Special Report: Walkable Streets

Getting Across: Fennell Avenue East to the Late Mountain Plaza Mall

After watching senior citizens play Frogger to cross Fennell between a senior's residence and Mountain Plaza mall, a local resident is asking for a pedestrian crosswalk.

By Joshua Weresch
Published December 05, 2012

Some days ago, my wife and I were driving west along Fennell, coming up to Upper James. Ahead, an elderly man pushed his walker from the pedestrian refuge area-the hash-marks between the west- and east-bound lanes-toward the sidewalk. He dropped his grocery bag and, while cars swerved and honked around him, bent slowly to pick it up.

We saw a similar movement while going east-bound: elderly people, coming from the Effort Trust apartments across from the former Mountain Plaza Mall, dodged vehicles warily, some bleak version of Frogger.


View Cross Safely on Fennell in a larger map

We live around the corner from this intersection. I wrote to Scott Duvall, the councillor for Ward 7, and asked him about the possibility of installing a signalized pedestrian crossing near Mountain Plaza Mall's entrance on the south side of Fennell Avenue and those apartment buildings.

Traffic Engineering Response

The response from Rob Galloway of the city of Hamilton's Traffic Operations was interesting, and I quote it here, written Thursday, October 11, in full:

Hi Councillor Duvall,

We have reviewed this request for a Pedestrian Signal and offer the following.

The doors to the mall are approximately 90 metres to the east from the crosswalk at the intersection of Fennell & Upper James. This close proximity of this unmarked crossing area to the signalized intersection makes it an undesirable location for a pedestrian signal installation. If a pedestrian signal were to be installed at this location; the traffic signal would need to be co-ordinated with the full traffic signal at Upper James, which would increase delay for pedestrians to cross Fennell.

Also, during peak periods, left and right turns from Upper James could potentially be backed up due to the installation of an addition traffic signal on Fennell and would adversely affect the operation of this busy intersection.

There have been three pedestrian collisions during the last ten years between Upper James and Clarendon/East 5th, two of which the pedestrian ran into the vehicle. The third collision involved a pedestrian crossing Fennell closer Saints Peter & Paul school.

Considering the high volume of vehicular traffic and the many pedestrians that cross in front of the mall for convenience, this stretch of road is operating well. The painted median between the two directions of vehicular traffic on Fennell, is serving well as a pedestrian refuge area, allowing pedestrians to cross Fennell in two stages.

We looked at the driveways for the apartments on the north side of Fennell would allow us to construct a raised concrete pedestrian refuge island. Without restricting access to these building a refuge island cannot be constructed.

The painting of a crosswalk in this vicinity would be an unprotected crossing thereby creating a risk to legal action against the City should a pedestrian/vehicle collision occur.

In that the existing conditions are working fine, we recommend no action take place.

Please feel free to share all or any part of this email with Mr. Weresch.

If you have any questions feel free to call me at your earliest convenience.

My response, on Friday, November 30, to Mr. Galloway, and Councillor Duvall, was as follows:

Proximity to Upper James

The first paragraph, addressing the proximity of the proposed crosswalk to Upper James Street and Fennell Avenue's intersection, assumes that vehicular traffic and its convenience should be given priority over pedestrian traffic and the safety of pedestrians.

As the city of Hamilton strives to be the best place to raise a child, moving from the higher speeds of automobile traffic to the lower speeds of pedestrian traffic could ensure safer neighbourhoods, streets, and conditions in which that child-rearing could best occur.

The signalized pedestrian crossing does not have to be placed at the intersection of the two apartment buildings and the former Mountain Plaza Mall; it can be placed in the midst of the block, 150 metres from either intersection, without inconveniencing automobile traffic.

Also, as the entrance to the mall is 90 metres from the intersection of Fennell Avenue and Upper James Street, the seven-storey building at 68 Fennell Avenue East is 150 metres from Upper James Street, meaning that a pedestrian would have to walk a minimum of 240 metres, a difficult stretch for many who are great in years.

