I'm Sorry, Sir, But We Have a Dress Code

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 20, 2007

Hamilton's Police Deptartment, demonstrating compartmentalized thinking at its best, have launched a campaign to reduce pedestrian deaths: people need to wear reflective clothing and cross only at intersections with traffic lights if they dare to go outside without a car for protection.

Never mind that the city has huge stretches right downtown with no traffic lights. The woman killed on Main St. East near Prospect st. was "hundreds of metres" from the nearest signalized intersection, according to the police report.

Never mind that the legal limit and the timed traffic lights on Main Street, running right through the downtown core, are fast enough to kill most of the people unfortunate enough to be hit by cars.

The only way Hamilton will significantly reduce the number of pedestrian deaths is to slow down the motor vehicles.

Speed and Stopping Distance

Just a couple of days ago, I was driving down a residential street above the escarpment and a three-year-old boy dashed out in front of my car before his parents could react.

Because I was only driving 25 km/h, I had plenty of time to see him, react, and bring the car to a stop in plenty of time. Even if I had hit the boy going 25 km/h, he may have been hurt but almost certainly wouldn't be killed.

The risk of death in a collision with a car is exponentially related to speed. At 32 km/h, he would have a five percent chance of dying. At 48 km/h, just under the standard speed limit in the city, his chance of dying would have been almost half.

At 64 km/h, the speed at which the lights on Main St. are timed, he would have had an 85 percent chance of dying. No amount of fluorescent material can overcome such lousy odds.

Not only do collisions at higher speeds have a higher likelihood of death, but also vehicles travelling at higher speeds take longer to stop.

Braking distance is related to the square of the speed. If you're going twice as fast, it takes four times as far to stop. If you're going four times as fast, it takes sixteen times as far to stop.

The Speed Limit is Too High

In addition to their pedestrian campaign, the police are also cracking down on speeding. That's fine, but it obscures the fact that legal speed limits in Hamilton are far too high.

60 km/h on a street running through the heart of the downtown core is lunacy. It's a recipe for death even if the police can enforce it, which we all know they cannot.

Similarly, 40 km/h in a residential street is also far too high. It does not give drivers enough time to stop if a child runs out onto the street.

According to a report on creating child-friendly cities by Richard Gilbert and catherine O'Brien, speeds on residential streets should be reduced to 25 km/h.

Traffic Needs to Slow Down

RTH bangs on about this incessantly, it sometimes seems, but the only way to produce sustained reductions in traffic speeds is to engineer our streets to make it physically and psychologically difficult to speed.

That means:

All the police enforcement and public service announcements in the world will amount to a hill of beans as long as it remains easy to drive at killing speeds on Hamilton's streets. The police department - and, more importantly, city council - need to approach this in global terms if they want to produce a sustained reduction in pedestrian fatalities.

The side effects of such an approach - safer, more livable streets, healthier communities, neighbourhood reinvestment, and better quality of life - aren't so bad, either.

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 rudy schwartz (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2007 at 09:59:36

The Hamilton Spectator article is ridiculous. It completely emphasizes placing the responsibility on the pedestrian and not the driver. Extremely warped. I visited Hamilton last week for the first time, and if the police
are saying the trend isn't just in Hamilton, then that's a cop out (pardon the pun). The areas around King, Main, and York are astoundingly hostile to pedestrian traffic, and to be honest, it's not even easy to drive if you make the mistake of trying to turn into one of these streets without a traffic signal for cover. The people running Hamilton sound like they're in denial.

Other than that, I found a lot to like about Hamilton. There's much potential, and it's good that you're keeping up the good fight.

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2007 at 12:10:28

Inexcusable of Hamilton Police. It seems more and more that we are going down the road towards Ray Bradbury's pedestrian nightmare:

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 20, 2007 at 12:27:14

Mayor Fred wants to make Hamilton "the best city in which to raise a child". After education and poverty, street re-engineering should be priority no. 3.

Started looking into some stats on speed humps in TO. They're a bit controversial needless to say. Emergency services are not in love with them, and there are reports that SUV drivers love to speed up and fly over them. I guess it's the closest they'll ever get to off-roading. You wouldn't want to install a traffic calming feature that actually gave SUV drivers an excuse for their ridiculous vehicles. Will look into it a bit more.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted April 20, 2007 at 13:13:39

Two points of clarification. Do those death stats vs speed refer to the average speeds the vehicles are travelling or the speed at impact with pedestrian?

Hitting a small child at 25 km/h is very likely to be fatal, because car bumper height is at the child's centre of gravity and launches the child forward like a pool ball. An adult hit at this speed will have their legs taken out but critical parts like the head, thorax and pelvis fall into the relatively soft hood and windshield, thus much less serious trauma.

