Special Report: Tactical Urbanism

City to Install Permanent Bumpouts at Herkimer and Locke

City staff do an about-face and embrace tactical urbanism as a way to make short-term, low-cost changes that help pave the way for a larger culture shift.

By Graham McNally
Published May 23, 2013

On Tuesday, Phil Toms and I met with Councillor Brian McHattie and John Mater, Director of Corporate Assets and Strategic Planning from the City of Hamilton, to review the recent pylon installation that occurred at Herkimer and Locke.

Image of plan as proposed by the City
Image of plan as proposed by the City

For those unfamiliar with the installation, at the end of April, the Hamilton-Burlington Society of Architects invited Mike Lydon of the Street Plans Collaborative in Brooklyn, New York, to come to Hamilton to introduce Tactical Urbanism and lead a day of thinking, imagining and designing.

Pylon Bumpouts at Herkimer and Locke

In the weeks between the Charrette and the subsequent public talk on the subject of Tactical Urbanism, pylons were placed at the intersection of Locke and Herkimer, cited by many pedestrians as a threatening intersection.

The pylons provided 'bumpouts' (additional space for pedestrians) which have the effect of shortening the crossing distance, placing pedestrians in a more visible location at the corner and reducing the turning radius available to cars which reduces the speed at which the corner can be navigated.

Bumpout at southwest corner of Herkimer and Locke
Bumpout at southwest corner of Herkimer and Locke

Through the course of our meeting, we learned that the City will be making the short term action a permanent installation complete with bump-outs on Herkimer on both sides of Locke and 'ladder' style crosswalks.

The project will be a kind of pilot project for the Traffic Calming Master Plan that City staff are currently working on and intend to take to council in the next few months.

Could this be the start of something?

Encouraging Installation

This installation is an about-face on the City's part from the position taken in the memo circulated to senior staff, and it is encouraging for a number of reasons.

First, there have been tireless efforts by many residents of this City to try to get our streets made more pedestrian-friendly. Hours of volunteer work have gone into their research, writing and activism. For years, I would argue, their efforts have been acknowledged but little has been done.

During our discussion at Herkimer and Locke, we raised the idea of building on this first pilot project by selecting intersections throughout the City to become test cases for the City's new policy on Traffic Calming. We talked about new installations occurring bi-weekly as a "rendering in real time" of the City's new strategy.

The idea of very small pilot projects is new to the City in this context, but the benefits with regard to building momentum and educating citizens to what the City's plans are is attractive to the City and I think they will move in this direction.

Next - and perhaps we shouldn't have surprised to find this - we found that John Mater, whose responsibilities include traffic and road design, 'gets it'.

That is, he took no issue with the proposition and actually wanted to extend the project down Locke and do work at additional intersections, in particular, Locke and Hunter.

Engaging Citizens

We had a great discussion about how the ideas of Tactical Urbanism (short-term, low-cost) can be used to engage residents and demonstrate that the City is working to improve the pedestrian realm and create complete streets even while policy and planning documents are being worked on for months and years.

Finally, we talked about the 'culture shift' in City Hall that City Manager Chris Murray talked about recently in The Spectator. Based on our conversation Tuesday and the way that the City is now embracing Tactical Urbanism and looking to it to find ways of engaging citizens, it definitely appears that we may start to see a different approach to our streets.

How all this plays out in the end, I'm not sure. But considering that the HBSA invited Mike Lydon up in early May and not even a month later we're talking about the City installing bumpouts in response to concerned citizens is encouraging.

Maybe even more encouraging is they intend to develop policy and programs to propagate similar installations across the City. I'm excited to see what happens in the next few months.