Also, students at Sts. Peter and Paul Elementary School, which is on the north side of Fennell, may want to visit the mall and its environs during their lunch-time and safe passage to the mall and the safety of those children connect deeply with the city's vision.

Mid-Block Crossing

In the engineer's second paragraph, regarding the frequency of pedestrian collisions near the proposed cross-walk, I must mention that it is illegal for pedestrians to cross a street mid-block when there are controlled cross-walks at adjacent intersections, according to section 14, sub-section 22, of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.

If people are trying to cross at that point, and taking refuge in the dubious safety of a pedestrian refuge area, the City is, in fact, encouraging the illegal crossing of a street and incurring the possibility of a higher liability and legal risk.

Also, Traffic Operations examined the given location in order to create a "pedestrian refuge island", but I requested the construction of a signalized pedestrian crossing, not an island. This crossing would cost approximately $80,000.00, an amount that can be payable from Councillor Duvall's Area Rating Fund.

Community Organizing

I would like to continue to move forward regarding the construction of a pedestrian crosswalk, despite Traffic Operations' contrary contentions. To that end, I have requested Councillor Duvall's support in this.

For my part, I would begin by petitioning affected residents and presenting that petition to the councillor. Showing that there is, indeed, public support for this endeavour, I would like the councillor to propose a motion to the Public Works Committee.

I look forward to a vision of completed streets and safer foot traffic.

It would be great to get some neighbours from Centremount together, begin petitioning, and raise the public pressure around this issue. Raise the Hammer and other Hamiltonians care about streets that are able to be walked and air that is able to be breathed; this is one way forward.

The conversation will continue.

Joshua Weresch lives in the neighbourhood of Centremount with his wife and daughters. He tends vegetables, writes songs and sings, and is only beginning to care about community.

27 Comments

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 05, 2012 at 07:38:55

Let's hope this campaign is successful and the City provides a safe, convenience pedestrian crossing for neighbourhood senior citizens before tragedy strikes again.

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By Confused (anonymous) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 07:56:41

I don't understand... there's a crosswalk at Upper James, and another at East 5th. You're proposing a third crosswalk within a 300m span?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 05, 2012 at 08:43:59 in reply to Comment 83463

300 metres is a long distance to have to go out of one's way just to cross the street, especially for a senior citizen with decreased mobility.

Studies in walking generally find that the average person will consider 400 metres to be the maximum "reasonable" distance to walk, especially if the environment is not conducive to walking (narrow sidewalks, high speed automotive traffic, busy intersection).

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 05, 2012 at 09:59:08 in reply to Comment 83469

What constantly bugs me is that the city is obviously aware of this because they'll put in a pedestrian crossing to connect a private institution to its parking lot. Hamilton General has one, Arcelor-Mittal-Dofasco's offices have one, and McMaster Innovation Park has one.

Apparently pedestrians don't need to walk out of their way as long as they're motorists.

And delay issues shouldn't be considered when it's a push-button crossing anyways, since there is no delay if there's no pedestrians.

If you want to go fast traveling East-West on the Mountain, just take the Linc, that's what it's for.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 08:04:15 in reply to Comment 83463

Yes, just like the one that's been in front of the Queenston Rd Zellers for years now, between Nash Rd and Woodman. Works great.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 10:42:18 in reply to Comment 83464

To be fair, that distance is almost 500m.

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By CaptainKirkk (anonymous) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 13:37:07 in reply to Comment 83474

Google maps shows 190m between the Woodman crosswalk and the "seniors" crosswak to the east of that.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 08:37:26

It doesnt have to be a stoplight type crosswalk either, it could just be a yellow light crosswalk where cars just have to stop until the pedestrian has crossed. I don't recall if there are any of these in hamilton but they work well in other cities.

Edit:Toronto calls them PXO's http://www.toronto.ca/transportation/wal...

