Walkability Fail

Wilson Street Redevelopment Walkability Fail

By John Neary
Published October 06, 2010

I happened upon this mildly Kafkaesque sight as I was pushing my baby carriage south along Catharine Street towards Wilson Street yesterday:

Catharine St. North
Catharine St. North

Here's the east sidewalk:

East sidewalk
East sidewalk

Here's the west sidewalk:

West sidewalk
West sidewalk

Memo to Public Works: there's no third sidewalk.


If the process of rebuilding Wilson Street is any indication of the end result, I'm not optimistic about the two-way conversion. The north sidewalk is torn up on every block from John to Ferguson.

North sidewalk at Mary St.
North sidewalk at Mary St.

No temporary pedestrian walkway has been marked on the roadway, so pedestrians are forced to travel on the south sidewalk. Pity that there's no signed crossing between Catharine and Ferguson to allow pedestrians to cross safely.

One would think that after spending millions of dollars on Beasley Park, Dr. Davey School, and the Beasley Community Centre, the city would want to make them accessible to neighbourhood residents.

John Neary lives in Beasley Neighbourhood and practices general internal medicine at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. He would like Hamilton to develop an urban environment that creates less gainful employment for his profession.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 14:07:26

why do sidewalks need to be torn up to convert a street to two-way?? Please don't tell me they are making them any narrower? I'm only 150 pounds but I probably won't fit on the sidewalk by myself if they make them any narrower.

It's a 4-lane street. Just get a can of yellow point, drive down middle with a roller and viola. There should be a pedestrian lane made available among one of the 4 highway lanes through there.

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 14:37:16

My guess is that someone screwed up the construction schedule. These kind of developments have specific stages. Someone at the company responsible should be able to provide information as to what's going on.

As far as tearing up the sidewalks, it looks like they're taking out the corner sections which probably means they're changing the ramps on the sidewalk itself to make it more accessible. Someone screwed up the staging, that's all.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 14:44:29

@Frank: I take your point, but when did they last screw up the staging in such a way as to eliminate all of the street's capacity for automobile traffic?

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 16:02:24

@jason: They may be doing additional maintenance to the sidewalks (or something under the sidewalks) which is why they needed to tear them up. They did the same along York, with equally awkward pedestrian options (at one point you had to walk through an active construction area)

Having made my gripes, I am still really happy to see the 2 way conversion progressing nicely.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 16:29:42

I'm happy it's going two-way too, but I am a little paranoid that Hamilton will see just how skinny we can get a sidewalk before it's invisible.

York's sidewalks were torn up because it was a full streetscaping plan. Wilson, east of James as far as I know, is just a two-way conversion with no streetscaping. Bike lanes would sure be nice though. Anyone know the exact plans?

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 16:30:34

John, that's quite a jump... Let's try comparing apples with apples shall we? For all you know, the intent was to get the entire thing taken care of in a day but something unforeseen happened. Might be a good idea to check that out the reasons why something like this happened...

Road construction is done in such a way that it's nearly impossible to screw up the staging and the reason for that is it inconveniences a LOT more people than having one intersection's sidewalks ripped up for a period does. Most people don't rely on sidewalks for something like say...your groceries getting to the store or driving to work.

From the looks of things, it's quite easy to walk around the fence that's been ripped out on the west side to get to the next sidewalk. Sorry your walk was screwed up, but there are MUCH bigger problems than some temporary inconvenience because that sidewalk was ripped up.

Comment edited by frank on 2010-10-06 15:31:13

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 06, 2010 at 17:27:04

Living and working in the area, I've simply taken York/Wilson (like McNab and so many others) out of my routing, whether I'm in-car, on foot or cycling. It's more than the inconvenience, too - I'm really worried, especially by the library, that I'm going to ruin a rim, either car or bike, on all the wreckage.

What's most frustrating about the staging is that so many of these spots seem to have been torn up and then left alone - the same type of thing is visible at John and Wilson, eating up at least two corners and a lane or two of traffic, the last time I passed it.

