.
The City also recently converted MacNab Street to two-way between Cannon and Burlington Street, in part to facilitate an alternate route to the waterfront during the replacement of the Bay Street North bridge over the CN railway.
Bay Street North bridge replacement in progress (RTH file photo)
The NEN lost an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) appeal to extend the speed reduction to James Street North and Burlington Street, and Council only approved the reduction as a five-year pilot, during which time other neighbourhoods will not be granted a 30 km/h speed limit.
30 km/h speed limit in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood (RTH file photo)
Cities across North America and Europe are moving to 30 km/h speed limits on urban residential streets on the recognition that the risk of pedestrian injury or death in a collision with a vehicle rises exponentially with the speed of the vehicle (according to the formula KE = 1/2mv2).
Between 30 km/h and 60 km/h, the kinetic energy of a motor vehicle roughly quadruples. For example, a Honda Civic has 40,937 Joules of kinetic energy at 30 km/h but 163,750 Joules at 60 km/h.
Similarly, the stopping distance also roughly quadruples. Again, in the example of a Honda Civic on dry asphalt, the approximate stopping distance increases from 20 metres at 30 km/h to 70 metres at 60 km/h.
The danger thus increases on two dimensions: a faster vehicle is both exponentially more likely to collide with a pedestrian and exponentially more likely to injure or kill that pedestrian.
This is why David McKeown, Toronto's medical officer of health, called speed limits a public health issue in a 2012 report (notwithstanding the spluttering incredulity of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford).
It's why London has reported a 46 percent drop in deaths and major injuries in its 30 km/h speed zones since speeds were reduced.
Five years is too long for Hamilton to consider extending the benefits of slow, calm, safe streets to more neighbourhoods.
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