Comment edited by AnjoMan on 2012-12-05 08:41:48

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 05, 2012 at 08:41:05 in reply to Comment 83466

I agree that they work well in other cities. In Hamilton, our legal department has decided that those crosswalks present a risk of liability to the city if a pedestrian tries to use one and a motorist goes through. As a result, existing painted crosswalks all over the city have been allowed to fade away and any new crosswalks must be pedestrian-activated traffic lights at a cost of $80,000.

I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect that allowing existing painted crosswalks to fade until they're no longer visible (or are barely-visible "ghost crosswalks") actually increases the risk of confusion and collision and hence of liability. After all, by law any intersection is by default a crosswalk unless otherwise controlled.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-12-05 08:53:06

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 08:55:28 in reply to Comment 83467

Are you sure that we are talking about the same thing? The PXO's are pedestrian activated lights, but not stoplights, so driver has to stop when they flash, but they can treat it as a stop sign - so they only have to wait for the actual pedestrian, not some arbitrary period until the stoplight changes.

Anyways, if we are talking about the same thing, then it seems pretty clear to me that if a motorist hits a pedestrian at a flashing-lights crossing, it is their fault, unless the pedestrian didn't press the button or the signal is broken

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 05, 2012 at 09:04:14 in reply to Comment 83470

Ah, thanks for clarifying. I think I posted my comment before reading your edit to include a link. I thought you just meant the older-style crosswalks with an overhead yellow X-WALK sign.

I'd have to look into the cost of Toronto's PXO to see if they are cheaper than Hamilton's pedestrian-activated traffic signal.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-12-05 09:05:47

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 05, 2012 at 12:39:25 in reply to Comment 83471

A huge advantage to these is that as soon as the crosswalk is cleared, the cars can continue to move, and if someone presses it "As a joke", no one needs to stop. With a full pedestrian activated stoplight, the cars have to wait until the full signal changes to cross. And if a pedestrian hits the button, and then crosses before his signal turns green (maybe thre was a gap), then the light will still change even when the pedestrian is long gone, and then cars are stopping for nothing.

The Toronto style pedestrian lights serve everyone most efficiently. Pedestrians get instant gratification, plus their path is lit up where they walk. Motorists only have to stop for as long as it takes the person to cross rather than for a full signal.

We need to fight for the adoption of these here. Are they in the highway traffic act? If so then what's the problem?

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 18:03:04 in reply to Comment 83485

the problem is they require drivers to watch for pedestrians. Surely we can't expect them to do that AND look out for the next Hortons drive-thru at 65km

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 05, 2012 at 14:09:22 in reply to Comment 83485

I do wish they were a flashing red though instead of flashing yellow. Flashing yellow just means "caution" and lets the driver know that a pedestrian intends to cross. Flashing red is a stop-sign (not a stop light) and means that drivers must pause at the line and check for pedestrians before they continue.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 13:28:06 in reply to Comment 83485

They are all over Toronto, as well as in other cities - the first time I saw one was in Halifax, and it blew my mind!

As a motorist, you feel like a dummy waiting at a red for no-one, when you could easily just go...PXO avoids that annoying wait time after the pedestrian has crossed.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 05, 2012 at 13:35:02 in reply to Comment 83494

Thank you. I've contacted the city to ask about them.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 09:48:44

Unfortunately, this is the standard response of the traffic department to every request for new pedestrian crossings: claim that the crossing is either not justified (there is no safety issue or there is insufficient demand), or can't be implemented because of the need to cater to fast traffic flow.

Even the request of the Durand Neighbourhood Association to decrease the response time of the pedestrian activated light on Queen near Ryerson Rec Centre and school (currently up to 60 seconds) has been met with a straight out refusal!

This is why residents have had to resort to petitions and their councillor, who has the ability to over-rule the opinions of the traffic engineers through a vote of council.

