Special Report: Walkable Streets

Councillor Green to Introduce Vision Zero Motion

Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Green has introduced a notice of motion to establish a Vision Zero-style commitment to road safety in Hamilton, particularly for people walking and cycling.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 19, 2016

Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Green has introduced a notice of motion to establish a Vision Zero-style commitment to road safety in Hamilton, particularly for people walking and cycling, who are among the city's most vulnerable road users.

Ghost bike on Claremont Access as a memorial to Jay Keddy, who was killed on December 2, 2015 (RTH file photo)
Ghost bike on Claremont Access as a memorial to Jay Keddy, who was killed on December 2, 2015 (RTH file photo)

The motion, if approved by Council, would call on the City to implement a "comprehensive plan to improve road safety" including a review of current city policies, a study of best practices and Vision Zero principles, enhanced analysis of traffic collision data, and a reporting system to track progress.

Deadly-by-Design Street System

Hamilton had 18 traffic fatalities last year, of whom eight were people on foot and one was a person riding a bike. The high rate of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities puts Hamilton sharply at odds with Provincial and National trends.

A 2013 report by the Social Planning and Research Council found that Hamilton is the second most dangerous city in Ontario for walking, with an injury risk 42 percent higher than the Provincial average. Hamilton's injury risk for cyclists is 81 percent higher than the Provincial average.

Hamilton's high pedestrian and cyclist casualty rate is a predictable result of the city's network of overbuilt thoroughfares with excess lane capacity and engineering for dangerously high speeds.

Those dangerous high speeds are reflected in mobile radar measurements showing speeds in excess of 90 km/h - even on local residential streets.

Just yesterday, Hamilton police caught a driver going 141 km/h on a residential street with a 40 km/h speed limit - an insane speed that would be physically impossible to achieve on a street that was designed for safety.

A recent spate of pedestrian collisions and fatalities, particularly late last year, has spurred a burgeoning community demand for Hamilton to take traffic safety more seriously and commit to principles that have dramatically reduced injury and fatality rates in other jurisdictions.

Senior citizens and children - the most vulnerable road users - are disproportionately represented among the pedestrian casualties on Hamilton streets.

Goal of Zero Traffic Fatalities

In 1997, Sweden adopted Vision Zero, a commitment to eliminating all traffic fatalities. Since then, the country has managed to reduce its traffic fatality fate from 7 per 100,000 to fewer than 3 per 100,000.

Vision Zero takes a novel approach to traffic safety. Instead of the standard behavioural approach of telling people to be more careful and attempting to enforce rules - sometimes referred to as the "train-and-blame" approach - Vision Zero starts by accepting that people are not perfect and will make mistakes.

From there, the goal becomes ensuring that when mistakes inevitably occur, they do not result in tragedy. As such, the primary limiting design guideline for streets becomes the capacity of the human body to survive trauma.

For example, it is well-established that in collisions where a vehicle moving at 30 km/h strikes a pedestrian, the fatality rate is 5 percent. At 48 km/h, the fatality rate increases to 45 percent, and at 64 km/h, the fatality rate is a staggering 85 percent.

Applying Vision Zero

A Vision Zero approach to street safety entails creating dedicated, protected space on the street for walking and cycling so that the most vulnerable road users are physically separated from the most dangerous objects on the street - moving vehicles.

Vehicle blocking unprotected Hunter Street bike lanes (RTH file photo)
Vehicle blocking unprotected Hunter Street bike lanes (RTH file photo)

Where different modes of transportation do have to come into contact, street design should maximize visibility and minimize conflict - like, for example, the Dutch approach to intersection design.

Dutch intersection design (Image credit: screen capture from YouTube video)
Dutch intersection design (Image credit: screen capture from YouTube video)

In Hamilton, most streets do not have bike lanes - the cyclist who was killed last year was riding on the Claremont Access, which has no cycling infrastructure - and most of the lanes we do have are just painted lines, not physically protected from vehicle traffic.

Worse, the city's bike lanes tend to disappear altogether through intersections, which is where various modes come into contact and the risk of collisions is highest.

An example is the intersection of York Boulevard and Dundurn Street, where there is no obvious way for a cyclist to turn from York onto Dundurn without merging into mixed vehicle traffic.

No obvious way to turn from York bike lane onto Dundurn bike lane (RTH file photo)
No obvious way to turn from York bike lane onto Dundurn bike lane (RTH file photo)

Strategic Road Safety Program

Presumably, this motion will also incorporate the City's Strategic Road Safety Program, which was re-established in 2014 with funding from the Red Light Camera program.

That program has a fairly modest but progressive mandate to adjust crosswalks for longer crossing times, add crosswalks and pedestrian crossovers (PXOs) at low-volume intersections, enhance crosswalks with ladder crossings, and review the city's existing speed limit policy (with a default unsigned speed of 50 km/h).

