Special Report: Walkable Streets

So How's That Enforcement Working For You?

When policy goes up against human nature, policy loses every time. Successful policies work because they are designed to accommodate what people are going to do anyway.

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 14, 2009

The city has launched a road safety campaign in conjunction with Hamilton police, the public works department's traffic office, the public health department, fire department, and Ontario Ministry of Transportation to try and reduce the city's annual carnage of traffic deaths and injuries.

Their campaign entails a two-pronged approach combining education and enforcement in 'problem areas', including a pedestrian safety blitz targeting jaywalkers, who, as traffic manager Hart Solomon points out, are vulnerable road users.

Setting aside the disturbing notion that pedestrians are a 'problem area' in traffic safety, this approach is entirely reasonable, at least from a law enforcement perspective. There's just one problem: it doesn't work.

Moral Suasion and Enforcement Don't Work

In general, people with a given objective are going to pursue it as directly as they can, and they will act wherever possible to circumvent arbitrary barriers to progress.

People will interpret arbitrary obstacles as damage and route around them (Image Credit: Failblog)
People will interpret arbitrary obstacles as damage and route around them (Image Credit: Failblog)

This is why, for example, Digital Rights Management (DRM) for music files is such an abject failure. People want music that isn't locked down and restricted, and if the music industry is too myopic to sell them what they want, they will go elsewhere - even into the legally murky waters of filesharing services - to get it.

It's why parks and campus green spaces often feature informal paths worn into the grass that stubbornly refuse to follow the official walkways. Smart park planners wait to see where the prevailing traffic flows before deciding where to place their paths.

It's also why pedestrians jaywalk. When you're walking, you will take the most direct path to where you're going. No one in their right mind would walk any distance out of their way just to use an arbitrary signalized intersection when the calculated risk of real-world Frogger is right in front of you.

(Yet the city persists in putting up signs at non-signalized intersections instructing people to walk 400 metres out of their way in a return trip to the nearest traffic light. The mind boggles.)

It further explains why motorists persist in racing down wide, straight, multi-lane thoroughfares with timed lights despite legal speed limits.

When policy goes up against human nature, policy loses every time. Successful policies work because they are designed to accommodate what people are going to do anyway. Think of the smart park planners who put pathways where people already walk.

Change the Balance of Incentives and Disincentives

If you want to encourage different behaviour, you can't just insist that people stop acting in a manner that seems reasonable for them. Instead, you need to change the balance of incentives and disincentives in which people make choices.

If you want motorists to drive more slowly, a better option is to make it physically and psychologically more difficult to drive quickly. The following structural changes are effective at slowing traffic:

This produces several mutually reinforcing effects simultaneously, chiefly by reducing the average speed of traffic flows:

  1. Due to the exponential correlation between vehicle speed and risk of pedestrian death in a collision, lower vehicle speeds dramatically reduce the risk of death and serious injury when collisions do happen.
  2. Because the stopping distance of a vehicle is proportionate to the square of its speed, lower speeds also mean that drivers are much less likely to hit pedestrians in the first place.
  3. Because the street is safer and friendlier for pedestrians, there will be many more of them, which will benefit local businesses and normalize, for drivers, the idea that you have to watch out for pedestrians.
  4. Because it is less convenient to drive, people will drive shorter distances and less frequently, choosing instead to combine trips, source goods more locally, or use other means of transportation - including walking, cycling and transit.
  5. That, in turn, will also improve local business, which will attract still more pedestrians, which will further dis-incentivize driving, and so on in a virtuous circle of livability.

Decriminalize Walking

Here's a dangerous, irresponsible idea: if we changed our streets so they were no longer thoroughfares, we could simply throw out our jaywalking laws.

This recalls the article I referenced in a recent blog post about how to make cities more pedestrian- and cycling-friendly:

[Pedaling Revolution author Jeff] Mapes takes us to even more pedal-friendly cities. In Amsterdam, 40 percent of non-walking trips are by bike. He quotes, approvingly, Jack Wolters, the city's top traffic-safety officer: "The target of the police is not to control cyclists and pedestrians. It is to control the most dangerous part, motorcar drivers. [emphasis added]"

Can you imagine if pedestrians, and not motorists, had a right of way by default?

