Walkability Fail

Will Council Support a Vote for Walkability?

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 17, 2011

The biggest decisions don't always make the biggest impact. Great cities are built on a vast array of small decisions, each of which nudges the city in a positive direction.

In Hamilton, a safe pedestrian crossing at Aberdeen Avenue and Kent Street is just one of many opportunities to improve walkability, thereby making our city more liveable. Council will soon have a chance to put its unanimous support for walking into practice.

Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie submitted a notice of motion to the June 6, 2011 Public Works Committee meeting to request the installation of a pedestrian-activated crossing signal on Aberdeen Avenue at Kent Street. If passed, it will go on to council for final approval.

The motion asks staff to consider funding the $80,000 crossing using money from the recent area rating levy. This, despite a recent traffic engineering staff report that recommends against a crossing in that location.

Signs are posted on both sides of Aberdeen at this intersection, instructing pedestrians to cross at Locke or Queen Streets - a 400-metre round-trip, either way. The city posted the signs in 2008, citing safety concerns identified in the Kirkendall Traffic Management Plan.

Posted sign at Aberdeen and Kent: 'PEDESTRIANS PLEASE CROSS AT LOCKE OR QUEEN'
Posted sign at Aberdeen and Kent: 'PEDESTRIANS PLEASE CROSS AT LOCKE OR QUEEN'

The review came after local resident Dr. Madeleine Verhovsek led a citizen campaign to have a proper crosswalk installed at Kent and Aberdeen. The report states that a crosswalk is not necessary, in part because staff "identified sufficient gaps in the traffic for pedestrians to safely cross Aberdeen at Kent."

So the intersection is dangerous enough that the city has posted signs, warning pedestrians not to cross at that location, but then turns around and states that it's safe enough that a crosswalk is not warranted.

If that's not Kafkaesque enough for you, the report raises another issue: a review of the intersection found fewer than 100 pedestrians crossing the street over an eight-hour period.

In other words, the city installs signs instructing pedestrians not to cross the street - and then recommends against a crosswalk because many pedestrians are obeying the signs.

Aberdeen and Kent is an excellent candidate for a pedestrian crossing. Kent is the only north-south street between Queen and Dundurn and terminates at a large community park (H.A.A.A) and Ryerson middle school. There are HSR bus stops on both the north and south side of Aberdeen at Kent.

Councillor McHattie says he is working with staff to make it happen. "Safer crossings will mean more pedestrians, with a concurrent reduction in greenhouse gases and air pollution, better health outcomes, and a generally more sane way of life," he explains.

It seems hard to argue with this logic. Indeed, Hamilton's Transportation Master Plan appears to support the following hierarchy when considering policy:

But so far, this hierarchy does not seem to have had much impact on day-to-day operational decisions. In what quantifiable way do we prioritize pedestrians over motorists? Does the city aim to maintain a given level of service for pedestrians, just as it maintains service levels for motorists?

At Aberdeen and Kent, pedestrians are asked to walk five minutes out of their way so that motorists are spared the inconvenience of an occasional 30-second stop. That doesn't sound like prioritizing pedestrian traffic over vehicular traffic.

However, there are signs that this may be changing. The city has launched a pedestrian mobility master plan study to "improve the pedestrian environment and increase the opportunity for walking as a mode of transportation (active travel) and recreation that is efficient, comfortable, safe inclusive, accessible and improve health of communities and economic development."

The vision comes right out of the International Charter for Walking, which council unanimously endorsed in April 2008: "Creating healthy, efficient and sustainable communities where people choose to walk."

This was first published on OpenFile Hamilton

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.

11 Comments

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By Observer (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2011 at 15:27:24

"Kent is the only north-south street between Queen and Dundurn..." As I recall last time I was there, there are no north south streets between Locke & Dundurn to link a number of east-west streets in the area just north of Aberdeen. There are quite a number of Hamilton neighbourhoods--in the east downtown e.g.--that show this same lack of access. This may be not bad planning, but no planning at all. It's especially a problem for pedestrians, but also for vehicles who need to go to a next block; and a number of the east-west-ers in the Locke-Dundurn area are one way for vehicles, which makes the problem esp. inconvenient. There's a justly famous [late 1970s but replayed in the eighties if not again later] Sesame Street puppet rock song lamenting "One Way."
Many suburban "crescents" are isolated from adjacent neighbourhood areas. This has been noted for a long time by urban observers--in Toronto, for example.
Many of these efforts to reduce vehicle traffic play havoc with pedestrians and introduction and easy use of public transit. Except, in much of Hamilton's older areas as noted above, this may have been no planning, not 'bad' planning.

