Carnage is Not a Competitive Advantage

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 28, 2014

Editor's Note: I just sent this as a letter to Council.

Hamilton has the second worst rate of pedestrian injuries of any city in Ontario. There have been four vehicle collisions with pedestrians this month alone, two of them on Queen Street involving serious injuries.

Our streets are dangerous by design. We have too much excess lane capacity, as the data makes clear. Over the past decade or so, daily traffic volumes on lower city streets have been falling steadily, and we now have four- and five-lane expressways built for a much different economy than the one we have today.

Because we have so much excess lane capacity and there is so little affordance for pedestrians (like wide sidewalks or frequent pedestrian crossings), automobiles drive at dangerous speeds.

A pedestrian's risk of being killed in a collision with an automobile goes up exponentially as vehicle speed increases. At 30 km/h, a pedestrian has a 5% chance of dying. Double the speed to 60 km/h and the risk of dying jumps to a staggering 85%.

The vehicle's stopping distance also increases exponentially: at double the speed, a vehicle needs four times the distance to stop. So not only are pedestrians more likely to be mangled or killed, but they're also more likely to be struck in the first place.

Some councillors have argued that our streets somehow provide a competitive advantage for Hamilton. The evidence abundantly contradicts that notion.

It is not a competitive advantage to spend money we don't have maintaining excess lane capacity we don't need, instead of redeploying it for better, more cost-effective uses that will reduce our lifecycle infrastructure obligations and deliver real net benefits.

Today's economy depends on urban neighbourhoods characterized by density, mixed uses and safe, lively streets designed to accommodate people doing a variety of things.

Most of the new jobs being created in Ontario in the past several years are being created by young, small, fast-growing companies run by creative entrepreneurs - people who want to live in lively urban environments.

As the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce argues, walkability is a strategic investment in economic development.

Carnage is not a competitive advantage.

Our streets are injuring and killing people at a rate 43% higher than the Provincial average. The people being injured and killed are disproportionately senior citizens and children (not careless hipsters, as some commentators suggest). This is unacceptable.

We need to move beyond wringing our hands about what will happen if someone has to stop behind a red light during rush hour. We need to start taming and humanizing our city streets now, not at some unspecified, unfunded time in the distant future.

No more people should have to die because we're afraid to let go of a status quo that stopped working for us a long time ago.

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.


View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 28, 2014 at 16:03:55

I received the following reply from Councillor Terry Whiteheads:

I believe the prudent thing to do is better understand what actually contributed to these accidents before we politicise these serious issues to advance anyone's agenda.



Permalink | Context

By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted March 29, 2014 at 09:09:26 in reply to Comment 99328

What a passive aggressive troll of a reply. The guy missed your point completely. Ugh.

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2014 at 12:02:19 in reply to Comment 99381

He didn't miss it, he sidestepped it.

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted March 28, 2014 at 22:34:48 in reply to Comment 99328

So sad. Someone would rather grease a few squeaky wheels in their ward instead of show some basic common sense and leadership to make the city a better place for everyone. Brutal.

Permalink | Context

By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 28, 2014 at 20:22:57 in reply to Comment 99328


Permalink | Context

By arienc (registered) | Posted March 28, 2014 at 17:37:34 in reply to Comment 99328


Ryan's agenda is fewer people getting killed or injured on our streets.

That the councillor in question is hesitant to advance that agenda makes me seriously question his values.

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 28, 2014 at 19:33:01 in reply to Comment 99339

My reply to him:

Dear Councillor Whitehead,

What caused these collisions (they're not "accidents"), like the recent collisions that hospitalized pedestrians at Sherman and Barton, at Parkdale and Main, at Stone Church and Rochelle, at Rymal and Upper Centennial, at Gage and Maplewood, at Charlton and Wentworth, and at John and Jackson, is that cars in Hamilton keep smashing into pedestrians at a rate almost one-and-a-half times the Provincial average.

That is not "politicizing" to "advance" an "agenda", that is stating a shameful and preventable fact of Hamilton's quantifiably dangerous road network.

This is a policy issue that demands attention from Council. Far too many people are getting injured and killed on Hamilton's streets, and you have a civic, moral and legal duty not to play cute political games in lieu of action.