Why not? If we truly want, as we claim, to get people out of their cars and to start walking, cycling and using transit more, we need to stop building our physical and legal infrastructure to encourage what we claim to oppose and to discourage what we claim to support.

People will walk more if it's easier, more convenient, and more enjoyable to walk. As long as both street design and law conspire to punish those pedestrians who dare to take advantage of the chief advantage of walking - the ability to follow one's own direct, unregulated path to a given destination - they will continue to discourage people from walking.

Shared Space and Negotiation

If we follow this reasoning courageously enough, we eventually cross paths with Hans Monderman, the Dutch traffic engineer who bucked the trend of his profession and threw out the standard package of self-fulfilling assumptions on how streets work.

Monderman, who died last year, leaves a tremendous legacy in his shared space approach to traffic safety - a concept for which I fear Hamilton's top-down, enforcement-oriented politicians and planners are utterly unprepared.

Unlike most traffic engineers and planners, whose response to the discovery that regulatory controls don't work is to impose more such controls, Monderman concluded that streets work best when the controls are stripped away and people using the street in various capacities are left to negotiate with each other to arrange passage.

Every fibre of my being screams that this is a disastrous idea - that Hamilton motorists will "negotiate" by mowing down any pedestrian foolish enough to step in their way. This, I'm given to understand, is a common reaction when people are exposed to Monderman's ideas.

Just as it's reasonable to conclude that the solution to dangerous streets is more enforcement, it's likewise reasonable to conclude that taking away rules will make streets more dangerous.

Again, the only problem with this perfectly reasonable conclusion is that it's wrong.

In cities that adopt Monderman's shared streets model - and cities across Europe have been doing this for several years - what inevitably happens is that rates of traffic collisions, injuries and deaths drop precipitously.

It actually gets weirder. Not only do collision and death rates collapse, but also overall road capacity actually increases and traffic jams all but disappear, even as the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists explode.

As Ben Hamilton-Baillie, Britain's main proponent of shared space, puts it:

This approach draws on behavioural psychology involving the way drivers respond to their surroundings. It removes the sense of security provided by barriers - such as curbs, and traffic lights. Instead of relying on the street system for security, drivers are forced to use their reactions.

The result is slow, cautious drivers making eye contact with unpredictable-by-design pedestrians and cyclists, negotiating rights of passage down the street, and proceeding carefully with a heightened awareness of other street users.

Lest you think the kind of exceptionalism that says this couldn't possibly work here only obtains here in the Hammer, Hamilton-Baillie has to answer the exact same argument due to Britain's notorious "aggressive drivers".

To this he responds, "There is a clear link between people's surroundings and their behaviour. If people are in an unpleasant environment, they will behave badly."

The reverse is true: in a pleasant, mutually respectful environment, people behave well.

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. 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.


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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 14, 2009 at 13:04:00

In my opinion the best ways to slow down traffic (aside from the obvious desynchronization) is to narrow the lanes and have curb parking. People get nervous when things are closer to their cars as can be seen by someone driving down a street with parked cars. They're invariably a few feet away from the nearest car and are really hestitant to move closer.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 14, 2009 at 13:12:51

As far as Monderman's approach, it might work if it were staged in but attitudes of motorists won't change overnight. I'd assume that the cities who have done that weren't using our current model of streetscaping and design (or lack thereof). They were probably narrower and slower to begin with or where drivers were already to conditioned to look out for others using the roadspace.

There was a great article about cycling in the St. Catharines Standard and I was able to find it online here:


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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted May 14, 2009 at 13:19:03

Great picture, that shows better than any arguement how hopeless it is to stop people from doing things they really want to do and there's no good reason why they shouldn't be allowed.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted May 14, 2009 at 13:25:25

"it might work if it were staged in but attitudes of motorists won't change overnight." --Frank, above

Absolutely-- the one-way urban highways would have to disappear first.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted May 14, 2009 at 14:06:40

"this approach is entirely reasonable, at least from a law enforcement perspective" But this isn't a law enforcement problem! It's like I heard about lowering the speed limit on Cootes, people said, "Students just shouldn't cross there, it's there own fault if they get nailed", never mind that if THAT many students are all crossing in the same place, it just might be a good place to put a crossing. But no, alot of people would rather give them tickets for jaywalking and leave the road design BROKEN.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2009 at 14:33:11