Graham is an architect practicing in Hamilton with an interest in urban design and issues.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 13:21:07

Hi Ryan

The city should do the same thing for the Ivor Wynn Pan Am nayborhood as they are planning it now ,

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 13:22:47 in reply to Comment 88888

they should do it near the Pan Am site on King Cannon and Barton area

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By BeulahAve (registered) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 13:21:55

Best news I have had all day! Congrats to Crossing Guard Wendy (pictured in photo above, to left of renowned Canadian artiste Gord Leverton watching for cars) whose first-hand street knowledge gave credence to the ideas coming from outside our city.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 23, 2013 at 13:36:49 in reply to Comment 88889

On the Friday before the bumpouts were removed, I asked the crossing guard what she thought of the project. With immediate enthusiasm, she said, "I like it!" She didn't know who had installed the cones or why, but she was highly supportive, saying it makes the corner a lot safer.

The traffic calming "really controls the traffic. It was getting scary," she said, noting that the bumpouts force the cars to slow down instead of racing aggressively through the intersection.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 13:25:40

Wow...I'm equally pumped about the bumpouts AND the bold-lined crosswalk treatment. I want this treatment all across the city. Hunter and Locke absolutely needs this treatment. Ditto for Main and Locke.

And pretty much every intersection on Cannon.

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By Rational Optimist (anonymous) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 10:17:40 in reply to Comment 88891

Thanks for mentioning Hunter and Locke- I couldn't agree more.

Ditto for Cannon.

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By Gored (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 13:50:33

This is good news. Great job getting the city on board. But I wonder what they're going to do on the Cannon St. site of another tactical urbanism act. Sad if only affluent neighbourhoods get cooperation from the city.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 11:23:58 in reply to Comment 88894

Affluent residents are part of it, for sure -- Mater's follow-up mention of Locke and Hunter isn't on the other side of the tracks literally or metaphorically.

But the math may be more complex.

Affluent neighbourhood + powerful BIA + elementary school + Catholic parish + politically savvy real estate broker + progressive multi-term councillor-planner would be a compelling chorus of voices.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 24, 2013 at 12:05:22 in reply to Comment 88932

We need to re-tune the city's targets and processes so that all of those stars do not need to align to get a basic piece of multi-modal infrastructure put in place.

I was proud to be part of the community group that successfully advocated for the Aberdeen/Kent crosswalk, but I was also highly conscious of the many privileges we enjoyed that made our campaign successful. There are lots of neighbourhoods in the city that need safe, walkable infrastructure even more than Kirkendall, but they do not have the affluence, social capital, councillor support and so on to make it happen against the prevailing winds coming out of Public Works and Planning.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 12:15:24 in reply to Comment 88940

Agreed. If City Hall charts its policy based on those rare constellations, Hamilton will end up nowhere.

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By grahamm (registered) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 22:13:50 in reply to Comment 88943

We're to have a follow up meeting with a few additional staff members to look at how this type of project can be implemented across the City. When we spoke with Brian and John, we were clear in our desire to spread this beyond Ward 1 and be inclusive of the entire city. This desire was well received.

The power of doing is that people see the physical reality of what is being talked about and hopefully that convinces some naysayers that this type of change to our streets is a good thing.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 23, 2013 at 14:32:30

Awesome. I'm honestly surprised the city managed to swallow their pride and do the right thing.

So, King at Dundurn next? Please? Pretty please?

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By hshields (registered) - website | Posted May 23, 2013 at 14:40:31 in reply to Comment 88895

King and Dundurn must be one of the busiest intersections in the west end. You have motorists pressuring to turn left from Dundurn onto King in order to gain access to the 403; you have motorists wanting to turn right from Dundurn onto King in the opposite direction for the same reason. Then you have timed lights and a wave of traffic barrelling down King also trying to access the 403 or go into Westdale. On top of all of this, you have a major shopping plaza, a HSR and GO bus stop (B-line stop too).

All of this explains why this was one of the first intersections to get red light cameras. It also explains why Dundurn Plaza has been given some attention and densification plans are under way. The next logical step to help faciliate densification plans is to start installing subtle but effective traffic behaviour modification tools.

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By JM (registered) | Posted May 27, 2013 at 11:51:44 in reply to Comment 88897

King and Dundurn was actually one of the sites that were considered during the HBSA charette. I was part of that group, and there were significant challenges that arose during our brainstorming, due to the intensity of the traffic here i.e.:

  • painting crosswalks could actually lead a pedestrian directly into the path of danger (advanced left turn)
  • temporary bumpouts could cause accessibility issues at bus stop (curb height)

Perhaps an actual discussion could be had with PW staff to discuss actual improvements here instead of tactics. i would be happy to take part!