Point 2 leads from this. If hit by a pickup truck or SUV with their higher/squarer bumpers, adults are launched forward like the child, throwing their critical parts into pavement or other unforgiving structures. I have seen a stat (forget exactly where) that the risk of pedestrian death is 2-3 times higher for these vehicles versus cars at the same speed.

Interesting to note from the TLC report that 5/6 of this years ped fatalities involve trucks or SUVs. Front end configuration or driver behaviour or both? Certainly not just a statistical anomaly.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 20, 2007 at 15:38:19

I can't believe the solution is "distributing leaflets to pedestrians". Is that a joke?

Regarding speed humps, I think chicane-like "bump outs" are a much better solution for reducing speeds. Another tactic that works wonders in Toronto is implementing short stretches of one way streets that "go nowhere" in the sense that they force you to turn off of the street you are on every couple of blocks. This creates a situation where there is no advantage for through traffic to use side streets because they are forced to zig zag too much.

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By mark (registered) | Posted April 20, 2007 at 16:02:54

The introduction of roundabouts will also aid in slowing down traffic. I actually noticed these being built in a new development in Binbrook (one of the few things I liked about the subdivision). Stop signs are often ignored, but roundabouts force a driver to slow down.

As far as timed intersections goes, we'd get nowhere demanding their removal. How about simply changing the timing from one based on 64 km/h to 50? Traffic flow is maintained at a lower rate, there is not reward for high speeds, and those who insist on using Main/King/York/Cannon/Wilson as urban highways will be forced onto the real expressways if they want to maintain travelling times.

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By R (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2007 at 17:53:04

I work for the fire department and I think a big part of the problem is pedestrians not doing what they are suppose to do. I see it all the time where they cross in the wrong location or the wrong way, not very visible and the worst offenders are the one’s who think they are right and have the right of way when they don’t. I am amazed more are not killed. There are a lot more that are hit and are not reported in the media. They only report a fraction of the accidents in this city.

I the past 2 days, I have seen at least 4 people almost get hit by cars and they where all in the wrong place or doing it wrong. Two cases in point.

Yesterday on King Street at John, an elderly male with a cane and could hardly move very fast, started to cross King Street about 10 feet east of the crosswalks. He cut on an angle towards the Connaught Hotel very slowly. The traffic was stopped at the lights but he was moving so slowly that the light had changed and he was caught in the traffic. Most traffic started to go and he still had one lane to go. We moved up to him and stopped the traffic in the one lane he had left to go so he could cross. Who’s fault would have it been if he had been hit? His! There was no long distance between lights. The traffic in that area does move slowly and has been getting slowly over the years. For whatever reason he chose to cross wrong.

Today an elderly woman walked out into the street and only looked one-way. Luckily we where not moving very fast, the weather was nice and clear and she was dressed in a bright red. She broke two rules. She crossed in the middle of a block and did not look both ways.

I see pedestrians all the time not looking at the lights and just step off of the curbs. Downtown, if you want to make a turn and wait until the pedestrians have a “don’t walk” sign and the cross walks are clear, you will never make the turn. They walk outside of the crosswalks and cut across on angles and give you dirty looks if you even try to remind them of the right way to cross. Some intersection, they could remove the crosswalk light for all the people look at them. I know that if I try to stop across the crossways I can get charged. Heck in rush hour downtown where you can get trapped in a cross walks; you risk someone pounding on your vehicle.

I see people all the time crossing where they have nowhere to go. King Street at Gore Park (North side) has a fence. I see people all the time cross there and either try and hop the fence or walk on the road and then get mad at people who honk their horn at them. The other place is in front of the new building going in on King Street beside Denninger’s. The sidewalk is closed and fenced off! There are big signs saying it is closed! You can’t go there! But people still will cross just before it and walk on the road. Could they not walk 50 more feet and cross at the light? If they are going to Denninger’s they are only saving about 10 feet of walking distance.

The worst offenders are people, especially younger ones who think they always have the right of way. Watch, especially downtown, when you see an emergency vehicle driving with their lights and sirens on. You will see people with their fingers in their ears because the sirens and air horns are so loud. But you will get pedestrians who will not get out of your way and even worse walk right out in front of you and if they even look up at you they will give you the look of “I was here first and you can’t make me move. It is my god given right to be here”

I cannot drive on the sidewalk and have to follow the rules of the road. How come pedestrians can do what they want and have it someone else’s problem? I know car drivers are not all saints. To say that the pedestrians are always right and the car driver is wrong is absurd. There are a lot of responsible drivers who do nothing wrong and follow the rules. But I see more and more pedestrians not doing what they are suppose to do and blaming the “car and it’s driver”.

The police are right to try to get pedestrians to cross properly and wear the right clothing. Every who is out should dress properly including all of the joggers who where black and jog in the dark. Heck cars have evolved with more lighting and trucks and transports with more lights and reflective striping. And to say it is just Hamilton (bashing again) is very wrong. It happens everywhere. Just talk to the Police, Fire and EMS personnel everywhere and they will tell you the same story.