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By z jones (registered) | Posted May 14, 2009 at 14:47:17

Hey, an A Smith comment I can happily upvote. ;) That video really must be seen to be believed.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 14, 2009 at 15:37:02

Nice video, A Smith. Against the inevitable complaints that this could only work in a developing country, here are some examples of shared space in European towns and cities:

Shared Space:

in Drachten Intersection http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q47umjW7G...

in Makkinga http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SaLhbbtm...

in Bohmte http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIvtJ3D_w...

in Haren http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plgcFjCJJ...

in Opeinde http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuchvIyNf...

in Donkerbroek http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYSMZhbLn...

in Oosterwolde http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2amDl1Hkl...

in Nijega http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hB7myB8TZ...

in London http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqGWz_laf...

Bonus - Jaywalking restrictions don't work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqAMV_suf...

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted May 14, 2009 at 16:15:09

"Students just shouldn't cross there, it's there own fault if they get nailed", never mind that if THAT many students are all crossing in the same place, it just might be a good place to put a crossing. -- no brainer (above) When I was a student at u of t (ahem, 23 years ago), crowds of us always took our lives in our hands crossing Queen's Park circle over to Hart House-- no crosswalk or lights there. It was the most direct route to get from Vic and ST. Mike's campuses over to some of the buildings on St. George, and we only had 10 minutes b/n classes. We used to get told off regularly for it, too. Last I saw, there wasn't any formal way set up for students to cross there, but they may have improved traffic control using the lights that precede that spot at Harbord-- anybody know if that's the case, or are they still just complaining about the youngsters?

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By Ahem (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2009 at 17:41:56

Jail time for jay-walking is a little over the top. Community service might be enough, or maybe, when a jay walker is run over mid-block, if he or she would apologise to the driver...

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2009 at 00:09:58

I really believe that asking pedestrians to follow the rules of the road is the least we should do. We ticket drivers for not wearing seatbelts for their own good we should ticket jaywalkers for their own good.

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By Cmonn (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2009 at 07:44:34

Mr Meister clearly only responds with what he believes will receive negative reactions in each and every article/blog.

To be honest, though, I can't remember the last time I saw ANYONE being pulled over along Main St for speeding (or not wearing a seatbelt). I'm at Main & John every day waiting for the B-Line, and constantly see cars flying by at maybe 70km/h!
a) They're stupid b/c they're just going to get stuck at the next light (timed for 55km/h traffic) making the enraged driver all the more enraged!
b) They're just going to drive FASTER to 'make' the next light.

So if the Cops start going around ticketing Pedestrians for j-walking, they BEST be stepping up their speed-enforcement efforts along our downtown streets, too!

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted May 15, 2009 at 08:25:11

@Mr Meister - maybe we should declare a War On Jaywalking. Appoint a Jaywalking Czar, set mandatory minimum sentences, get some federal funding to allocate more police resources to enforce Jaywalking laws, and fill those prisons with convicted Jaywalkers. After all, it's for our own protection.

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By That'll Work (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2009 at 08:33:39

"I really believe that asking pedestrians to follow the rules of the road is the least we should do" Enforcement doesn't work. Let's do more of it!!

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted May 15, 2009 at 10:33:14

We should start a critical mass pedestrian day, where everybody comes out - on foot - and jaywalks! Taking back the streets!

I jaywalk all the time. It's such a ridiculous 'Canadian' law (I don't know of any jaywalking laws in Europe). I jaywalk with my kids in tow as well. Like most pedestrians and cyclists I assess the risk before I do my frogger moves. Most intersections where I jaywalk are clear in both directions with good visibility. There is something quite ridiculous about standing at an empty interesection with no cars for miles around waiting for the lights to change. You can't turn peoplke into robots. As you say in the article Ry, people will do what feels natural to them.

OK, I'm off jaywalking - who's coming?!

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By Do It! (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2009 at 10:50:03

We might as well join in together and block Main Street in a j-walking demonstrational extravaganza!