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2014 at 12:03:25 in reply to Comment 99346

Terry's next reply:

Thanks Ryan, I want to see the police report before I pass any judgment.

Knee jerk reactions are not helpful. Staff will report on statistical information on the pedestrians incident at these locations over the last twenty years. That combined with the police report will assist in arriving at an informed decision. Speed is an issue on every arterial road as well as in the neighborhoods. No question that a comprehensive look needs to be done at many locations. I have had too deaths at the same intersection on West 5th in two years. We have taken steps to address this issue. This is a two way street. So please let's not politicize an issue until all the facts are in!

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2014 at 12:03:46 in reply to Comment 99437

And my reply to him:


I'm surprised and appalled that you would accuse me of "politicizing" this issue to "advance" an "agenda". My "agenda" is that I don't want Hamiltonians to die at a rate almost one and a half times the Provincial average!

The Ontario Coroner conducted a full investigation of all 95 pedestrian fatalities in Ontario in 2010 and published the results in 2012. The conclusion was that pedestrian deaths are preventable and that vehicle speed and roadway design are the biggest contributing factors.

The Ontario Coroner's recommendations:

  • Adopt a "complete streets" approach to street design that makes streets safe and accessible for all users, and particularly for the most vulnerable users.

  • Reduce vehicle speeds to 30 km/h on residential streets and 40 km/h (unsigned default) on arterials.

  • Redesign streets to encourage lower speeds with narrower lanes, bumpouts, neckdowns and so on.

  • Add more and better pedestrian crossings to make it easier and safer for people to cross the street.

Do you think the Ontario Coroner was rushing to judgment or politicizing these deaths to advance some kind of "agenda"?

By the way, two more pedestrians are in hospital this weekend after two more collisions with automobiles: a woman was struck by a vehicle at Main West and Thorndale on Friday evening and is in hospital with a possible skull fracture, and a man was struck by a vehicle at Young and John on Saturday night and is in hospital with head injuries.

It is already abundantly clear what needs to be done to make Hamilton's streets safer. The time of waiting for reports and studies is long past, and there is nothing "prudent" about continuing to delay making the changes we know we need to make.

This is not a downtown-vs-mountain issue. Pedestrians are being mangled and killed on fast, dangerous streets all over the city. This is simply a matter of priorities. If we really care about making our streets safe for all road users, including the senior citizens and children who are disproportionately being injured and killed on them, then we know what we have to do.

If we fail to act to make our streets safe, that is also a choice that reflects our priorities.

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 31, 2014 at 09:36:21 in reply to Comment 99438

Terry's next reply:

Driver, pedestrian behaviors also needs to be a consideration in assessing any approach‎. Timing of these discussions should be removed from the emotion. It appears the timing of your comments may be perceived as opportunistic. I am sure that your intent is pure.

On a second note the more recent discussion regarding complete streets, one way conversions etc. are certainly important. The piece that is missing is the city has over a billion dollar infrastructure deficit. Streets that are designed for twenty five years the city forcasts under the current funding envelope we can not fix the street up to 80 years. It is also clear that we are still not meeting the basic needs of many of our neighborhoods, yet we want to introduce a new expenditure into this equation. How and where do we start. What capital programs do we sacrifice? Or do we just rise taxes by 5 -10 % to better support all the capital pressures we face. It is easy to have a discussion over wants, the real discussion how we do that without addressing basic needs of our community?

Permalink | Context

By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted March 31, 2014 at 11:34:57 in reply to Comment 99463

Timing of these discussions should be removed from the emotion.

A precious statement.

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 31, 2014 at 09:37:03 in reply to Comment 99463

And my next reply:


Driver and pedestrian behaviour is central to the approach of using a complete streets approach to reduce injury. As the research clearly indicates, a street design that encourages safe vehicle speeds has the proven effect of changing behaviour in such a way that collisions are fewer and less severe.

Vehicle speed is the single most important factor the risk and severity of an injury. Remember, when you double a vehicle's speed you don't just double its kinetic energy and stopping distance, you quadruple them. As speed increases, the risk of colliding with a pedestrian increases exponentially, and in the increasingly likely case of a collision, the risk of injury also increases exponentially.