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By theninjasquad (registered) - website | Posted May 23, 2013 at 14:35:00

Why is everything new that's done in this city considered a pilot project?

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 15:13:12 in reply to Comment 88896

not to sound jaded, but I think it's because doing a pilot gives the city 1,2 or 5 years to do nothing further. NYC transformed their bike networks and complete streets in a matter of 5 years. We do pilots as an excuse to keep the status quo as long as humanly possible.

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By grahamm (registered) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 22:14:32 in reply to Comment 88898

I'd rather a pilot than nothing.....

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 21:52:45 in reply to Comment 88898

NYC has the added impetus of being NYC. Manhattan has leviathan BIAs, global oligarchs and assorted masters of the universe, an immense tourism industry, plus access to conspicuous amounts of federal and state funding. That and a billionaire mayor who empowered a transportation commissioner and backed her bulldozer moves.

Hamilton has a fractious council, an aloof public works department and a $2 billion infrastructure deficit. But we can always seize on creative workarounds.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 23, 2013 at 22:00:33 in reply to Comment 88911

Wait, installing a bike lane in a pilot project and then keeping it once people experience it and decide they like it is a "bulldozer move"?

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 06:22:01 in reply to Comment 88913

In an ideal world, no. As Sadik-Khan has suggested, clear vision, rapid implementation, evidence-driven evaluations, and constant public engagement are key to making transformational change possible. I chose the term "bulldozer moves" as shorthand for that kind of decisive, palpable and purposeful change. Not in the sense of crushing public support or dissent, but in pushing through challenges to enact measures that would make humanized city spaces a reality. (And it's not just *a* bike lane, it's something like 200 miles (320km) of bike lanes. Being able to roll out a network at speed in an urban environment like Manhattan is not exactly a gimme.)

http://luskin.ucla.edu/news/public-policy/sadik-khan-change-can-be-done

But there's also realpolitik to consider. I don't think that anyone who observes the workings of cities would describe traffic engineering or infrastructure spending as sectors where rationality reigns supreme. Bloomberg appointed Sadik-Khan and his unwavering support from day one gave her power to enact substantive change:

"Ms. Sadik-Khan has two things that her predecessors have lacked," Says Transportation Alternatives' Executive Director Paul Steely White, "Solid experience in planning for transit oriented streets, and perhaps more importantly, a Mayoral mandate to relieve congestion and create sustainable, greener streets."

http://www.transalt.org/newsroom/releases/118

A more diffident mayor would have made her work hard if not impossible. And Gotham may yet get Jarvised.

To wit:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/13/nyregion/new-york-bike-lane-advocates-fear-new-mayor-will-roll-back-gains.html?_r=0

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By theninjasquad (registered) - website | Posted May 23, 2013 at 16:03:35 in reply to Comment 88898

They're basically saying, we kind of like this idea enough to do a pilot project of it to see what it's like... but we don't like it enough to go all in so we'll also half ass this project just in case we want to reverse it (ie. Gore Park Promenade). No one is ever willing to go all in and take some risk and leadership.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 20:46:34 in reply to Comment 88902

Case in point. It's hard to imagine hundreds of blocks of greenery being installed at considerable cost when the city has been so half-hearted about executing its established plan for the heart of the core, the Gore.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 15:15:48

Kudos to the city too, who all too often are maligned and criticized. They got this one right!

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By whatev (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 19:38:40 in reply to Comment 88900

I agree. Let's give them all the positive feedback we can and see if we can keep this ball rolling :)

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By BikesOnBuses (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 16:03:18

Actually NYC has done most of their complete streets changes as pilot projects. The Commissioner of Transportation said this in a speech she gave in Mississauga a few years ago, saying that a pilot can be implemented faster "all it takes isa bucket of paint".