We wont get arrested -- and if we do, we have the Tamils blocking the Gardiner as a defence.

All we'll do is piss off a lot of Non-Downtown residents who don't know how to manoever through the inner-city, unless it's by Main Street.

Let's do it... seriously! Put a RaiseTheHammer event together, make a Facebook Group, get thousands of Urbanists (from Hamilton and beyond) together, and peacefully j-walk Main Street, criss-crossing from Dundurn to Wellington!

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By Citizen's Action, A great idea (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2009 at 11:31:56

By do it: What a great idea. Actions speak louder then words.

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By volterwd (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2009 at 22:13:37

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By volterwd (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2009 at 22:15:17

Oh, and I want a subway or rapid transit before people start fucking up the path from my area (gage/main) to Mac. If you slow down the time for cars you do the same for buses.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2009 at 10:07:31

How's this for an unreasonable response to a pedestrian infraction: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/s...

--in Montreal, of all places.

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted May 16, 2009 at 19:39:45

My mother returned recently from a trip to Calgary to visit my brother and his family. She is disabled, lives on the East Mountain and uses a walker. During a walk together today we noticed (not for the first time) the myriad of pedestrian hazards along Upper Gage Ave as noted in the article. She also noted that in Calgary motorists almost exclusively stopped and allowed her to cross without signage instructing them to do so.

Specifically dangerous in Hamilton throughout the mountain is access to the LINC. Exits to the parkway have yield signs followed by traffic buttons followed by highly dangerous entrances to the LINC. The relief of the roadway allows no pedestrian vision to oncoming traffic which has the right of way. Three crossings for pedestrians in three different fashions twice is what is required to cross the LINC overpasses! First you yield, then you press a button and then RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! Repeat the process at the other end of the over-pass. Which ironically given the high density of seniors and people with disabilities in the area, let alone perfectly able pedestrians, just screams for you to jay-walk or not observe the posted signs.

Or, you know, get hit by a car.

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By gullchasedship (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2009 at 16:58:33

I've spent the past week in Birmingham, England. Generally the drivers here have the right of way and ignore pedestrians. We've learned to rely on signals to control the drivers.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2009 at 18:17:52

Actually I tend to post on the silliest most inane themes because the lack of common sense drives me nuts.

I really do not understand your point of view. Why would you want to increase your risk of getting hit by a car? I was hit by a car when I was a child and I can affirm that it is not in anyway shape or form a good thing. I do most everything I can to improve the chances of getting where ever I am going safe and sound whether that is by air, road, rail or walking. Why would anybody advocate increasing the chances of getting seriously hurt? I trust my driving a lot but I have seen enough idiots driving on our streets that I do not trust anybody's driving any more than I have to. Better 20 minutes late on earth than 20 years to early in heaven.

If the reason for changing our laws is because enforcement does not work then the first law that should be changed is the one that is broken the most and by most accounts that would be theft. How well do you think that will work?

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 18, 2009 at 09:16:13

lately I've noticed that on James North at Robert St, cars are voluntarily stopping more and more to let people cross. Granted, there is a concrete crosswalk visible to all, but there are no signs or suggestions to drivers to do this. Perhaps we're seeing a small taste of what a 'naked street' would function like once a street is designed to be more hospitable to all users. People never used to stop there, but now with a two-way street and plenty of pedestrians shopping at sidewalk markets, some drivers are doing this.

I'd love to see little pedestrian x-ing signs all through Hamilton at strategic locations that deserve one, but don't necessarily need stop signs or lights. Granted, Hamilton is moving in the opposite direction lately with all these signs they've been putting up instructing pedestrians to cross at the nearest controlled intersection.

In other words, they see that there is obvious demand for people to cross the street at Dundurn and the LCBO, but instead of suggesting that cars stop for waiting pedestrians, they put up signs telling the pedestrians to walk way out of their way to cross and then walk back down to their destination.

And this is in Ward One of all places. Probably the most pedestrian-active ward in Hamilton.
Some pedestrian charter.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 18, 2009 at 21:38:37

Mr Meister wrote:

the lack of common sense drives me nuts.

"Common sense is that which tells us the world is flat." -- Stuart Chase

Why would you want to increase your risk of getting hit by a car?

