Special Report: Walkable Streets

Hamilton Has a Dangerous Speeding Problem, Not a Congestion Problem

It is not a coincidence that we have among the lowest levels of traffic congestion and among the highest rates of injury risk for people walking and riding bikes.

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 24, 2016

Mapping company TomTom recently released their fifth annual Worldwide Traffic Index, in which they measure traffic congestion in cities by evaluate the travel speed of TomTom devices on city steets at various times compared to the speed of travel when there is no congestion. As you can see from the following table, the report finds that Hamilton has the second-lowest traffic congestion among Canadian cities.

TomTom 2016 Canada Traffic Index
Rank City Overall Congestion Level AM Peak PM Peak
1 Vancouver 34% 50% 65%
2 Toronto 28% 48% 60%
3 Montreal 26% 47% 57%
4 Ottawa 26% 43% 58%
5 Halifax 26% 47% 55%
6 Winnipeg 22% 31% 45%
7 Edmonton 21% 30% 40%
8 Quebec 21% 35% 53%
9 Calgary 19% 28% 39%
10 London 18% 24% 32%
11 Hamilton 16% 27% 36%
12 Kitchener-Waterloo 16% 24% 30%

This is consistent with what we have been arguing for years at Raise the Hammer, which is that Hamilton streets are seriously overbuilt for the low traffic volumes they experience.

The biggest problem we face on Hamilton's street network is not traffic congestion but dangerous speeding. It is not a coincidence that we have among the lowest levels of traffic congestion and among the highest rates of injury risk for people walking and riding bikes.

The report also directly confronts the ridiculous arguments of lane-capacity apologists who claim that Hamilton has some kind of "gridlock" problem and we can't possibly spare any roadway capacity to provide more dedicated space for walking, cycling and transit use.

Garth Street during evening rush hour (RTH file photo)
Garth Street during evening rush hour (RTH file photo)

Queen Street South during evening rush hour (RTH file photo)
Queen Street South during evening rush hour (RTH file photo)

Claremont Access during evening rush hour (RTH file photo)
Claremont Access during evening rush hour (RTH file photo)

Actual gridlock at Bloor and University, Toronto, during evening rush hour (RTH file photo)
Actual gridlock at Bloor and University, Toronto, during evening rush hour (RTH file photo)

The fact is that rebalancing the transportation system is proven in a wide variety of contexts to shift some trips away from driving and make more effective use of scarce, expensive public right-of-way.

Quite simply, the City of Hamilton can't afford to maintain its vast network of high-capacity streets. We are already siting on $2 billion in unfunded infrastructure maintenance deficit, a number that grows every year.

Meanwhile, we are spending tens of millions of dollars this year to build still more roads that will only add to the city's long-term lifecycle debt obligations.

Ironically, TomTom has some interesting advice for cities that want to deal with gridlock:

We should not expect our transport authorities to simply 'build away' congestion. Studies have shown over the years that building new motorways or freeways does not eliminate congestion.

At TomTom, we're excited about the paradigm shift that we're seeing reflected by many governments' attitudes to transforming our cities globally. They're managing congestion with clever, sustainable policies - such as better public transport infrastructure, investment in cycling and walking initiatives, and ambitious policies pointing to the future of automated driving.

Will that paradigm shift ever really take hold here in Hamilton? Or will we continue to waste year after year on the unaffordable status quo, endlessly delaying already-approved changes to the transportation system out of fear that someone will howl "gridlock" when they have to stop at a red light?

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 CharlesBall (registered) | Posted March 24, 2016 at 13:15:46

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Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2016-03-24 13:38:17

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By rgelder@cogeco.ca (registered) - website | Posted March 27, 2016 at 14:07:38 in reply to Comment 117218

But you're cool with the whole streets being designed for speed, making the city unwalkable and unbikeable thing? Are the main streets of the inner-city there for the convenience of those passing through or for the liveability of the neighbourhoods that exist there?

Comment edited by rgelder@cogeco.ca on 2016-03-27 14:09:10

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By son of Tonr (anonymous) | Posted March 26, 2016 at 18:41:14 in reply to Comment 117218

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By Goosegander (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2016 at 10:20:43 in reply to Comment 117218

You guys black out a repost of something not otherwise blacked out elsewhere. Hypocrites!

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By jorvay (registered) | Posted March 24, 2016 at 14:36:42 in reply to Comment 117218

TLDR: "This study that says Hamilton has low rates of traffic congestion can't be trusted because of the source. Also I like Hamilton because of the obvious lack of traffic congestion."