The Strategic Road Safety Program is an acknowledgement that the City needs to shift its thinking away from the status quo of maximizing vehicle speed and volume, and toward a more comprehensive model of safe, inclusive streets for everyone.

With John Mater, currently the Director of Transportation in the Public Works department, soon to succeed retiring Public Works General Manager Gerry Davis as acting GM, this may be an excellent opportunity to accelerate the culture change in Public Works that has been progressing far too slowly until now.

Text of the Motion

Following is the text of the motion.

City of Hamilton

Notice of Motion

Moved by Councillor: Matthew Green

City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services, in consultation with other City divisions, as appropriate, to report to the Public Works committee in coordination with the Transportation Master Plan, with a comprehensive plan to improve road safety, including but not limited to:

a) A review of best practice from comparable jurisdictions, including Vision Zero;

b) A review of existing City policies, strategies and guidelines that touch on road safety;

c) An enhanced analysis of City-wide traffic collision data;

d) Specific recommendations to improve road safety, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists, over the short, medium and long terms;

e) An implementation plan and funding strategy, as appropriate;

f) A regular reporting mechanism to track progress;

g) Continued consultation with the Hamilton Cycling Committee, HWDSB, HWDCSB, Hamilton Board of Public Health, Hamilton Police Services, Cycle Hamilton, and ACPD advisory Committee;

h) The creation of a Road Safety Task force to be led by Transportation Services.

Related:

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 KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 19, 2016 at 14:09:14

An excellent motion. I must write to Councillor Green to thank him. Of course, the devil is in the details. This can be implemented well, or not.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 19, 2016 at 14:47:17

This is a really important initiative: kudos to Councillor Green!

I'm especially impressed that the motion includes a lot of detail on what will be done, including an implementation plan with funding strategy and a report to track progress.

Previous initiatives (like signing the Pedestrian Charter) have not lead to results because of this lack of detail.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 19, 2016 at 15:59:19 in reply to Comment 116158

Except that the motion does not include an "implementation plan with funding strategy." That is up to the "General Manager, Transportation Services, in consultation with other City divisions, as appropriate."

As anyone who has ever seen the show "Yes, Minister" can attest, that is an opportunity for bureaucrats to undermine the intent of the motion. Of course, that would never actually happen in Hamilton...

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By RobF (registered) | Posted January 19, 2016 at 22:29:40 in reply to Comment 116161

Sir Humphrey: Bernard, if the right people don’t have power, do you know what happens? The wrong people get it: politicians, councillors, ordinary voters!

Bernard: But aren’t they supposed to, in a democracy?

Sir Humphrey: This is a British democracy, Bernard!

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted January 19, 2016 at 14:55:13

There is no "General Manager of Transportation Services"

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By Crusty (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2016 at 14:58:21 in reply to Comment 116159

I read it as "General Manager [and] Transportation Services"

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By another one (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2016 at 17:09:03

While it's nice to see, I feel sick to my stomach that we keep needing to study the obvious to death, only to have nothing actually done to improve the situation. How many more reports need to be written? The recommendations have been made a thousand times over, on this website alone. It's a waste of time to "enhance analysis" when we already know what needs to be done. I'm tired of this.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted January 19, 2016 at 23:07:17

A very important first step --

The impetus is on many people to bring it further in a sensible way that meets everybody's needs. Let's even at least be as aggressive as New York City is in finding ways to satisfy cars & bikes, while achieving #VisionZero.

As an example, take a look at this NYCDOT PDF (New York City Department Of Transportation) for their proposed bike improvements to a road in New York City (ironically, called "Amsterdam Avenue").

www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/2015-11-10-amsterdam-avenue-northbound-bike-route.pdf

And out of convenience, I've made a few page screenshots with commentaries:

Government nod to "Vision Zero", at bottom right corner: Imgur

Look Ma! This New York City road used to have less bike traffic than Hamilton Cannon Ave! Imgur

Sensible common principles, widely known from earlier Vision Zero initiatives over the last 20 years. Imgur

An example of how 1-way road can become nicer for bikes/pedestrians too, done in a way without drivers feeling too inconvenienced. Imgur

More data analysis... Imgur

More common-sense guidelines that worked in other Vision Zero initiatives... Separation is best. But intersections are an unavoidable shared space that needs to be properly managed. Imgur

Real world safety data improvements. Imgur

People,

These are government Vision Zero documents.

For New York City.

For one of their streets that had less bike traffic than Cannon (before 2014).

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted January 20, 2016 at 10:32:18 in reply to Comment 116168

Ooops, I see one of the images did not embed properly, so appending:

An example of how 1-way road can become nicer for bikes/pedestrians too, done in a way without drivers feeling too inconvenienced. Imgur

Obviously, I personally don't think it applies to Hamilton (keeping Main 1-way) due to the much lower density of Hamilton, given New York City swells to 3 million. I really think traffic engineering can sufficiently divert cars and not delay drivers (including me!!) too much, while also bringing the social/economic benefits of the upcoming LRT in a tamer corridor.