Your assumptions about safety and risk, however commonsensical, are incorrect. In streets that have been redesigned for shared space, the rate of collisions, injuries and deaths have fallen close to zero.

the first law that should be changed is the one that is broken the most and by most accounts that would be theft.

Really? Most people, most of the time, do not steal cars. Theft is extremely rare compared to, say, rolling through stop signs or speeding, which very large majorities of people commit regularly.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 19, 2009 at 11:05:02


Regarding your link above, it could always be worse...



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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted May 19, 2009 at 18:20:48

Wow, Ryan-- shades of the Vancouver RCMP. Re: your link above. Was that cop not trained in basic first aid? Symptoms of diabetic shock are part of the curriculum for that, as are symptoms of stroke, both of which mimic intoxication. No excuse.

ANother thought on enforcement, based on an outing on foot to the Delta No Frills with my 5 year-old today-- how about a cop with a radar gun on King St. East just past the Delta? WOuldn't that ensure pedestrian safety more than jaywalking fines?

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted May 20, 2009 at 00:13:38

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 20, 2009 at 08:19:15

Mr Meister wrote:

Ryan I stand corrected. Running stop signs and speeding should be allowed.

Now you're just being churlish. You've completely ignored the argument I made that instead of enforcement - which clearly isn't working in cases where nearly everyone routinely violates the rule - the city should focus on changing the structure of the street so that it is a) more difficult and b) less dangerous for people to do what they were going to do anyway.

Or we can carry on doing what we already know doesn't work.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted May 20, 2009 at 09:16:14

Here's the thing about laws in a democracy: they're meant to be at our service, at the service of people to keep us safe and secure-- just like police are there for our service, and if the attitude had been one of service in the Vancouver airport case and in the LA Times link given by Ryan (above) then tragedy or near tragedy could have been avoided.

Laws aren't there for their own sake, otherwise "the law is an ass". They aren't there to harass people. And if a law lends itself more to harassment than to genuine protection, then it ought to be changed.

Nothing wrong with outlawing jaywalking in areas where it is clearly and always unsafe to do so. But there is something clearly wrong with harassing people when they choose to safely cross at a convenient spot. And why not just install some crosswalks at commonly used locations instead of fining people? Or, radical thought-- how about consistently enforcing speed limits on city streets? Why does the convenience of drivers always take priority? And I am speaking as someone who drives, and who needs to drive to get my large family places when we're all traveling together at one time(cheaper than transit fare for all of us). But I also speak as someone who walks a great deal and who prefers to walk when it is possible. It's one of the reasons we chose city life.

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By Con Black (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:04:47

Two things to observe on your next walk:

1. On one way residential streets where parking is allowed on only one side, drivers will always drive closer to the curb than to the parked cars. This holds for parking on either side, even, astoundingly, if there are pedestrians on the opposite sidewalk or cyclists near that curb.

Why, not sure, but this is ubiquitous. Do the cars command more respect than the humans?

2. On the same streets on parking changeover day, 1st or 15th of the month, there will be some cars on both sides. Drivers will be WAY slower even though there is still lots of space available to drive as fast as they can.

So why in the summer they would not allow both side parking, at the very least, or more sensibly, two way conversion, is beyond sense.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:44:46

An observation by my husband, whose been reading the Globe and Mail comments re: an NHL franchise for our fair city.

He notes that when people want to diss Hamilton, a typical remark is something like "Hamilton? The downtown's decrepit" and NOT "Hamilton? The place is full of jaywalkers".

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted May 21, 2009 at 15:03:17

Con Black,

1) The answer to this is easy. Stuff can pop out between parked cars. On the curb side, you've got the width of the sidewalk at least to see things appear from behind hedges (which on most side streets aren't all that common). Therefore drivers are more worried about children chasing balls from the car side than the sidewalk side.

2) As above, there are now hidden places on both sides for things to appear from. Plus, most drivers aren't truly aware of the space their car takes up, thus drive more slowly when they feel restricted.

