Special Report: Walkable Streets

How Legal Liability is Determined in a Driver-Pedestrian Collision

Legal liability assessments in the case of collisions between drivers and pedestrians indicates that the City's policy of neglecting uncontrolled crosswalks is not legally sound.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published November 10, 2013

For many years, the City of Hamilton has steadfastly refused to provide safe and convenient pedestrian facilities by using the argument that these facilities, such as crosswalks without associated stop signs or traffic lights, open up the city to potential liability from pedestrians who might be injured using the facility.

The most infamous example of this thinking was the decision, over a decade ago, to remove the signs from unsignalized designated pedestrian crosswalks and allow the painted lines to gradually fade away over many years.

'Ghost crosswalk' on Hunter near City Hall (Image Credit: Undustrial)
'Ghost crosswalk' on Hunter near City Hall (Image Credit: Undustrial)

The fact that Hamilton has the second worst rate of pedestrian injuries in Ontario gives the lie to the claim that this decision has somehow made the streets safer for pedestrians.

Liability for the City

There remains, however, the argument that even if refusing to designate crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections makes walking more dangerous and less convenient, it at least avoids a significant liability risk to the City.

It would be helpful if the City's Legal department actually engaged in an open discussion about the reasons for their opinion regarding liability at non-signalized crosswalks, and why they think no signs should be posted for drivers reminding them of their duty to yield to crossing pedestrians.

Any such legal opinion is a particular interpretation of the law and assessment of relative risks and benefits, and involves value judgments that should be influenced by public debate.

This discussion could include: citing particular parts of the Highway Traffic Act and Regulations, relevant jurisprudence and precedent, and insight into how the lawyers weight the risk of liability to the City against the duty to provide safe and convenient infrastructure to pedestrians (while supporting the City's official goal of promoting walking and a recent Ontario Coroner's Office report on pedestrian deaths).

Presentation on Pedestrian Accidents

Until we hear from them, this slide presentation by Frank Devito [PDF] of the Toronto law firm Beard Winters LLP provides some guidance. I should emphasize that IANAL, and would be interested in hearing comments from lawyers on this discussion.

Devito's presentation addresses precisely the issue we are interested in: pedestrian and driver liability in the event of a collision:

"This presentation will focus on the duties of pedestrians and drivers and will discuss some of the liability assessments which have been apportioned against pedestrians and drivers in recent decisions."

I will quote some salient passages, and then draw some conclusions for Hamilton.

  1. "The Highway Traffic Act 193(1) imposes a reverse onus on a driver who impacts a pedestrian on a public roadway."

    In other words, the driver is presumed negligent unless they can establish in court that they acted "reasonably and properly in the circumstance". The plaintiff (i.e. pedestrian or cyclist) need only prove that a collision occurred and caused the damages.

  2. "Pedestrians are assumed to act rationally and reasonably."

    In other words the motorist must prove that the pedestrian did not act rationally or reasonably. The actions of the pedestrian must be "unforeseen and unexpected". The fact that the pedestrian was negligent and unreasonable is not an acceptable defense if the driver could have reasonably anticipated the negligent action.

    Examples of actions that could lead to the pedestrian being considered at least partly liable include: suddenly running into the middle road for no reason, jogging across a crosswalk without looking while wearing headphones, or being intoxicated.

  3. "A higher duty is owed to pedestrians crossing at regular street crossings\pedestrian crosswalks. Although they still must exercise care, they have higher rights than if they attempted to cross elsewhere."

    Note that this implies that legally crossing at any intersection (even unsignalized) gives pedestrians higher rights, since a "regular street crossing" means "an intersection". The only case where motorists do not have this "higher duty" is when a pedestrian crosses mid-block (what is sometimes called jaywalking) where there is not a designated mid-block pedestrian crosswalk.

    This is the consistent with the Highway Traffic Act, which defines "crosswalks" to exist at all intersections, whether marked (controlled) or not. The fact that all intersections are "crosswalks" is crucial to understanding liability, and why Hamilton's courtesy crosswalks should not lead to a higher liability risk provided they are only implemented at intersections.