However, I say to point this out, even New York City's crossings on 1-way streets are much frlendlier than ours.

As a 2-way advocate myself, I am pragmatic here: It's a nod to an acknowledgement that 1-way streets can be improved, if it's the right street, in the right circumstances. A good 1-way design is often better than a botched-up 2-way street, but I really think Main/King should be more normal arterials and not urban expressways. And it is wholly possible that Main could be a staged generational conversion project, which might, possibly include a friendlier 1-way option as an interim step, as one of the possible many scenarios I acknowledge could in theory happen...

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-01-20 10:39:08

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By Notice (anonymous) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 07:40:03 in reply to Comment 116168

Notice all the one way streets. Can you imagine Manhattan without one way streets.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 09:53:11 in reply to Comment 116169

Could you imagine Times Square without cars at all? Cities change, we can too.

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By no cars (anonymous) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 11:26:14 in reply to Comment 116171

No I really cant imagine that, seriously can you?

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted January 20, 2016 at 15:47:57 in reply to Comment 116179

A large part of Times square went permanently car-free a few years ago.

Imgur

Imgur

So, yes, hell froze over in New York City.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2016 at 15:13:40 in reply to Comment 116191

And this might happen to King Street in Toronto, sooner than we think.

Toronto Star: Plan in the works to redesign King Street — and quickly: Keenan

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted February 25, 2016 at 21:05:06 in reply to Comment 116631

I think Keesmaat is a real treasure for Toronto. It was a shame that mayor Tory wouldn't implement her vision for the Gardiner. Again, re-enforces the idea that politicians should be required to leave the planning to the professionals.

I also like the idea of alternating one ways to prevent cut through traffic. That could work all the way down Locke and Queen with Homewood / Stanley / Herkimer / Charlton alternating.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2016-02-25 21:08:47

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 11:32:10 in reply to Comment 116179

Well you don't have to imagine it - it's a reality. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/11...

Times square permanently closed to traffic.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2016-01-20 11:34:06

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 20, 2016 at 12:53:31 in reply to Comment 116181

Every city has its "that-can't-possibly-work" brigade, but successful cities don't allow the no-nothings, naysayers and squelchers to control the agenda.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 16:49:51 in reply to Comment 116186

successful cities don't have those folks running city hall either.... we're a loooong way behind, with barely any movement.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 09:32:39 in reply to Comment 116169

the island of Manhattan is home to 1.5 million people. Every work day that number swells to over 3 million due to in-commuting. All this on a sliver of land, 3.5km wide at it's widest point.

How is this relevant to Hamilton??

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 10:05:18 in reply to Comment 116170

Are you suggesting that a city such as Utrecht may be a more appropriate benchmark? See:

https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2014/...

and

https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2015/...

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 16:50:59 in reply to Comment 116173

absolutely. Smaller, human-scaled and walkable. All things Hamilton could be if we chose to end our love affair with hundreds of needless deaths every decade.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 10:01:04

This is not exactly on point but I love the statistics aspect of this. Today in the Go section of the Spec was story that show that the long term studies now in prove that at home midwife assisted birthing more than doubles the mortality rate of newborns. my suspicion as to why this is not a front page story is that it is because the number is up by 2/100,000. In other words, you can say that the death rate is double, but is remains very small. Similarly in Hamilton, if you halved the death ate of cyclists and pedestrians spending millions of dollars to do so, you might save 4 lives per year - or less than 1/100,000. If it went to zero it would be 8. or about .75.

I say reduce the speed limit in some areas, increase it in others and use photo radar with points (like in the UK.) People will slow down and pay attention when you put their licenses at risk. Continue to make reasonable accommodation for bicycle traffic.

I am all for zero death. But at what expense? And can we really get there? And not to be too cheeky, as per @JasonL in a comment above, what does Manhattan or Sweden have to do with Hamilton?

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2016-01-20 10:01:53

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 20, 2016 at 12:51:05 in reply to Comment 116172

From this interview with a Swedish traffic safety specialist:

I would say that the main problems that we had in the beginning were not really political, they were more on the expert side. The largest resistance we got to the idea about Vision Zero was from those political economists that have built their whole career on cost-benefit analysis. For them it is very difficult to buy into “zero.” Because in their economic models, you have costs and benefits, and although they might not say it explicitly, the idea is that there is an optimum number of fatalities. A price that you have to pay for transport.

The problem is the whole transport sector is quite influenced by the whole utilitarianist mindset. Now we’re bringing in the idea that it’s not acceptable to be killed or seriously injured when you’re transporting. It’s more a civil-rights thing that you bring into the policy.

