Transportation

Scramble Intersection Removed from York Blvd Plan

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 17, 2009

(this blog entry has been updated)

One of the more interesting proposals during the process of developing the York Boulevard Streetscape Master Plan was a pedestrian scramble intersection at the corner of York and MacNab, in which all vehicular traffic would stop and pedestrians could cross in any direction - even diagonally.

The scramble intersection at York and MacNab was included in all three proposals presented to the public last November, but disappeared from the final plan concept released last week.

I contacted Khaldoon Ahmad, the urban designer in charge of the master plan, to express support for the plan and also to inquire about the scramble intersection.

Ahmad referred me to Hart Solomon, a manager in the city's Traffic Engineering and Operations office of the Public Works Department, for details on a traffic study of the scramble intersection. I have not yet received a response from Mr. Solomon.

I don't want to detract from the excellent work the city has done developing a more liveable plan for York, but it frustrates me to see yet another pedestrian-friendly enhancement, already in operation in several great cities (including Vancouver since the 1940s and Toronto since 2008), compromised because it would threaten the sacred cow of traffic flow.

Of course, if we simply cut all our downtown streets over to two-way traffic and stopped trying to manage flow down this or that artery, motorists would simply find their own ways through the city and we could stop worrying about whether a given pedestrian enhancement created an unacceptable slowdown on a given street.


Update: This blog entry originally included a quote by Khaldoon Ahmad on the traffic study. Ahmad contacted me to advise that he is not authorized to provide official city comment and to request that I remove the quotation.

When I contacted him, I did not explicitly state that I would use his response in an article (I had assumed that this would be understood, given that I contacted him as a member of the local news media). You can jump to the changed paragraph.

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 jason (registered) | Posted February 17, 2009 at 11:29:05

"slower traffic west of Bay"??? Have any of them stood on the sidewalk along York, west of Bay? Slowing down that mess should be a top priority, not something to shy away from.
It might be time to review the downtown transportation master plan if it's not even bold enough to call for the slowing of mega-freeway stretches like York.
I've always thought street parking on both sides of York from Queen to downtown along with a bike lane would help create a slightly more hospitable street. I live just off York, yet whenever I walk downtown I cut through the Strathcona and Central neighbourhood side streets. I wouldn't walk down York, being forced to carry on a yelling conversation with my partner, if you paid me.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 17, 2009 at 11:38:38

by the way, is there anyway we can see this study by the transportation office?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 17, 2009 at 12:09:56

Jason, I've requested a copy of the study.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted February 17, 2009 at 12:55:15

I am disappointed to see that the scramble has been removed, but the reason for the removal compounds the problem. The scramble was removed not because it wasn't warranted given the projected pedestrian traffic, nor because it didn't have public support, but because it would slow down (motor vehicle) traffic.

This sort of decision also goes a long way to explain why the City has problems attracting the public to comment on its plans.

Many popular options are either not included, or removed when the final version is chosen. The public is consulted in order to help the City make value decisions on various options: this process is undermined if staff go directly against the trade-offs the public prefers. If the public prefers slower traffic (and the solution is technically feasible), that's what should prevail. Otherwise, why consult the public in the first place?

The fundamental problem with the analysis is that not all 'traffic' is treated equally. Why is my time suddenly more valuable when I step into my car? The convenience, comfort and safety of all road users should be considered (at least) equally. In Vancouver pedestrians officially have top priority, ahead of motorists!

The correct way to decide would be to compare the time lost for motorists compared to the time lost by pedestrians ... I doubt the motorists would have lost more time than the pedestrians with the scramble!

That being said, the top candidate for a scramble intersection should really be James/King. This intersection has more pedestrians crossing in all directions than any other in the City. It is also adjacent to Gore Park, office buildings and the main entrance to Jackson Square.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted February 17, 2009 at 12:58:56

I am disappointed to see that the scramble has been removed, but the reason for the removal compounds the problem. The scramble was removed not because it wasn't warranted given the projected pedestrian traffic, nor because it didn't have public support, but because it would slow down (motor vehicle) traffic.

This sort of decision also goes a long way to explain why the City has problems attracting the public to comment on its plans.

Many popular options are either not included, or removed when the final version is chosen. The public is consulted in order to help the City make value decisions on various options: this process is undermined if staff go directly against the trade-offs the public prefers. If the public prefers slower traffic (and the solution is technically feasible), that's what should prevail. Otherwise, why consult the public in the first place?

The fundamental problem with the analysis is that not all 'traffic' is treated equally. Why is my time suddenly more valuable when I step into my car? The convenience, comfort and safety of all road users should be considered (at least) equally. In Vancouver pedestrians officially have top priority, ahead of motorists!

The correct way to decide would be to compare the time lost for motorists compared to the time lost by pedestrians ... I doubt the motorists would have lost more time than the pedestrians with the scramble!