Looking at many of downtown's corners at the moment, it's clear why this happens. Pointless aesthetic upgrades like concrete crosswalks (instead of painted ones) which cost far more, take much more time to build, and wear at drastically different rates than the rest of the asphalt. And then there's all those traffic-calming "bump-outs" that make cycling downtown such a pain, and the vibromatic cobble-stone bike lanes on Ferguson. All pleasant to look at, but all about as practical as burlap underwear.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 18:03:13

Frank,

In fact I do rely on the sidewalk for getting groceries and getting to work. As do a number of other people in this neighbourhood, many of whom are on scooters.

And the issue isn't that the sidewalks were dug up, it's that no measures have been taken to ensure that pedestrians have safe and convenient routes to take while the sidewalks are dug up. This would not be a serious problem if the streets in Beasley weren't already designed for the convenience of motorists ahead of everyone else.

John

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By adrian (registered) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 19:20:41

Memo to Public Works: there's no third sidewalk.

I think we need a new acronym to denote when you really did, in fact, laugh out loud. I really laughed out loud - IRLOL? Oh, wait.

Comment edited by administrator adrian on 2010-10-06 18:21:27

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By Why? (anonymous) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 19:40:15

my guess is stop lights for the other direction.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 21:42:34

A few blocks closer to the escapment, tthe northeast corner of Catharine and Main is for my money one of the most perilous patches of pavement in the city. It's a blind corner beside a barely-there crosswalk and probably less than two feet deep at its widest, the better to enjoy the adrenaline rush of Main's thundering traffic canyon and the stop-means-slow southbound drivers with heads craned west.

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 21:49:19

just wait for the walk light and you'll be fine. Try to cross against the light and you get what you deserve

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 07, 2010 at 08:30:09

From the looks of things that's not going to be a concrete crosswalk and I think Why? might be actually correct. It's quite possible that the people working there didn't have sidewalk closed signs. Either way, it's a temporary walkability fail not a permanent one. You cheapen the brand. Contact the construction company or go walk there during the day and talk to the site super to find out what's going on.

John, if I look at the streets in that area, you're never more than a hundred or so steps from the next street...take the next one for now. You complain about not having a signed crossing on Mary Street but in my experience that has never stopped a pedestrian before... Looking at Google maps and having driven past that quite a few times during my days working downtown, there seems to be ample room to move around the area under construction if you're on foot.

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 07, 2010 at 08:32:14

Jason: "Anyone know the exact plans?"

I've asked, I'll see what I can find out.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 07, 2010 at 09:33:31

Even if it's temporary, it's still an issue. I have friends in wheelchairs, one of whom lives fairly close to there. All it takes is an inch or two and something becomes impassable. Sloppy snow shoveling in the winter can leave somebody unable to leave their block for days. Add to that the scooters, carts, strollers and other common sites in the area and it makes a pretty good case for putting a little extra thought into this.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted October 07, 2010 at 12:01:44

I walk up John to the GO station every morning and I had a similar reaction as John's-- because there's really no safe way to cross Wilson anymore, especially if you're carrying around precious cargo like your kid in a stroller. Going south at John, on the West side your options are to turn back, cut through the parking lot to Hughson (hard if you have a stroller or cart w/ groceries), or just walk on the road. On the East side, you have no real option cus things are pretty well blocked at the Gary Proctor building.

It's been like this all week now, so even if someone f'ed up the staging, it's disheartening to see that nothing's progressing.

And my guess is that it's for the streetlights. The corner at John and Wilson has been a mess for years (constant sinking asphalt), I think because of the red-light camera that used to be there.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 07, 2010 at 12:14:06

I was by here this morning and it's definitely not just a mistake in staging. John/Wilson, Catharine/Wilson and Ferguson/Wilson are all impassable for pedestrians. Any of you living north of this neighbourhood are going to be hemmed in for a while, unless you don't mind walking with your kids down the middle of the street.

All 3 intersections have no active sidewalks on either side.