  4. "Even in circumstances where a Defendant driver failed to maintain a proper look out or was driving at an excessive speed, the Court has attributed a majority of liability to the Plaintiff where they did not cross at a crosswalk."

    This is quite shocking, but it seems to be the reasoning driving the City's legal interpretation. However, it hinges on what is defined to be a crosswalk (or "regular street crossing" above). Since the Highway Traffic Act defines crosswalks at all intersections (those without signals are termed "uncontrolled crossings"), the City's argument that crossing pedestrians only have right of way when legally crossing at a signalized intersection seems weak.

    However, the presentation does also use the term "designated crosswalk" (the designation is by the municipality). This implies that the City can designate crosswalks as they wish with signs and pavement markings, even mid-block, provided the designation is clear to motorists and pedestrians.

    This is what is done in many other municipalities in Ontario, and is the practice throughout Canada. But, once again, intersections or "regular street crossings" do not require special designation to give pedestrians higher rights.

  5. "The Supreme Court of Canada, in the cases of Petijevich v. Law [1968] S.C.J. No. 95, 1 D.L.R. (3d) 690 and Coso v. Poulos, 1969 CanLII 95 (S.C.C.), [1969], S.C.R. 757, has stated that once a pedestrian has safely entered a crosswalk, the pedestrian may assume that motorists will yield to the right of way and will share no responsibility if struck in a crosswalk."

    This is essentially what the MTO told us: the pedestrian must wait until there is a sufficient gap that the motorist can stop safely (it must not be "impractical" for the motorist to stop), and once crossing legally the pedestrian has right of way and will share no liability in the case of a collision.

  6. "Regardless of what the pedestrian is doing, if a driver is not keeping a proper look out or was negligent by speeding, a driver will be found at least partially liable."

    This reminds us that drivers must be alert, even for pedestrians behaving negligently (e.g. an 8-year old running out from a playground after a ball).

In summary, pedestrians legally crossing mid-block at "designated crosswalks" or at street intersections have much higher rights and consequently higher legal protection than pedestrians crossing elsewhere.

Courtesy Crossings

Hamilton is proposing new "courtesy crossings" for currently uncontrolled street intersections which are therefore locations where pedestrians (in principle) already enjoy higher rights and motorists have a higher duty. (The Toronto style PXOs with overhead lights are intended primarily for mid-block crossings.)

The City's Legal department recommends posting signs that read, "Caution - Vehicles Not Required to Stop" but this wording has not been finalized yet.

Over decades, Hamiltonian motorists have come to ignore their duty to yield to pedestrians crossing legally at intersections. Therefore, the key to enhancing pedestrian safety at these new "Courtesy Crossings" is to make it clear to the motorist that they are approaching a pedestrian crosswalk and that it is an area where they should be on the lookout for pedestrians.

With respect to municipal liability, it would be very difficult for a motorist to claim that they didn't know that an intersection painted with a zebra crossing and a sign saying "motorists must yield to crossing pedestrians" was a pedestrian crosswalk (and, in any case, it is still a "regular street crossing").

Note that the presentation and examples do not distinguish between crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections, pedestrian crossovers, and crosswalks at signalized intersections. The only requirement is that the crosswalk be "designated" or that it be a "regular street crossing".

It is important to remember that many (perhaps most) other Ontario municipalities have continued to designate even mid-block crosswalks with signs and painted lines, just like Hamilton did up to a decade ago.

Having such crosswalks at intersections, where motorists already have a duty to yield to crossing pedestrians, should not be a problem.

Adopting a new, even clearer, zebra crossing + "motorists must yield to crossing pedestrians/watch for traffic" McMaster/Mohawk type sign would be even better. It would definitely make walking safer and more convenient for pedestrians and remove confusion for motorists by reminding them exactly what their duties are.

'Caution: Stop for Pedestrians' sign at Mohawk College Fennell Campus (RTH file photo)
'Caution: Stop for Pedestrians' sign at Mohawk College Fennell Campus (RTH file photo)

Another advantage of designating more crosswalks is that motorists are legally required to exercise more care and attention in areas with high pedestrian activity. Having many crosswalks and other signs shows motorists that the area (e.g. downtown) is a neighbourhood with high pedestrian activity and they need to be extra careful.