That being said, the top candidate for a scramble intersection should really be James/King. This intersection has more pedestrians crossing in all directions than any other in the City. It is also adjacent to Gore Park, office buildings and the main entrance to Jackson Square.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted February 17, 2009 at 14:04:46

I can't believe the City has targets for car throughput as part of the Downtown Plan! (BTW is this the same plan that states that all streets should be converted to two-way by 2008...? Why didn't they try and implement THAT target?)

I can understand car throughput targets for highways, but not residential streets. What would my kids make of it if they had to skip on the sidewalk outside our house beside reams and reams of speeding traffic?

There seems to be a fundamental confusion as to what purpose the downtown streets serve. These streets service residential and shopping areas - they are not highways. Traffic should be managed to accomodate the primary users of the street - residents and shoppers. Speeding traffic should head for the highways. What's so difficult about that?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 17, 2009 at 14:58:12

Nicholas wrote:

If the public prefers slower traffic (and the solution is technically feasible), that's what should prevail. Otherwise, why consult the public in the first place?

Exactly. It's unfortunate that they decided a traffic study trumps both the best interests of pedestrians and the thrust of public input.

That being said, the top candidate for a scramble intersection should really be James/King.

Staff seem to agree. In his reply to me, Khaldoon Ahmad wrote, "King and James is indeed a good candidate for a scramble. Approx. 15,000 people typically cross this intersection during an average day in the work week."

Maybe staff will recommend putting a scramble intersection there ...?

Rusty wrote:

There seems to be a fundamental confusion as to what purpose the downtown streets serve.

Unfortunately, there seems to be little "confusion" at all: the city understands streets as primarily a means of moving vehicular traffic through the city; and only secondarily as a means of facilitating pedestrian/bicycle traffic - and only tertiarily (is that a word?) as a means of facilitating exchanges among people.

It shouldn't need to be said that city life consists in connections between people, and not in the efficient streaming of automata in privatized vehicles:

http://raisethehammer.org/article/196

Unfortunately, the city is still struggling to make the necessary conceptual shift:

http://raisethehammer.org/blog/402

Again, the York Blvd plan is evidence of clear progress on this shift, but it's still too much subject to the demands of the traffic engineers.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 17, 2009 at 15:59:57

Rusty, sadly my kids face those prospects everyday when they're playing outside. Not only is York a highway, but the side streets have these nascar style wide curving ramps allowing someone to scream down York at 70k and be able to rip around a corner onto Strathcona or Locke at 40.
We've had times when we're crossing the street (sidestreet that we live on) with no cars in sight. Halfway across the street a car rips around the corner off York and has to wail on it's brakes to stop and of course, scares the crap out of us all in the process. The folks at Bay/Aberdeen had the city take out their highway style ramp and turn the intersection into a normal city intersection, but all along York we have this dangerous design.

I recall a couple of years ago, I helped lead a charge for a pedestrian light at York/Strathcona as a safe way of connecting Dundurn Castle to Victoria Park as well as the bus stop on York to the seniors building and other residents on the south side of York as well as creating a safe connection between the north and south side of the neighbourhood. The city person that did the study came by on a cold, rainy day, saw only a handful of pedestrians attempt to cross York in a 1-hour period and determined that there wasn't 'sufficient need' for a light.

I told them to come back in the summer and see how many pedestrians try to make this crossing, as well as to watch all the seniors who refuse to get off the bus there because they know they have no chance of crossing York.
I was sent some babble of a form letter and that was that.

Without a doubt, there are some good things happening in Hamilton but make no mistake about it - the car IS still king, even at the expense of child/senior safety (I mention those groups specifically, because an average able-bodied adult can run for it, like I always have to when I cross York - kids and seniors can't).

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted February 17, 2009 at 20:23:48

Jason: I agree with you on the issue of the corner of York and Strathcona. I live in the area as well. One morning when it was snowing a driver was going too fast considering the conditons and then tried to turn left from york to strathcona. Good thing I was driving cautiously, coming down strathcona as the driver went out of control into my lane. I just shook my head and though at least one of us was paying attention. Just another Maria Andretti behind the wheel. Good thing for her that she did not hit anything or anybody.

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By Scrambler (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2009 at 13:51:48

How about James and York for the Scrambler? Consider what is across the road from the market/library location. A couple of attractive buildings with some good neighbourhoods beyond, but not significant traffic generators, pedestrian or otherwise.

But let's follow this path a little further. Wouldn't James & York be a better location for the market, in the ground floor of the City Centre? And even better yet, straddle James to include the ground floor of the Lister Block as well? Municipal offices can occupy the upper floors of both buildings and the current market location.

The Scrambler at James would still slow York traffic and change, and fairly quickly, the dingiest of our downtown blocks. Imagine how it would build traffic for the restaurants and art galleries nearby. In fact, I imagine that would make James St. N. a downtown arts/market/entertainment district akin to Ottawa's Byward Market area.

Hate to second guess the attractive York St. plans, but maybe it is time, as Bob Bratina suggests with City Hall, to take a step back and consider what real-estate pros call "location, location, location."

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By Hopeful (registered) | Posted February 20, 2009 at 13:57:21

I agree with everything you say kevlahan. Good post. Thanks.

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