Walkability Fail

Walkability Fail: Westdale Edition

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 19, 2010

Planner 1: So Council has determined that Hamilton is supposed to be the Best Place to Raise a Child.

Planner 2: So what's that mean for us?

Planner 1: I guess it means we need to make the city more child-friendly.

Planner 2: Oh, oh, oh! I have an idea - what if we take an intersection next to a high school and configure it as a highway on-ramp?

Planner 1: Won't that make the intersection more dangerous?

Planner 2: Not if we don't put in a crosswalk. That way, students will have to walk to the next block if they want to cross.

Planner 1: I love it! Let's do it.

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 March 19, 2010 at 10:58:06

you have a better chance of closing down that school than having any of our urban freeways reconfigured to a more humane scale.

Didn't you know that the on the International list of best places to raise a child the number one desire by parents is to be in a location with tons of inner city freeways and transport trucks?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 19, 2010 at 11:15:24

you have a better chance of closing down that school...

Forgodsakes don't give them any ideas!

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted March 19, 2010 at 11:17:26

Ryan: Great bit. Nicely done.

Curious; what do you suppose an 'official' response would be to your criticism? (Feel free to use the same format...only with less tongue planted in-cheek...)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2010 at 11:20:33

what do you suppose an 'official' response would be to your criticism?

Planner 1: we conducted traffic modeling using our industry standard traffic modeling software (even though we all know it pretends traffic is static) and putting an intersection at Main and Paradise would create an intolerable level of traffic backup on King.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2010 at 11:32:14

By the way, if anyone else has any examples of walkability fail in the city, please, please send them to me - photo or map coordinates and some explanatory text. I'd love to see this turn into a feature.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted March 19, 2010 at 12:39:10

That is probably the most pointless spot for an on-ramp style intersection I have ever seen. Even dumber ... if you are not supposed to cross there what are the sidewalks doing inside the median? Obviously they have designed for people to cross anyway. That configuration makes no sense whatsoever.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2010 at 14:20:28

Planning Chief: Ryan, we actually use this robust program to test the walkabilty score of all our neighborhoods. The results show that we are doing just fine. This intersection scores a high of 80. Go figure that!! If you have any issues with this, I am afraid you will have to take this up with the software guys - we are just planners.

Now I know you will get all bent out of shape here - but based on the results that are we are getting from this great program, we are in fact going to be using this approach for all our intersections. For every person that we help leave Hamilton rapidly, we get a bonus point - so I hope you now understand the planning principles that guide our decisions.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted March 19, 2010 at 14:51:35

The walk score should be radically different depending on which side of the street you're on.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2010 at 14:53:41

"That way, students will have to walk to the next block if they want to cross."

So what? Most kids today are so fat they could use the exercise.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted March 19, 2010 at 15:04:29

So what? Most kids today are so fat they could use the exercise.

And why is that? Could it have something to do with the sedentary lifestyle promoted by over reliance on vehicles?

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted March 19, 2010 at 15:47:04

"Could it have something to do with the sedentary lifestyle promoted by over reliance on vehicles?"

The 'sedentary lifestyle' is promoted by vehicular use only to a very, very small extent. I know, I'm old enough to remember how things were just before we started into this downward spiral that has led to our obesity pandemic. All things considered relatively, the options are still the same today as they were in the sixties.

The obesity pandemic can be attributed to some very identifiable elements...but what you've suggested here is way, way down on the list.

(My apologies for tangenting off the topic so forcefully; the societal obesity issue concerns me more than any other these days and I can't blithely ignore references to it. At the same time, I don't want to contribute to a reduction in the importance of the 'car at the center of our culture' discussion by ignoring unsound conjecture, no matter how much it might appear that throwing an idea into the effort helps; it doesn't, when it's not an entirely accurate one.)

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 19, 2010 at 16:01:30

By the way, if anyone else has any examples of walkability fail in the city, please, please send them to me - photo or map coordinates and some explanatory text. I'd love to see this turn into a feature.

Oh, there are several beauties in my area. I'll try to snap some pics and send them. Purely mind boggling stuff.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted March 19, 2010 at 16:11:05

"take this up with the software guys"

Among other things one thing that stuck out to take up with them is why a Sunoco Gas Bar is classified under 'Bars'. Hilarious :)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2010 at 16:44:16

The obesity pandemic can be attributed to some very identifiable elements

RTH has posted many links over the years to studies that found clear correlations between average obesity levels and the built environment. The clear conclusion for public health is that people walk more when they live in walkable neighbourhoods - even when you control for other factors.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 19, 2010 at 19:27:32

Forgodsakes don't give them any ideas!