That's why the Ontario Coroner cites the World Health Organization's World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention:

"The vulnerability of the human body should be a limiting design parameter for the traffic system, and speed management is central."

Can we honestly say this is true of Hamilton's traffic system?

Of course, we can continue to defer making any decisions or implementing any changes. There will always be more collisions with pedestrians, and we can always wait for those reports to come out, after which there will be still more collisions, more reports, and more excuses to put off doing what we already know we need to do.

As for addressing the city's infrastructure lifecycle deficit, one of our most promising tools is is to redeploy our significant excess roadway lane-kilometres to more productive uses that shift more trips from driving to active transportation and reduce wear-and-tear on the roadway to extend its life.

The Region of Waterloo did a study recently and found that each one-percent modal shift away from driving will save that government $30 million in infrastructure costs.

So we find ourselves in a situation where committing to safe, complete streets helps solve several problems all at once. Here are a few more:

  • 75% of Hamiltonians are overweight or obese, and complete streets are proven to encourage more active lifestyles, reducing obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

  • Car exhaust is responsible for half of Hamilton's air pollution, and air pollution is responsible for over 700 annual hospital visits and over 100 premature deaths.

  • There is a proven "walkability dividend" when people shift some trips from driving to walking/cycling: more money stays in the local economy and local retail business enjoys net benefits.

Finally, I must strenuously disagree with your contention that safe streets are a "want" rather than a "need". Your very first and most fundamental responsibility as the leaders of this city is to protect the life and health of its residents. Nothing else is more important.

Today we are failing in that fundamental responsibility: Hamilton's pedestrian casualty rate is the second-worst in the Province, almost one-and-a-half times the Provincial average.

The time to make more excuses and wait for more studies is long past.


Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 31, 2014 at 12:52:42 in reply to Comment 99464

Terry's next reply:

Ryan I am not disputing benefits of complete streets. We could also look at elevated bike lanes and pedestrian tunnels. Perhaps we consider subways while where at it.

I am not aware of any lawsuits today that has indicated the city has had liability for any of the accidents because of design of our streets or sidewalks. Police reports to date have identified fault in most cases to either the driver or pedestrians. Some tomes weather and road condition come into play.
A large number of pedestrian are getting hit at intersections while a driver is making a turn. Judgment. Not speed has been the issue.

When I talked to out traffic engineers they state that complete streets is in fact the new buzz word. They will also respond that our current transportation network is designed with well researched specs and for safety. We can always spend more money and further enhance our approach to safety. To suggest they are not safe is hyperbole.

So you see needs and wants are clearly applicable to this discussion.

Most communities that have adopted complete streets as a policy have also identified financial as part of the matrix for consideration. Not one community that has adopted the complete streets policy whom I have talked too has stated it was seen as a need. It was seen as an enhancement.

I do not disagree that there would be inherent benefits with the complete streets mantra!

Our financial capacity should always be part of the discussion. What are the financial implications to the current capital plan is a prudent question so an informed decision can be made.


Terry‎ Whitehead.

Ps; be happy to sit down and share perspectives further to see if a consensus can be reached. I am very happy that there are people like you to continue to hold our feet to the fire. Constructive dialogue better informs and is the path to consensus.

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 31, 2014 at 13:03:28 in reply to Comment 99474

And my reply to him:


Comparing complete streets to "elevated bike lanes", "subways" and so on does a real disservice to the discussion. We're talking about inexpensive ways to redeploy the public right-of-way infrastructure we already have that are proven to reduce vehicle speeds, reduce the rate of injuries, and more than pay for their modest capital costs in net benefits and long-term reductions in lifecycle costs.

Are you really suggesting that the city needs to be the subject of a lawsuit before we take seriously the fact that Hamilton is the second most dangerous city in Ontario for pedestrians? The numbers don't lie: a pedestrian in Hamilton is almost one-and-a-half times as likely to be injured in a collision as the provincial average. That is not "hyperbole" but a grim statistical fact.

Either Hamilton's pedestrians are systematically a lot more careless than the provincial average, or Hamilton's drivers are systematically more careless than the provincial average, or our legacy of streets designed for fast driving has made them more dangerous than the provincial average.

