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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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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!

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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.

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


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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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".

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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

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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.

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

Thanks, Ryan, for posting the exchange.

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