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 24, 2016 at 13:51:41 in reply to Comment 117218

Our lack of congestion is due to overbuilt roads and an under-performing economy which is a problem. We can't afford to keep it that way just so pass-through drivers can continue to drive at dangerous speeds.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 24, 2016 at 13:58:36 in reply to Comment 117221

Another consequence is our $2 billion-and-counting infrastructure maintenance deficit. We literally can't afford to maintain our overbuilt, low-congestion road network.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted March 24, 2016 at 13:38:18

Walking home at 6 pm yesterday I was amazed by the fact that despite the freezing rain, drivers were doing the usual speed with no discernible reduction (60+ on Aberdeen). So a question to these drivers, if the pedestrians can barely stay on the sidewalk because it's slushy ice, how much responsibility do you take for their safety? Did you make any attempt not to hit the big puddles and soak them? What if they were your kids? It's in your hands alone. Nothing the pedestrian can do could avoid you if you lose control in those conditions, which is let's say 100 times more likely than on dry pavement if you don't slow down.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 27, 2016 at 10:08:01 in reply to Comment 117220

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By son of Toronto (anonymous) | Posted March 26, 2016 at 18:44:20 in reply to Comment 117220

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted March 26, 2016 at 19:08:13 in reply to Comment 117270

You must be new to Hamilton

Comment edited by Cultosaurus on 2016-03-26 19:08:25

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By resident (anonymous) | Posted March 26, 2016 at 19:22:17 in reply to Comment 117271

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 24, 2016 at 16:14:25

Someone at Westcliffe Mall said this article is hogwash. Therefore, it must be....

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 24, 2016 at 18:30:05 in reply to Comment 117226

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 24, 2016 at 23:06:39 in reply to Comment 117229

2nd most dangerous streets in Ontario.....

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 27, 2016 at 10:23:00 in reply to Comment 117239

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2016 at 11:12:09

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 25, 2016 at 21:06:37 in reply to Comment 117245

Drive King St over the 403 into Westdale and decide whether everyone doing 70-80km is doing so out of 'defiance' or if it's very easy to accidentally drive at those speeds comfortably before realizing how fast one is going.

Ditto for the elevated portion of Burlington St east of Ottawa St Or anywhere on Main St......

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By rgelder@cogeco.ca (registered) - website | Posted March 27, 2016 at 14:12:26 in reply to Comment 117257

And that's exactly the problem. The streets are designed for speed and convenience. I don't think anyone is suggesting that drivers are defiant. The flaws are in the design, that is what is making streets dangerous for the pedestrians and cyclists and people who simply just want to live in those neighbourhoods.

Comment edited by rgelder@cogeco.ca on 2016-03-27 14:15:04

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 26, 2016 at 06:37:13 in reply to Comment 117257

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Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2016-03-26 06:38:32

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By No hyperbole please (anonymous) | Posted March 26, 2016 at 06:25:26 in reply to Comment 117257

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted March 26, 2016 at 06:15:28 in reply to Comment 117257

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By bill n (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2016 at 20:32:21 in reply to Comment 117245

Have you driven on the QEW or 400 series highway? 90+% of drivers are exceeding the posted limit by 20 kilometres per hour. Why? Because the roads are engineered to feel safe at those speeds.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 26, 2016 at 06:55:04 in reply to Comment 117256

sorry Bill, Westcliffe Mal has spoken. It has nothing to do with design. I regularly drive 120km through Hess Village

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By mountain66 (registered) | Posted March 28, 2016 at 09:21:13 in reply to Comment 117263

I thought the practice of divisive politics went out with Harper. Comparing 400 series highways to city streets is really 2 separate issues. Most of the 400 series highways were designed with speed limits of 70 MPH, they were lowered in the '70s during the Oil crisis to save fuel, not for safety reasons. The speed limit in town was converted from 30 MPH to 50 KPH. You can find numerous studies that endorse raising the limit to 120 KPH, which is slightly faster than 70 MPH. You will never find a study that recommends raising the in town limit.CBC marketplace recently featured the issue and showed that BC has already gone that route as well as a number of US states.Keep in mind most cars in the '70s had non-powered drum brakes and skinny nylon tires, compare that to a car today with 4 wheel disc brakes, radial tires and ABS. While on vacation in Italy I drove many kilometres on their Autostrada system with a speed limit of 130 KPH, it is enforced with photo radar that is clearly visible with warning signs starting 1000 metres away, not like the sneaky radar we have here. I seldom saw cars going over 130 KMH and if I did they usually had German plate symbols. There is also a very stiff fine for passing on the right and the left lane was usually clear. They also lowered the limit to 90 KPH in the rain and overhead signs warned of the change with universal symbols that made it obvious in any language.

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By billn (registered) | Posted March 28, 2016 at 15:01:14 in reply to Comment 117302

No divisive politics intended. I was simply responding to Jim's claim that the vast majority of motorists obey the rules. If you would rather have a "city streets" example, post yourself near any urban stop sign and observe the ratio of full stops to rolling stops. Or station yourself by the digital speed readouts near McMaster and note the speed of traffic as it comes up the hill from Dundas. I contend that the majority of motorists will disobey the rules if they feel comfortable doing it. No realistic amount of enforcement will change driver behaviour as effectively as good design.