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 07, 2010 at 13:55:02

I've gotten a response from the city and have the plans for the section. I've asked them why the sidewalk removals weren't staged properly and why bike lanes won't be implemented. The NW corner is going to receive a new catch basin so expect that one to be buggered for a while. The remainder of the roadway will be replaced as is with some sections of crosswalk being upgraded to industrial type (at road crossings and commercial driveways mostly). Let you know when I know...

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 07, 2010 at 13:59:12

I don't know how to make a PDF available other than doing this:

Part 1: http://www.box.net/shared/mxsax1c410

Part 2: http://www.box.net/shared/xgddadp6xz

Hope that works.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted October 07, 2010 at 15:18:32

Frank,

Thanks for sharing the plans. It's a shame they don't show what the arrangement of lanes will be. I will be very happy if the new sidewalks are better engineered than the old ones. Many of the curb cuts at intersections pointed diagonally into the middle of the crossing, and didn't continue around to the crosswalks. That wasn't fun for people with strollers or scooters. (Although it might have been a minor deterrent to cycling on the sidewalk, which is a big problem around here.)

I've also emailed Public Works re: the staging. No response yet.

In the grand scheme of things, the botched staging of sidewalk reconstruction on Wilson Street is not a very important problem. The reason I blogged on this subject is that I consider it to be emblematic of how the city (and/or its contractors) just doesn't get pedestrian issues. If they had dug up all the sidewalks on the same day -- expecting to have them replaced the next day -- and were delayed by weather (for example), I could accept that. But I suspect that in fact they dug them all up at once out of convenience without ever thinking about how it would impact pedestrians, and without any intention to replace them with any kind of haste.

On a related note: when streets are temporarily closed to automobile traffic (e.g. James North for Super Crawl and Open Streets), signs are posted weeks in advance notifying motorists of the inconvenience. Why are pedestrians not afforded the same courtesy?

John

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 08, 2010 at 08:07:44

"On a related note: when streets are temporarily closed to automobile traffic (e.g. James North for Super Crawl and Open Streets), signs are posted weeks in advance notifying motorists of the inconvenience. Why are pedestrians not afforded the same courtesy?"

Easy... An angry guy in a car is far scarier than an angry person walking around.

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By That Guy (anonymous) | Posted October 08, 2010 at 21:56:26

Tell an inconvenienced pedestrian that their annoyance 'cheapens their brand', and see how long before...

It's a very important issue, people that walk need safety and accessibility, and there does seem to be a bigotry in favour of combustion engines. Ask how many of the city's traffic engineers walk to work...yeah, I thought so.

Jeff
www.Hamilton-Jobs.ca

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted October 09, 2010 at 05:52:43

Many of the curb cuts at intersections pointed diagonally into the middle of the crossing, and didn't continue around to the crosswalks.

What makes you think there are any ramps for pedestrians at all? Those are so trucks can turn corners!

I'm kidding but only half actually. Almost everytime the GO bus turns from Main onto James I watch the back tire mount the sidewalk and people waiting to cross have to step back so their toes aren't run over. Tight turn.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 09, 2010 at 15:35:12

It's like the paved trails in the park at Victoria and King William, they don't line up with the sidewalk ramp. I'm sure it was a beautiful plan on paper, but real life is a little more complicated.

It isn't just a matter of whether we have ramps, paths and bike lanes, it's where they're located. It's how they're maintained, and whether anyone's paying any attention to how it functions after it's built.

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 13, 2010 at 09:43:05

Here's the answer regarding bike lanes...

Mr. Borger

  • Both of the north corners at Catherine and Wilson are are being worked on at the same time but signs have been placed to ensure pedestrians know where to go.
  • All of the sidewalk being removed is to accommodate the new turning radii for the west bound traffic or is no longer structurally viable only. This is not an ethically driven contract.
  • Bike lanes are not being implemented as part of this contract. Please contact the City's Traffic department for the reasoning behind this.
  • Sidewalk widths will match existing conditions.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted October 14, 2010 at 08:57:55

Thanks, Frank. Concrete was poured over the past two days in many of the places where the sidewalks had been dug up. They might complete the sidewalk work in less than two weeks (start to finish).

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