I think that some pedestrians need to get in a car, drive around and see what drivers are up against. To say that life in the city is and should be idyllic is wishful thinking. It never will be. Can it be better? Yes it can. Will it ever be perfect? No it will never be perfect. The car is here to stay. Technology will make it more efficient. The road where built for traveling on and no amount of public transit will change that. Both drivers and pedestrians have to do there part to make it better. Maybe pedestrians should be licensed to walk on the road and show they know how (just kidding…maybe).

I think that Ryan is wrong and this time the Police are right. His solution is again, spend tens of millions dollars of taxpayers money to solve a problem that should be taught by parents and in school and is just common sense. I see by the comment that most of the comments are by people who most likely do not drive and have no concept of tight schedules and having to get to places in a busy day. To say that get on a highway to try to maintain travelling times are by someone who does not have a clue of what goes on. Why do you think there are so many cars and people trying to get to places? It is because people need to get to where they work, play, shop and a host of other things they need to do. And do it where they want to do it and not the way someone thinks they should.

Wake up people. Just because you walk does not make you holier-than-thou and always right.

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2007 at 08:20:48

Great discussion gents. I sympathize with the Fireman. As a driver (predominantly - it would be nice to have more chance to be a pedestrian)I too get frustrated with crazy pedestrian behaviour; however, I think that, on the whole, erratic driver behaviour is worse and, of course more dangerous. On top of that, as has been discussed here, I think that car drivers, like me, have been given far too much right of way in Hamilton. The balance needs to be redressed.

Your road re-design ideas are right on; however I wouldn't discount more education for pedestrian's either. When I was a kid we used to have a cartoon squirrel or something, who taught us how to cross the road. Do kids still have this education now? I don't think it hurts to educate pedestrians AS WELL as re-design the streets. RTH should be promoting both.


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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 24, 2007 at 08:54:21

Another weekend gone by and 4 more collision deaths. We have a speed problem in this city and I'm not talking about pedestrians sprinting across the road...

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By Downtowner (registered) | Posted April 28, 2007 at 16:54:28

I think the real problem is lack of education and lack of enforcement of the rules. Police concentrate so much on setting up speed traps in certain areas that other violations are ignored. How many times have we seen drivers, pedestrians and cyclists breaking the law and there is never a cop around when you need one? But there is always a cop with a radar gun set up at a location where road conditions promote high speed. In other words, a road where the mojority of drivers are capable of deciding for themselves what speed is safe, regardless of what the sign says. The officer sits there and waits for the speeders to come to him, instead of actively patrolling for violators.

This is revenue generation, pure and simple. It has nothing to do with safey. When is the last time anybody got a ticket for following too close, failing to signal, making an improper turn, or not stopping at a stop sign? What about all the cyclists who ride right through stop signs and red lights? What about all the jaywalking pedestrians? Would it kill them to wait a minute for the light to change?

I was taught in school to only cross at the corners and to wait until there were no cars coming. People today cross the street wherever they damn well please, approaching cars be damned. There are lots of inattentive drivers on the road and when a pedestrian decides to step on the road in front of one that's when they get killed. The speed the car is travelling is not going to matter when the driver has poor vision or is too busy fiddling with the stereo or cell phone to notice the I-Pod wearing fool walking out in front of them. Everyone needs to wake up and pay attention, not just drivers.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2007 at 08:21:52

Would it kill the majority of drivers who "are capable of deciding for themselves what speed is safe, regardless of what the sign says" to drive the posted limit -- the speed which was determined to be safe by the engineers who built the road?

Would ticketing jaywalkers not be "revenue generation, pure and simple" since the pedestrian should be allowed to determine that the road is clear and safe regardless of what the sign says?

Why should we allow drivers make up their own laws but not pedestrians and cyclists?

Why is the right to speed held so sacred?

I agree we need more enforcement -- but radar traps, whether you like them or not, are part of that enforcement. The only reason traps appear to us as a 'cash grab' is because they tend to be set up in areas where it feels very safe to be going eighty in a fifty. In my mind, this is further reason to push for engineering the speed out of the roads. If it doesn't feel like a highway, people will be less likely to speed in large groups, and these traps won't be necessary. The police will then have much more time to spend catching tailgaters and jaywalkers.

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By trey (registered) | Posted October 22, 2007 at 12:23:13

that's the same as the police saying women should cover-up and not wear suggestive clothing or else it's their fault if they are raped. Or a homeowner should have alarm systems and video camera and lots of big locks on their doors or be at fault for a home invasion/break in.

The victim is at fault right Hamilton Police Services? Or should the onus be on the person(s) RESPONSIBLE for the accident/crime?

Amazing how we protect, subsidize, make excuses for, build infrastructure for and give priority for automobiles over anything else.

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