The current policy of not including crossings, except where motorists already need to stop, sends the opposite message.

Finally, nowhere in the presentation did the author mention anything about liability for the municipality, even as as a separate issue. All cases considered how liability was divided between the pedestrian (plaintiff) and the motorists (defendant).

Many more specific precedent examples on pedestrian/motorist liability are given at http://carl-wais.com/blog/?p=105.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By Joseph Forsyth (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 06:31:48

I've always wondered why Hamilton has never adopted the push button - flashing crossing light (yellow x sign) that Toronto uses at intersections with no stop signs at various intersections.. I've always grown up with pushing a button, point, and was on my way.. Once I was across, traffic carried on, all was happy!
Guess it's expense, but it should be used as it worked!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 11, 2013 at 06:59:35 in reply to Comment 94621

You're talking about a Pedestrian Crossover (PXO), and they're explicitly defined under the Highway Traffic Act such that motorists are required to stop when a pedestrian is waiting to cross.

We've asked your question about why there aren't any in Hamilton, and the Traffic Department says they don't have a very good safety record. Instead, Traffic prefers to install pedestrian-activated crosswalks that actually stop traffic with a red light. The problem with this solution, of course, is that it costs a lot more money than a PXO and so there are a lot fewer of them.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-11-11 07:01:03

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 09:41:50 in reply to Comment 94622

That, and we value being a 10-minute city over all else.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-11-11 09:42:11

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 09:59:14 in reply to Comment 94624

Hamilton's traffic department is not the only one that has concluded that PXOs have a bad safety record. Don't make it sound like a made-in-Hamilton conspiracy.

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By j.servus (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 11:03:37 in reply to Comment 94625

Toronto did a study of its PXOs in 2005-6. They determined that PXOs worked well under appropriate conditions, but also that there were some conditions under which they were not satisfactory. The appropriate conditions include (inter alia) four lanes or less of two-way traffic, or three lanes or less of one-way traffic; slower average vehicle speeds; and good visibility. They were less appropriate for major arterials with multiple lanes of traffic moving at high speeds.

Here is the report:


And here is a journalist's summary:


Because of the heavier traffic volumes in Toronto (their "low volume of traffic" threshold for safe use of PXOs would include almost every arterial in Hamilton!), traffic tends move more slowly anyway, at least in the core. Our arterials tend to have timed lights that break up the traffic into clusters. There is good visibility between the clusters. Traffic flow on Toronto arterials is more constant, so visibility is less and substantial gaps are fewer.

Just speaking from the cuff, I would expect PXOs could be effective on Hamilton arterials with timed lights, because visibility at the head of the wave tends to be pretty good. At the No Frills at Main and Ontario, I have seen this scenario frequently: A low mobility patron begins to cross Main when the "green wave" is stopped. Long before the pedestrian finishes crossing, the wave begins to move, and the cars don't slow down or stop; they just weave around the pedestrian. Flashing yellow overhead lights, especially if accompanied by driver education as to their duties to yield to pedestrians, would allow the whole wave to slow down sufficiently for a much safer crossing. But, there may be many considerations that haven't occurred to me (besides the well-known uniqueness of Hamilton).

Comment edited by j.servus on 2013-11-11 11:08:59

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 10:28:00 in reply to Comment 94625

To be fair, as far as I know, Hamilton was the first municipality in Ontario to explicitly exclude PXOs, more than a decade ago without implementing any replacement (almost no crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections were replaced until very recently). If you know of precedents, before 2000, please let me know as I would be interested. I also don't know of any other municipality that used this interpretation to suddenly remove all signs from hundreds of painted crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections and then simply let the painted lines fade. Again, if you know of other examples, please cite them.

At the time Hart Solomon cited three reasons:

  1. PXOs are very rare outside Toronto and so drivers don't know what they are. This is slightly strange reasoning as PXOs are defined in the HTA regulations and discussed in the Ontario Driver's Handbook. The same argument could have been made about bike lanes ten years ago.