As the writer points out, the value scale used to justify these decisions (the need for smooth and fast motor vehicle flow trumps the needs of all other road users) runs directly counter to many other officially adopted city policies. It is also counter to the principle that it is up to residents, not engineers, to identify problems and determine the value scale and it is the job of engineers to find a technical solution to fix the problem. The traffic department even sometimes claims to put pedestrians first, but can't seem to bring itself to actually make changes on the ground that could possibly impact traffic flow.

Apparently, the city will soon adopt an official plan that mandates a pedestrian first traffic hierarchy. Once it is adopted, residents should demand to know what policy changes the traffic engineers have made to prioritize the needs of pedestrians (and cyclists) above those of motorists.

For example, the time of a pedestrian will need to be valued higher than that of a motorist ... which implies no longer asking pedestrians to walk hundreds of metres out of their way to a signalized crossing just to cross the street.

In the recent Dundas incident the city was demanding that seniors walk an extra 630m just to cross the street. For an (active) senior walking at 4km/h, this would take about 10 minutes. This is like asking a motorist driving at 40km/h to take a 6.7km detour just to cross an intersection. Of course we would never inconvenience motorists like that ...

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2012-12-05 11:00:08

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 11:17:01

To be honest, I'm surprised they haven't put up some kind of a sign reminding pedestrians to "Cross at the lights" as that seems to be what the city typically does.

My only concern is that this spot is not "unique" in any way, there are hundreds of spots like this where a pedestrian crosswalk would be useful. Do we implement them all?

Concession street is one of my favourite examples, since it has relatively few signalized crossings along it's length, and is rather highly trafficked by pedestrians. I can think of at least 3 spots that could use a pedestrian crossings, but I doubt the city would want to spend a quarter million dollars on one street.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 13:32:01 in reply to Comment 83477

gotta start somewhere!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 05, 2012 at 11:30:25 in reply to Comment 83477

Do we implement them all?

I'm reminded of a line from The Constant Gardener:

Justin Quayle: Be reasonable. There are millions of people, they all need help. It's what the agencies are here for.

Tessa Quayle: Yeah, but these are three people that we can help.

And later:

Jonah Andika: Look, there are thousands of them out there. I can't make an exception for this one child.

Justin Quayle: Yes, but this is one we can help!

It's no argument against putting in a crosswalk somewhere because there are other places that also need crosswalks.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 15:00:56 in reply to Comment 83478

I'm not necessarily arguing against adding this one, simply that adding similar crosswalks at all such intersections will take a significant amount of money and time.

This intersection was identified by chance - someone at the right place at the right time spotting an issue. But how do we identify the hundreds of similar intersections across the city? Do we then prioritize which ones get crosswalks fist, given constraints on our time and money?

I'm just not sure about saying "let's start with this particular one".

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 15:59:43 in reply to Comment 83500

Part of the problem is that the "approved" crosswalk solution in Ontario, the pedestrian crossover, is inconsistently implemented (not at all in Hamilton) and is almost as expensive as the pedestrian operated traffic light solution that is used in Hamilton.

In most other places, crosswalks are cheap and easy to implement: zebra stripes and/or white lines on the road, combined with one sign on each side of the road (and perhaps a warning sign further away). And these are regular traffic signs, not suspended, illuminated signs.

This cheap solution is used in western Canada (and France, for example), and means it is much easier to implement.

The rules for motorists at pedestrian crossings also need to be changed.

Currently in Ontario motorists are only required to yield (i.e. stop) when a pedestrian enters a lane travelling in the same direction they are (which is crazy). In BC (and most other places), motorists travelling in both directions must stop as soon as a pedestrian takes a foot off the curb.

As with cycling, motorists (and pedestrians) will be more respectful of pedestrian crossings once they are standardized and installed widely (ideally at every urban non-signalized intersection and in mid-block where the distance to the intersection is too far). This has always been the case in Vancouver.