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 18:03:10 in reply to Comment 88901

great point. I think Hamilton could see rapid change along all of King St, Locke, Main, Wilson and other streets in a few short years by utilizing 'temporary' tree planters as bumpouts. NYC has perfected this art of quick improvements of their urban spaces....which then leads to more permanent changes of substantial nature:

http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/04/02/new...

Everyday I see cars screaming down the curb lanes of King East trying to pass 1 car and save 7/10 of a second on their drive home. Putting lives at risk is apparently worth it to enough people to drive this way 365 days a year.

Imagine every single corner along King being outfitted tomorrow with huge tree planters in order to create 24-7 curb parking on both sides, 1 westbound bike lane and 2 full travel lanes (which it's traffic volumes can easily handle).

Not to mention the added trees and greenery are desperately needed along most of our main streets:

http://thevillager.com/villager_387/peda...

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 20:53:43 in reply to Comment 88903

It's so simple it hurts.

Even City Councillors and staff would be moved by the transformation that NYC has undergone - stunning pictures.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 23, 2013 at 21:37:53 in reply to Comment 88908

It just so happens the NYC Department of Transport published a report on it complete streets efforts. You can read about it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 22:37:14 in reply to Comment 88909

But Hamilton has huge traffic volumes. We can't just start eliminating lanes like sleepy NYC

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By MattM (registered) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 20:03:13

This spectator article says that the permanent bumpouts aren't a sure thing yet. The city will be installing those temporary white pole things in the shape of a bumpout for a year to monitor traffic changes, accidents, etc and then decide if they will become permanent:

http://www.thespec.com/news-story/323685...

If all they're doing right now is installing those temporary pole things, they should definitely be rolling them out at multiple locations across the inner city so that ALL of them can be reviewed in a years time instead of one of them at one or two locations every few years.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 10:00:59 in reply to Comment 88905

I don't get how Public Works can call those pylons a safety hazard and then put in white poles...

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 22:38:37 in reply to Comment 88905

exactly right. I was worried last week when I heard that city hall wanted to meet with the Tactical Urbanists. I can see them tossing up a few plastic bollards, calling it a pilot and then hoping everyone goes away and our plans can collect dust on a shelf with every other progressive plan that's been developed since 1992.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 20:42:51 in reply to Comment 88905

The cheap options with plenty of room to avoid conflict with the status quo are the ones that City Hall will be most enthusiastic about. Especially if it makes them look like heroes in the bargain.

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By Basics (anonymous) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 11:25:21

Nihilistic to suggest the receptiveness of City to this is just to quiet the progressives. Mater gets it as the article suggests and change takes time. Persistence. Patience.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 14:21:51 in reply to Comment 88934

you're probably right.
Sometimes the memories of involvement, feedback and wasted public meeting attendance from 1993 (Vision 2020) until now gets the best of me when I realize that every single progressive plan, document or idea that has been worked on by the public is collecting dust on a shelf somewhere at city hall. The optimist in me thinks 'one of these times it will be different'. But the optimist usually gets stomped on by the realist.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 11:41:10 in reply to Comment 88934

I wouldn't want to suggest that at all.

I think this install is a relatively easy fix to implement, one that satisfies a range of constituents and supports a broad range of bottom-line gains at nominal cost. All incredibly helpful.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 14:23:07

totally off-topic, but my 'edit' button has gone missing for a few weeks now. Anyone else with this problem?

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By movedtohamilton (registered) | Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:01:11 in reply to Comment 88960

+1

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 24, 2013 at 14:24:57 in reply to Comment 88960

That's weird. I'll look into it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 14:34:07 in reply to Comment 88961

Thx...

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By granny2 (anonymous) | Posted May 25, 2013 at 13:03:56

Awesome! Great to know there are people at city hall willing to listen to people who know the small things that can make big improvements for safety and enjoyment in their own neighbourhoods.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted May 25, 2013 at 16:11:46 in reply to Comment 88979

Truth. Those ghost crosswalks should be restored to bright white any day now.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted May 28, 2013 at 09:10:12

Bumpouts now painted, crosswalks are bigger and have big white bars in them to make them more visible.

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