  2. PXOs don't have a good safety record. I'm not sure what the comparison is, but since most pedestrian accidents happen at regular intersections, the safety record of even basic pedestrian infrastructure is not good.

  3. Expense. The argument was that they are almost as expensive as the pedestrian operated traffic light that Hamilton prefers. This may have been true in the past, but the current price for a pedestrian activated traffic light is $150,000 and the cost of a Toronto style PXO is around $30,000, over five times less.

The bottom line is the the City's decision left Hamilton without a feasible way of providing crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections for over a decade, and increased danger to pedestrians by leaving the painted lines on the road (most notably on Hunter Street adjacent to the YWCA and pedestrian underpass used by seniors and children/parents going to the YWCA Seniors Centre and daycare).

In BC and Alberta both pedestrian activated traffic lights and painted lines/sign crosswalks are used. The Traffic Light model is reserved for those locations that are most dangerous or with highest pedestrian activity.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2013-11-11 10:28:57

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 13:04:05 in reply to Comment 94627

Toronto is not installing any new PXOs and only now installs MPS' (Midblock Pedestrian Signals). Mississauga has zero PXOs. The general policy in all municipalities that I know of is to install MPS' instead of PXOs.

The recently revised Ontario Traffic Manual Book 15 provides for a new version of PXOs which omits the amber flashing beacon and is instead enhanced pavement markings and signage plans to better deliniate pedestrian crossing spaces. Highway Traffic Act amendments are required to make the new standard a legal treatment.

Again, my point was not that PXOs are good or bad. My point was that Hamilton is not the only municipality to discontinue their use, and to paint the picture that we are, due to the nefarious machinations of Hart Solomon, is misleading at best. In fact it is a reverse form of the Hamilton exceptionalism syndrome. In normal form it sounds like "But that won't work because this is Hamilton." In this case, it sounds like "But we don't have that because this is Hamilton."

Comment edited by matthewsweet on 2013-11-11 13:04:20

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By j.servus (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 14:19:21 in reply to Comment 94632

It doesn't seem to be true that Toronto has discontinued PXO installations. What seems to be true is that (1) existing installations on arterial roadways are being replaced, per the findings of the 2006 report linked above, (2) existing installations on other streets are being upgraded with zebra markings, and (3) all NEW installations include zebra markings. See this Toronto city staff report from April 2013, p. 3: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2013/...

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-11-11 17:48:14

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 16:37:06 in reply to Comment 94638

Link doesn't work. I would be fascinated to hear that Toronto is still installing the old school yellow flashing amber ped activated PXOs.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 17:59:07 in reply to Comment 94647

They are installing "enhanced" PXOs with better flashing amber lights: they will continue to install PXOs on minor and collector roads, so Hamilton's position is not actually being followed by Toronto.

Most importantly, unlike Hamilton's decision over a decade ago, they are not simply removing the existing PXOs on arterial roads (and letting the lines fade), they are replacing them with full signals, or using brighter and larger amber lights.

From the report:

"Replacement of Pedestrian Crossovers ('PXOs') with traffic signals on major and minor arterial roads. To date, about one-third of the PXOs on major arterial roadways have been converted to fully signalized intersections and the rest enhanced with brighter lights and larger lenses to enhance visibility. On minor arterial roadways, almost 40 PXOs have been replaced with traffic control signals, and the remaining PXOs have also been enhanced. PXOs on collector and local roads are also being enhanced on a priority basis and all new PXO new installations are constructed to the new standard. "

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2013-11-11 18:00:57

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 11, 2013 at 17:48:39 in reply to Comment 94647

There was a trailing period in the URL. I've removed it and it the link works now.

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By j.servus (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 23:08:31 in reply to Comment 94649

Thanks, Ryan, for fixing my link. "Enhanced" includes the zebra markings as well as the brighter lights. From the previous bullet point to the one quoted by Kevlahan: "Zebra Crossing Pavement Markings. These markings increase the visibility of the pedestrian crossing area. They are being installed on all major road reconstruction and resurfacing projects, and on new traffic control or pedestrian crossover installations."