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By Con Black (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2009 at 10:12:29

Brandon, so are you saying the kids and cyclists who are ACTUALLY ON the sidewalk and road deserve less respect than the POTENTIAL person who might jump out from between parked cars into the middle of the street without looking (which happens how often?) If that's what people believe, I'd have to say it's a failed estimate of probability. Those kids might trip or are roughhousing, or the cyclist swerve randomly into the street. That's more likely than unseen people bolting from between parked cars into the street.

I think the real risk -people actually there- is superceded by the fear risk of people between parked cars. It is well known that people make poor estimates of risk because they more heavily weigh things they are scared of. Like terrorism instead of road accidents, or cancer instead of heart attacks.

This is the same excuse that the RCMP used when not calling medics for an unresponsive Dziekanski in Vancouver airport - because there might be a real emergency somewhere else.

You're right about drivers not knowing where their tires are, you see it all the time where they are a foot from anything on the left while leaving six feet on the right and are afraid to move over- another case of perception and reality disagreeing.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 23, 2009 at 13:15:40

The double standard regarding enforcement was illustrated perfectly just this week.

Police in Halton were trying to catch speeders by making their cars look less conspicuous (they put a taxi-like light on the roof, which actually said 'police'). The (motoring) public were outraged by the 'unfairness'of this particular enforcement technique.

Apparently, the majority of motorists believe that disobeying the posted speed should normally be allowed! One common objection was that motorists would be forced to drive the legal speed whenever they saw a taxi (presumably this was the entire point of the exercise!).

The response of police was ... to discontinue this particularly effective form of enforcement!

A similar thing happened when they reduced the speed limit on Cootes drive near a very busy pedestrian crossing at McMaster to improve safety for the large numbers of pedestrians who cross there. When police noticed that most motorists ignored the speed limit they ... increased it again (instead of enforcing it!).

However, when it comes to pedestrians and cyclists the general attitude seems to be that their infractions are outrageous and they need to be reigned in.

This response is probably mostly tribal: motorists understand and accept the behaviour of those like them ("of course one rolls through stops, burns amber lights and speeds ..."), but not that of the 'other' ("why do cyclists and pedestrians think they can disobey the rules?").

Since motorists are seen as the 'normal' road users (and are usually in the majority here in Hamilton), the police acquiesce to their notions of what is fair, but clamp down on the others.

As mentioned previously in RTH, this whole attitude to enforcement ignores the fact that it is actually motoring infractions which have the greatest potential to cause harm. A rational enforcement policy would be to "minimize the maximum risk", not "minimize annoyance to motorists".

As Ryan pointed out the best enforcement is to design roads to encourage the desired behaviour ...

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2009 at 15:29:59

How many tickets do you suppose are written every year/month/day for speeding/fail to stop/illegal turn etc. for motorists? How many are written for cyclists? pedestrians? skate boarders? skaters? I have no problem with motorists getting tickets and the rules of the road being enforced in fact I am a big proponent of both red light cameras and speeding cameras. But please stop the whining about how cyclists and pedestrians are picked on. Both "tribes" routinely and flagrantly flaunt the few rules of the road that one would expect them to follow and they put their lives in the hands of those evil speeding motorists and surprisingly those awful drivers manage not to kill the pedestrians in the overwhelming majority of cases.

The only double standard that exists on our roads is that motorists, always take a backseat to everyone else on the road. Nobody else needs to prove that they know the rules of the road. Motorists pay huge amounts of taxes for the "privilege" of driving. Without the the huge volumes of cash our governments get from gas taxes alone they would be bankrupt in no time. Please take a pill and get a grip on reality.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 23, 2009 at 16:45:25

The only double standard that exists on our roads is that motorists, always take a backseat to everyone else on the road.

What planet are you living on?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 23, 2009 at 17:13:36

Mr Meister,

Fuel taxes come nowhere near covering the costs of roads (let alone the social costs associated with accidents and pollution).

I can actually make this statement very precise: the federal government has actually estimated the total financial costs associated with road infrastructure (http://www.tc.gc.ca/policy/aca/fci/road/menu.htm) to be between $17 and $26 billion dollars per year in 2005. In comparison, all taxes on fuel (fuel tax, GST and provincial taxes) brought in about $8 billion in 2006 http://www.fin.gc.ca/toc/2006/gas_tax-en...