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By mountain66 (registered) | Posted March 28, 2016 at 16:14:55 in reply to Comment 117315

I wouldn't have to go to Dundas , I'd just have to walk out to Upper James & watch the cars coming off the Claremont,into a 50 KPH zone with a school crossing a block away. I have watched the speed signs coming off the Kenilworth access & they appear to work there. Kingston seems to have done an effective job with their downtown (you can street view 120 Princess Street in Kingston to see). As for stop signs, I totally agree & I have been honked at & gotten the finger more than once for coming to a complete stop. I don't know the solution to that because if you do station a police officer drivers would behave until they were gone. That was another funny rule in Some cities in Italy, bicycles & scooters under a cc limit could legally treat stop signs and red lights like yields.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 28, 2016 at 13:25:49 in reply to Comment 117302

It would make a of sense to increase the speed limit on 400-series highways to 120 or 130 and enforce it strictly (i.e. at 5km/h over). Lower the speed to 110km/h in rain as in France. Currently, everyone knows the "real" speed limit is something between 120 and 130 and average speeds are close to 120 km/h (has anyone been pulled over for doing 110km/h?) and some people think it is much faster. Even the police drive well over the posted 100 km/h limit.

These highways exclude cyclists and pedestrians, are controlled access and are engineered for high speeds. And separate opposite direction lanes.

This notional 100km/h speed limit that everyone ignores brings speed limits as a whole into disrespect which is terrible for urban areas which have a mix of vulnerable road users (cyclists and pedestrians) and where there are many possibilities for conflict. Unfortunately, some of these urban streets have been designed for high speeds (for motorists) but this just makes them dangerous for pedestrians.

On the other hand, the default speed in urban areas should be 30km/h (as is the case in downtown Toronto) with higher speeds (say 40km/h) only on arterial streets with buffers between pedestrians and traffic (not just a 1.5m sidewalk next to traffic as parts of Main Street downtown).

Given all the stops and starts in urban areas (and congestion), combined with shorter trips, a decrease of 50 km/h to 30 km/h wouldn't make a huge difference in total trip time in most cases.

I agree that passing on the right should be prohibited (and driving in the left lane when there is space in the right lane) should be prohibited.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted March 28, 2016 at 13:02:55 in reply to Comment 117302

Big fan of the keep right. Just got back from France. I think it is a sin there to drive in the left lane unless you are passing.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 27, 2016 at 10:09:32 in reply to Comment 117263

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Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2016-03-27 10:09:52

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 26, 2016 at 06:44:15 in reply to Comment 117256

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By Mark smith (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2016 at 13:51:13

Cut all lane capacity in half and insert protected bike lanes. Less maintenance and slower apeeds.

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By son of toronto (anonymous) | Posted March 26, 2016 at 17:03:33

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 26, 2016 at 21:33:20 in reply to Comment 117268

Municipal road maintenance is mainly funded out of the property tax base, which everyone pays regardless of how they choose to get around.

But road maintenance is mainly caused by wear-and-tear, and the wear-and-tear that causes road damage is a geometric function of vehicle mass. That is to say, a vehicle with 2 times the mass of a lighter vehicle causes around4 times the damage, and a vehicle with 4 times the mass causes around 16 times the damage, and so on.

My mountain bike weighs around 16 kg and my car weighs around 1,225 kg, so every time I ride a bike instead of driving, I'm actually helping to extend the life of the road.

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted March 27, 2016 at 05:21:05 in reply to Comment 117273

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By Robvious (anonymous) | Posted March 27, 2016 at 02:46:06

With that logic...damn those bus riders that are in heavy vehicles that are causing so much damage to our roads.

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By Logic Much? (anonymous) | Posted March 27, 2016 at 09:36:29 in reply to Comment 117274

You do know you need to divide by the number of people being moved right?

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted March 27, 2016 at 13:37:40 in reply to Comment 117279

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By Glend1967 (registered) | Posted March 27, 2016 at 13:42:53 in reply to Comment 117286

Too small a sample.Try yearly.Picture the King bus morning rush times 365

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By ryanssockpuppet (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2016 at 08:15:44 in reply to Comment 117287

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By Glend1967 (registered) | Posted March 28, 2016 at 08:38:23 in reply to Comment 117298

Umm..I mentioned the yearly sample...He said between 3 and seven..?? And Ive been around here.

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By On Board but Have to Say... (anonymous) | Posted March 27, 2016 at 17:39:24

While I am certainly on board with the contention that Hamilton roads are overbuilt, I think choosing the TomTom report and their index is poor choice of lede. The well-regarded City Observatory blog points out the flaws in the methodology of TomTom's index (though they do so in pointing out how the report may serve as a form of fear-mongering).

cityobservatory.org/tomtom/

There is better data out there - let's not use flawed sources, or let us at least qualify its flaws. Otherwise, a lede such as the one in this article only gives detractors more ammunition.

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