It continues:

The other group that had trouble with Vision Zero was our friends, our expert friends. Because most of the people in the safety community had invested in the idea that safety work is about changing human behaviour. Vision Zero says instead that people make mistakes, they have a certain tolerance for external violence, let’s create a system for the humans instead of trying to adjust the humans to the system.

The good news is that the cost to do this is actually quite reasonable. Generally speaking, a complete-street design costs approximately the same amount to build as a standard car-dominated street design. However, the lifecycle costs for a complete street go down because vehicle traffic volumes are reduced and the decreased wear-and-tear extends the life of the road.

Meanwhile, complete streets are more appealing and attractive than car-dominated streets, so property values on the street go up, which increases the city's property tax revenue. Likewise, development is shaped more efficiently, reducing the pressure to expand the urban boundary and concentrating economic activity to increase the essential urban economies.

And that is without even considering the huge savings that come with preventing death and serious injury, let alone the reduction in sheer human misery (for all concerned).

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 17:23:06 in reply to Comment 116185

The point about the implicit "optimal number of deaths and injuries" is very important. Sometimes journalists even make this explicit, claiming that traffic deaths and injuries are the inevitable and acceptable price we pay for the (undeniable) benefits of mobility.

Strangely, street design seems to be the last bastion of this way of thinking.

No one would say: "Mining deaths are the inevitable price we pay for a modern economy. There is no point aiming for zero." Or, "Bridges will sometimes collapse ... it would be prohibitively expensive to engineer bridges so they never fall down." Or "People have always died from food poisoning and they always will. It would just be too expensive to try to reduce the number of food poisoning deaths. Besides, they are already much lower than they were 200 years ago."

In each of these cases we already have a de facto vision zero policy (for workplace deaths, integrity of bridges and food safety).

There is no reason that our streets can't be made as safe as other infrastructure or machines or the food we eat.

And focusing on deaths is far too narrow. For each traffic death, there are about 100 injuries (often serious). And, as others have pointed out, complete streets have all sorts of other benefits including higher property values and greater economic activity.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-01-20 17:30:43

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted January 20, 2016 at 17:39:01 in reply to Comment 116196

I was impressed that the very same NYC DOT Vision Zero PDF also analyzed injuries AND deaths by location, in a very sensible analysis, to find injury hotspots.

Imgur

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-01-20 17:39:36

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted January 20, 2016 at 11:27:35 in reply to Comment 116172

I agree on last sentence, agreed we are not "Manhattan" but NYCDOT Vision Zero design principles are worth a great study. There are quite a whole lot of principles really applicable to Hamilton.

Like "reduced crosswalk distances", "new trees", "neighborhood scale design", "off-peak traffic calming" (in this slide)

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 16:52:31 in reply to Comment 116180

I agree that we can, and should learn from the best practices in every city. The "we're not Hamilton" comment was referring to the need for huge 1-way streets everywhere. We're 500,000 people, not 3.1 million.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 11:47:07 in reply to Comment 116180

I don't agree with the last sentence. I see this kind of comment frequently and it makes no sense to me. What does 'have to do with' really mean anyway? That's like responding with 'Whatever'.

Other cities are cities just like Hamilton is a city. They have roads and people just like Hamilton. Some of them have implemented different urban design ideas that maybe a city like Hamilton could adopt or adopt and modify. Why can't we look at examples from other cities to see what may or may not work for us?

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted January 20, 2016 at 11:58:48 in reply to Comment 116182

And I agree with you on that, too.

Anyway, agree/disagree on last sentence is definitely a matter of interpretation -- if it's a "Whatever" tone then I disagree with that spirit -- but I chose to ignore the "whatever" aspect and merely interpret it literally on a GPS coordinates basis ;-)

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 11:51:59 in reply to Comment 116182

I agree with you. That is why is was a cheeky comment. We should all look around to see what other people are doing.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted January 20, 2016 at 10:53:18 in reply to Comment 116172

I think you also have to factor in the improvement in quality of life for everyone and the attraction that 'complete street' upgrades have to investment. Spending the millions of dollars is not only applied towards saving a few lives. It also improves the environment for everyone in the city and encourages businesses and consumers to invest in urban areas.

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By stone (registered) | Posted January 21, 2016 at 02:59:03

There is no reason there should be any "stroads" west of Ottawa Street. Obviously there will still be cars on the road but neighbourhoods should be for the people that live there, not the people that want to drive through them at 90km hour.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 21, 2016 at 14:54:14 in reply to Comment 116202

exactly. De-amalgamation could help us accomplish this.

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By How? (anonymous) | Posted January 24, 2016 at 21:50:30 in reply to Comment 116205

Please explain how de-amalgamation would help accomplish this.

PS - it won't ever happen, so don't waste time thinking about it. :-)

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