Too late:

http://www.hwdsb.on.ca/schools/arc/

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted March 20, 2010 at 10:40:10

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By alrathbone (registered) | Posted March 20, 2010 at 15:17:23

Boy I'm glad that intersection will be changing with the LRT.

That said the sad thing is based on the layout of the neighborhoods in this area I don't think that many people would cross there even if it were pedestrian friendly.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 20, 2010 at 20:02:17

I don't have and studies or stats to point to, but I find it hard to believe that the patently obvious increase in childhood obesity is not linked - partly - to people driving their children to and fro instead of leaving them to walk or bike places, which is what my friends and I did when I was growing up in Montreal and Stratford in '70s and '80s.

And I don't think that it's a coincidence that people in walkier places - Montreal, Manhattan, Belfast, Toronto - seem to be just a little bit slimmer overall than drivier places - Hamilton, Louisville, Nashville (just to name places I've observed in the past few years).

I feel I must note that there are obvious exceptions to that correlation: Oakville may not be any more pedestrian-oriented than Hamilton, but one seems to encounter fewer fat people there. Socio-economic factors loom large, of course.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-03-20 19:11:00

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 20, 2010 at 23:37:09

Moylek. You're absolutely right. I've always noticed that when I'm in real cities where people can use transit and walk etc..... Hopefully one of these years we'll start charging for insurance and health care costs like some European nations do - if you smoke, drink, never walk, are over your ideal weight by a certain amount etc.... you pay more than someone who is living a healthy lifestyle. So much of our tax money is wasted in the health care system on people who are dealing with completely preventable illnesses due to wrong lifestyle choices.

Hamilton, of course, with the most km of major roads and freeways per person than any city in Canada would singlehandely fill the coffers in this respect.

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By Justice (registered) | Posted March 21, 2010 at 01:26:45

Speaking of fattie kids, about a month ago the police spent a number of weeks cracking down on parents blocking traffic while dropping their sprogs off at this very school. Any parent caught stopping on Longwood or making illegal turns was busted immediately. I loved watching it.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 21, 2010 at 09:33:11

Sorry, schmadrian, but if anything here comes across as "fixated" and "grasping onto an ideology at all costs", it's your own despairing, oversocialized and binary view of human motivation.

Decades of failed environmental activism have demonstrated clearly that moral suasion does not work. Similarly, lecturing people to eat more greens and get some exercise will have a minimal impact.

But change the framework of incentives in which people make personal choices, and you'll change the aggregate results of those choices. Part of that framework is the built environment through which people make choices to travel.

Speaking of "actually examining the evidence":

  • Sick of Sprawl

    A new report by the Ontario College of Family Physicians casts a harsh light on sprawl in Ontario, identifying the multifarious interconnected ways that low-density development affect health.

  • Even When They Don't Hit You...

    The Heart and Stroke Foundation has, ah, weighed in on suburbia with a new study that further confirms all the research into sedentary, car-based lifestyles and long-term health. As Foundation spokesperson Dr. Anthony Graham said in the related news release, "our car-dependent habits are killing us."

  • Interactive Obesity Map

    Notice that the biggest gains in obesity seem to be correlated geographically with the fastest growing suburbs of the new American south.

  • More evidence of Sprawl Health Effects

    Titled, "Healthy Communities, Sustainable Communities", the report by the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) concludes that those of us living in car-dependent neighbourhoods face a higher risk of diabetes, obesity and heart-related illnesses. "There's no question there's a connection between obesity, diabetes and heart-related diseases and the built environment, specifically sprawl," said co-author George McKibbon.

Of course the built environment isn't the only factor, but it contradicts the evidence to suggest that it's mostly irrelevant.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-03-21 11:32:03

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By AnneMariePavlov (registered) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 13:42:08

Yes, people do walk when their neighbourhoods are walkable. I live on James Street North, and walk to and from work downtown (about 5 kms a day). For the record, I am a very fat vegan who loves her greens and eschews most junk food, so you just can't always tell what a person's lifestyle is because they are fat. Enough fat-bashing, please. Almost every day I dodge a bullet at James and Barton, with the ill-timed lights that tell pedestrians to go, at the same time as vehicles are told to turn left from Barton onto James, at breakneck speed. That is a FAIL for sure!!!

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted March 23, 2010 at 16:06:47

I loved reading these Walkability Fails. One of the best series.

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