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By One Way be gone (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2011 at 15:34:37

Original from Feb.1977. Links to the music are below.
For info see these two links:
http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/One_Way http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Episode_0973

This first link is better than the next:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=741qjvkUxwg

[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZvVO38L_WU ]
Muppet Wiki description:
"One Way": A greaser can't get to his girlfriend's house because
of a "One Way" sign on the road. He thinks his relationship is
ruined, until his guardian angel comes and shows him an alternate
route he can take. The greaser's initial desperation -- "I'm so
lonely I wish I was dead", he mourns -- turns to happiness, as
the greaser and his girlfriend ride around the block on his
motorcycle.

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By BeulahAve (registered) | Posted June 17, 2011 at 17:23:53

As a frequent driver along Aberdeen, I wouldn't mind at at all having a light along the lines of the one at Chedoke Ave. That one is only activated when someone pushes a button to cross the street. If that is what's being proposed, I fail to see why the city is so reticent. It would be especially good for all the kids who cross Aberdeen to get to Ryerson School. Crossing at Queen is a bit dicey. Go Kent St!!

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By rid (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2011 at 19:41:47

Is the old chief still here?He was the one who seemed to forget pedestrians get to cross at corners and crosswalks. If not get rid of those signs it was ridiculous. The drivers manual states pedestrians can cross at the corner that was contrary to the last guys insane statements. Put a light in that is pedestrian activated . For all the drivers who may complain remind them they will one day loose their license due to age they will than want that cross walk. Simple enough the city needs to be for young, old, rich , poor and everyone in between .

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 19, 2011 at 01:23:11

If you people get your way, pedestrians will be able to cross at any intersection they please!

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted June 19, 2011 at 11:03:21

DR 15 15 100%

I have avoided this discussion because I am not familiar with this intersection. Nevertheless, there is a pedestrian controlled stop-light near my home at Ottawa Street North and Dunsmure that I consider an essential safety feature for pedestrians around here.

This light is used by grade school children walking to and from school or the neighborhood playground, people of all ages using the YWCA and patrons of the original Tim Horton's across the street from the original Canadian Tire. At certain times of the day this intersection can go haywire; Ottawa Street North is used by many shift workers from Main Street East through Burlington Street and quite a few shoppers visit the BIA so if I may be discrete, I'm very happy to say.

For myself, as a healthy able-bodied middle-aged male walking a dog who zig-zags and holding his taught leash in one hand while balancing two extra large coffee in a flimsy fibre tray in the other, I find the signal an indispensable bother. This is especially true when I need to make a quick getaway because this Timmies seems to attract dozens of dog-walkers, some of them balancing flimsy fibre trays too and on many occasions carrying donuts or a bag of dreaded doo-doo. What would you do? I gotta go and the faster the better because my dog's sniffer is a real go-get-her! I cannot wait for the traffic to clear while my dog yanks me to sniff another dog's rear.

Will council support a vote for walkability? I certainly would if IT were pup to me.

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2011-06-19 12:11:27

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2011 at 10:04:32

Council will often vote for something once, and is very comfortable opting in on an a la carte basis, but in my experience is much less likely to alter its fundamental thinking or behaviour, which is arguably what is required of "a vote for walkability" -- not a single vote, but a abiding perspective on development and the business of city-being/city-building that embraces user interface issues from the standpoint of a pedestrian who is walking and not driving in a car.

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By Kevin (registered) | Posted June 20, 2011 at 19:33:53

WRCU2, you have the best comments on RTH. Each time I read one, I enjoy IT. Chew da mang.

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted June 21, 2011 at 09:46:46 in reply to Comment 64998

DR 35 35 100%

Chew da mang.

I doo-doo appreciate da kind words Kevin, IT means a lot to me but my grades at RTH tell another story:

WRCU2
Articles 175 577 30%
Blogs 63 91 69%
Total 36%

However, this discussion is about walkability not talk-ability so if anyone else wishes to see how THEY rank in this community, then by all means please satisfy that curiosity because when IT comes right down to word hammering 1 might wonder, "how sound is MY swing?"

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2011-06-21 10:56:06

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By Mathnew (anonymous) | Posted June 22, 2011 at 15:52:11 in reply to Comment 65003

DR = Disagreement Ratio, perhaps? I'm stumped.

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By Mathnew (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2011 at 11:49:27 in reply to Comment 65003

I want to understand your comment but don't know what the numbers mean.

IT seems the ratio of the first number to the second number equals the percentage that follows. DR = Democratic Response??

Would you mind explaining? I don't even mind if IT's a poem. Thank you, WRCU2.

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