Again, I refer you patiently to the Ontario Coroner's report on pedestrian deaths. After studying every pedestrian fatality in Ontario for a year, the Ontario Coroner concluded that the best way to reduce pedestrian deaths is to make our streets safer for pedestrians!

There is no more basic need than the need to keep your citizens safe from death and serious injury. Regardless of what our traffic engineers say, our current road network is measurably failing the city's most vulnerable road users.

Respectfully, Ryan

P.S. I am always happy to meet and discuss this issue, and would definitely appreciate the opportunity to do so with you.

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 31, 2014 at 13:17:01 in reply to Comment 99476

I'll let Terry have the last word in this exchange:

The fact is our roads and sidewalks were designed ‎to the same engineering standards with the other jurisdictions in Ontario . Complete streets are not part of this comparison. One might draw their own conclusions.

Permalink | Context

By Joshua (registered) | Posted May 13, 2014 at 21:15:47 in reply to Comment 99477

Thanks, Ryan, for posting the exchange.

Permalink | Context

By Like sand through the hourglass... (anonymous) | Posted April 29, 2014 at 06:05:25 in reply to Comment 99477 too, are the Days Of Our Lives.

Permalink | Context

By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 31, 2014 at 14:01:53 in reply to Comment 99477

In a strictly legal "litigation minimization" sense, Terry is probably right.

If the City can show in court that it is following standard engineering practices and Ministry guidelines in its road designs, then they could like mount a successful defence of any court challenge. The only problem would arise if the prosecution could show that there was something about the particular road design that is obviously unsafe and not meeting normal provincial standards.

However, there is a difference between protecting yourself from lawsuits, and ensuring that the roads actually are safe. And there is a lot of lee-way in how the roads are designed: a minimum sidewalk with of 1.5m may just be legal on Main and Queen, but it is obviously unsafe. Having no pedestrian crossings for several blocks at a stretch on busy multi-lane downtown streets might not be against code, but it is also unsafe for pedestrians.

And there are many practices that could be criticized as not following best practice (e.g. all the non-controlled slip road turns, the very narrow sidewalks and the neglect of painted stop bars at intersections), but City lawyers are presumably confident that a conviction would be unlikely.

But what we are talking about here is not whether the City has a good defence case in the case of being sued or even who is to blame when a pedestrian is injured, maimed or killed. We are demanding that the infrastructure be made safer because it is demonstrably more dangerous than in other cities, and we actually do know how to make it safer.

Our streets reliably injure and kill far more pedestrians every year than those of most other Ontario cities. And even one death or serious injury is unacceptable and should not be brushed off as inevitable.

And surely Terry has noticed that most other Ontario cities do not look like Hamilton's downtown: full of multi-lane one way streets with highway style slip road turns. It is the sheer dominance of this highway style road design that make Hamilton unique, even if the individual designs themselves are technically following the code.

And remember that in Ontario the code and HTA themselves were designed to prioritize the safety and convenience of motorists over those of pedestrians. The strong message of the Coroner's report on pedestrian deaths is that road design standards in Ontario must change.

Maybe Hamilton could be a leader in safe road design! It might even help us become "the best place to raise a child" (without getting maimed or killed on their neighbourhood streets).

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-03-31 14:10:44

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jimstreet (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2014 at 16:43:34

How could he end that email with "Respectfully" - that was anything but respectful to the people affected by these terrible road conditions. Shame councillor!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 29, 2014 at 15:33:17

I am going to send a letter to Councillor Terry Whiteheads suggesting that he look at alternatives to people being crushed and killed by car drivers. There is absolutely no reason why proven effective measures cannot be implemented in Hamilton. For example, take a look at this video of Groningen in The Netherlands:

They did it. They changed their city for the better. We can too.

Local connection: On 13-16 April 1945, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry fought in the Battle of Groningen that liberated the city. See:

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted March 29, 2014 at 15:52:13

And another young woman now enjoys a fractured skull after being struck by a vehicle turning from Main W onto Thorndale.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 31, 2014 at 12:16:05

I love how the idea that residential streets should be normal two-way neighbourhood streets like any other place in the country is now considered an "agenda".

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools