Walking the Talk

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 16, 2005

Hamilton City Council has once again demonstrated its commitment to driving over all other forms of transportation.

Ed Switenky, Acting Manager of Traffic Engineering and Operations for the City of Hamilton, made a presentation to City Councillor Art Samson's Dundas Community Council after receiving complaints about the lack of crosswalks at Hatt and King streets in Dundas.

According to the Dundas Star, Switenky responded to the complaints by stating:

Crosswalk lines should only be used in protected areas with stop signs or lights. From a legal perspective, we're taking a chance having unprotected crosswalks.

We're letting the crosswalk lines fade.

That is, as far as the city is concerned, the crosswalks in question don't officially exist.

(Ironically, Switenky oversaw a campaign last year to deter aggressive drivers by setting up a mobile electronic speed board that flashes drivers with their speed and the posted limit. Presumably, maintaining crosswalks is far too complicated and expensive by comparison.)

At a subsequent meeting of Councillor Samson's Dundas Community Council, Samson read the city's official policy on crosswalks: they must be at least 215 metres from the nearest protected intersection.

215 metres is nearly a quarter of a kilometre. Since studies consistently determine that on average, the maximum distance people will walk is half a kilometre, this rule actively discourages walking.

In North America, it has been getting harder to be a pedestrian for decades. John Pucher and Lewis Dijkstra found, in a report for the American Journal of Public Health, that American pedestrians are two to six times as likely to be killed as German or Dutch pedestrians. Per kilometre, American pedestrians are 23 times more likely to be killed than American motorists.

Pucher explains what needs to change:

According to America Walks, a national coalition of pedestrian advocacy groups:

Crosswalks are the critical links in a connected pedestrian network, and crossing the street is by far the most dangerous aspect of being a pedestrian. On the average, a pedestrian is killed or injured by an automobile every six minutes in the United States, and nearly three-quarters of these pedestrian/automobile collisions occur when pedestrians are attempting to cross the roadway.

In California, pedestrian fatalities account for a fifth of the total, but the state spends less than one percent of its traffic budget on pedestrian infrastructure.

In its recommendations on how to improve pedestrian safety at crosswalks, America Walks reiterates many of Pucher's recommendations, identifying four essential principles:

  1. Reduce the number of lanes to cross
  2. Shorten the crossing distance
  3. Slow the traffic
  4. Let the pedestrian see and be seen

This runs directly counter to the long-running trend toward wider streets with more and more lanes, which serve motorists but often don't provide enough time for a pedestrian to get across before the light changes.

The Dundas Community Council has identified a number of places in Dundas that need crosswalks. Let's hope City Council hears their request and makes this a priority. Perhaps they can use some of the money they saved by axing Aquafest...

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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