As pointed out by other commenters, the pedestrian operated traffic light is a very safe solution (also used in western Canada), but in Hamilton they have drastically reduced its usefulness by making pedestrians wait so long for the light to respond. You are only forcing motorists to stop when a pedestrians actually needs to cross, so why is there any need to delay? If there are really so many pedestrians crossing that traffic is getting seriously jammed, then a regular traffic light (synchronized with the others) is warranted. If not, then there is no reason to force the pedestrian light to operate on the same cycle as the other lights which are timed for motor vehicles. Once again the time and convenience of pedestrians is valued far less than those of motorists (not at all, really, since they have to fit in with the needs of drivers) .

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2012-12-05 16:06:09

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 18:08:23 in reply to Comment 83506

this is what they do in Florida, and many other states.

http://imagesus.homeaway.com/mda01/588e7...

Hard to read, but it says 'state law; yield to pedestrians in crosswalk'.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 05, 2012 at 12:47:46

The city just put a light in at Augusta crossing John South. This was under the guise of assisting pedestrians.

The problem is, the programming of this light is horrendous. First of all, if no one hits the pedestrian button, the pedestrian signal never changes even if a car triggers the green cycle

So if a car has triggered the light and you walk up to it as it's turning green to cross John, the pedestrian light does not turn green. According to the city, you should press the button, wait for the entire augusta vehicular green, then wait for the entire john street green, and then cross at the next Augusta green cycle.

Second, if you hit the button, the delay is absurd. And sometimes, when you hit it, the john street flashing hand starts - but before augusta gets the green, the john street green man comes back for a while, and then starts flashing again, and THEN augusta gets the green.

I have never been able to trigger the light with my bike - there is absolutely no feedback to a cyclist that their presence has been detected.

My observations tell me that, except during an hour a day in AM and an hour in PM rush times, almost every pedestrian and cyclist crosses against a red for frustration of the delays for the green.

The city's response is that they can't tie up John street by lowering the pedestrian button response time.

This despite the fact that the only bottleneck on john is the bizarre scene at hunter with buses blocking one lane and turning vehicles blocking the other. A proper Augusta pedestrian crossing will NEVER be a bottleneck as long as the bus routes and turn lanes are maintained on john between hunter and jackson.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 18:11:17 in reply to Comment 83486

We met with a traffic big-wig at Locke and York a couple years ago to ask for longer pedestrian crossing 6 lanes of York. The city traffic guy almost threw a fit and said "if we add 20 seconds here, it means we have to adjust ALL 30,000 signals in the city!!".

The rest of us instinctively started laughing. I wanted to pin a medal on the guy for saying something so stupid with a straight face and lots of passion. Needless to say we didn't really get much headway with our ideas.

Last update from McHattie was that the city was willing to add 2-3 seconds to the light.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-12-05 18:12:00

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By yogi (anonymous) | Posted December 06, 2012 at 07:01:32

Very nice to see that the stereotype of all people living on the mountain not caring about pedestrians isn't true. Too many people who are healthy and drive don't realize how much you're trapped in this city if you don't drive or can't walk easily or far, thank you for putting yourself in someone elses shoes and caring enough to do something about it!

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By signals (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2013 at 16:37:36

A few months after the fact but...

where did the author come up with $80,000 for a pedestrian signal? a pedestrian signal or partial signal costs about $250,000 and a PXO isn't much cheaper since the major cost is the underground work. not that money should be an issue since the city busied themselves to install 4 unwarranted, useless and dangerous (to pedestrians and drivers) partial intersection signals in Dundas just a couple years ago.

I personally think pedestrian islands are the best solution as they slow traffic but don't disrupt it, even if the city doesn't want to call them "pedestrian" islands I am sure they would improve the situation. That said this suggestion is for pedestrians accessing the plaza which is a nightmare in itself, what is the point in adding a crossing on Fennell when you will probably die walking into the plaza from that side.

I am sure the commenter who thought changing signal timings for the whole east west downtown corridor was laughable would change their mind if they realized what a massive project that would be, unfourtunately you don't just hit a button and make every intersection perfect

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