The bottom line: roads are heavily subsidized from general tax revenue since all taxes on fuel cover only between 31% and 47% of the costs.

In addition, the City of Hamilton found that the social costs due to driving are at least $450 million per year for Hamilton alone. None of these costs are covered by the fuel tax, or license fees which are the only taxes specifically paid by motorists. These social costs (or negative externalities) include the cost of accidents. Even the direct costs of building and maintaining roads are not fully covered by these taxes.

The bottom line is that all residents pay taxes towards building and maintaining roads, and the roads are a public good whose use and design must consider everyone's interests equally.

We've also seen recently how every other aspect of driving is heavily subsidized: from exploring for oil, to building cars, to the research and development of designing new cars.

Walking and cycling are excellent bargains for the taxpayer by comparison!

But to return to the enforcement issue, I perhaps was not sufficiently clear.

The police, quite reasonably, focus most of their effort on motorists who are responsible for almost all deaths (close to 3000 annually in Canada), injuries (227,768 annually in Canada) and property damage. My point is that highly publicized enforcement campaigns against cyclists pedestrians are ineffective, and appear more aimed at appeasing drivers annoyed by the actions of cyclists and pedestrians than by safety concerns. A recent Spec article quoted a police officer pointing to jaywalkers 'startling' motorists.

The second point is that any public discussion of cyclists immediately produces a chorus of complaints by motorists about cyclists flouting the law. As discussed ad nauseum at RTH, the evidence is that motorists break the law just as blatantly (who drives less than 100km/h on QEW?), and the risks entailed are much greater.

The idea that motorists "always take a backseat to everyone else on the road" is laughable.

The engineering guidelines for building roads are designed first for motor vehicles, not pedestrians and certainly not cyclists. Our most expensive roads, freeways and highways, are off-limits to both pedestrians and cyclists! If motorists really took a back seat, speed limits would be 30km/h everywhere to virtually eliminate serious injury. Finally, Hamilton spends $50 million on roads each year, and in principle $300 000 on cycling improvements (although even this small budget has not been spent most years).

You've also forgotten that almost all adult cyclists are also licensed drivers, and therefore also "know the rules of road".

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 23, 2009 at 17:28:05

Further to my previous comment, even if one includes every conceivable source of revenue related to motorists (all fuel taxes, lot levies, special assessments, parking charges, fines, building prices, etc.) the same report http://www.tc.gc.ca/policy/aca/fci/road/... shows that the total revenue is only $15 to $17 billion, which still does not cover the total financial costs of roads (or associated social costs).

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted May 27, 2009 at 21:57:10

Second all those points, kevlahan.

But there SHOULD be a double standard for cars and peds/bikes.

Cyclists may flaunt rules, but they do so from a better vantage point than inside a car.

  1. Your vision is higher and wider than in a car, even an suv.
  2. Your ears give important feedback that is inaudible or drowned out from inside a car.
  3. You are way, way more aware of your surroundings. Granted, some are not, but on average a cyclist's brain is going twice as fast because of the awareness of risk and the adrenaline of physical exercise.

So where it is illegal to blow a stop sign at 20 km/h, doing so in a car exposes others, especially vulnerable road users, to unacceptable risk.

Doing so on a bike is similarly illegal but sometimes not unsafe, because of the much heightened senses that allow you to do it while knowing there is no one coming from another direction to injure you or be injured by you.

This doesn't apply to all streets, but on a calm day in light traffic you could blow all the stop signs on Sterling quite safely for everyone. I see it done all the time, although I generally slow to about 12 k, because not slowing down at all just makes me feel guilty!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 05, 2009 at 15:24:38

Interesting blog with lots of links on pedestrian enforcement, controlling the dangerous part, and making streets more complete:


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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted November 16, 2010 at 09:44:36

Keep one way streets but synchronize the lights at a lower speed so that there is no incentive to speed. Simply reducing the timing from 56kph to 49kph would do wonders for King and Main. Cannon already employs a lower speed threshhold of 50kph and the results are impressive. It may not be what people here are looking for but its a compromise that will be acceptable to every driver and it will make King and Main safer

Comment edited by turbo on 2010-11-16 08:44:55

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