Comment edited by j.servus on 2013-11-11 23:09:43

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 21:37:56 in reply to Comment 94649

I forget where I was recently in Toronto but noticed a new PXO with a really visible, new flashing light. The bold zebra crossing added a lot too.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 13:18:21 in reply to Comment 94632

Thanks for the references. It is true that Hamilton could be seen as a pioneer (in a positive way) in rejecting PXOs very early, and has since been followed by other municipalities.

However, the truly "nefarious" part was not so much rejecting PXOs and replacing them with safer signals (as was done in Mississauga), but removing the signs for crosswalks and leaving the pavement markings to fade. These crossings were not replaced with anything.

Neighbourhood Associations (e.g. Durand and Kirkendall) who asked for the crossings to be replaced were told that a pedestrian activated signal was not justified (because they are so expensive), but that the cheaper PXO was an unacceptable option, leaving us with no feasible alternative.

Toronto is not removing all existing PXOs and leaving the crossings un-signed, it is simply not installing new ones and upgrading some existing ones.

If Hamilton had taken the same approach with the "painted lines and signs" crosswalks at intersections, or had come up with a solution that could be feasibly implemented to replace these crosswalks then it would not have been so damaging. At the very least, they could have actively removed the decoy pavement markings.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2013-11-11 13:37:23

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 13:53:50 in reply to Comment 94633

I will not defend the policy of letting crosswalk markings fade away that you have outlined. It's pretty indefensible. It seems that policy has been reversed and the Pedestrian Mobility Plan is a step in the right direction.

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By j.servus (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 11:15:51 in reply to Comment 94627

According to the Toronto report I linked above, the probability of a pedestrian accident at a regular intersection is around ten times that of PXOs. Also it was determined that almost all the accidents involving PXOs were on arterial roadways. The report concluded that PXOs were unsatisfactory for most arterial roadways, but as you imply, all pedestrian infrastructure seems unsatisfactory for arterial roadways.

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By conspirator (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 10:11:36 in reply to Comment 94625

The city's pedestrian safety plan for over a decade was to ban pedestrians by letting crosswalk markings fade away and not installing signalized crossings (of any kind) anywhere. Hard to see it as anything other than a conspiracy against walking, even if things are getting better now.

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By mikeyj (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 14:02:45

It would be interesting to compare other Ontario municipalities interpretations of 'uncontrolled intersections' to at least see if our Legal Department's opinion is common among its immediate peers.

Some quick searching found nothing clearly stated, but there does seem to be similarity's in the way Zebra Crossing use is mandated…

Brampton's 2010 Pedestrian Safety Plan and the interpretation seems similar to Hamilton's:

*"The Highway Traffic Act gives the right-of-way to pedestrians in the presence of and adherence to the following traffic control devices:

Pedestrian crossover Traffic Control Signals Mid-block Pedestrian Signal School Crossing Guard Stop sign controlled intersection"*

Unsigned intersections are not included, and later...

*"The following guidelines will be used to determine appropriate locations for Zebra Crosswalks in Brampton:

The crossing location must be controlled by a traffic signal or stop sign Where pedestrian crossing volumes are high In the presence of high right or left turn vehicle volumes Where there is a higher than expected number of pedestrian collisions

Zebra Striped Crosswalks will not be installed at locations without a traffic control device or at mid-block school crossings."*

Toronto seems to phrase their 2006 Zebra crossing literature similarly:

"The purpose of the zebra striped pedestrian crossing is to make the pedestrian crossing area more visible to drivers approaching a signalized intersection, and to remind them that they must watch for and yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk."

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 14:11:20

By the way check out today's Dreschel Dreck if you have the stomach for it.


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By jonathan (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 15:41:01 in reply to Comment 94636

What, specifically, do you have a problem with?

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By sleepwalking pedestrian (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 15:57:58 in reply to Comment 94643

I don't know about anyone else but I have a problem with the part where he takes an entire article to complain about "sleepwalking pedestrians and arrogant cyclists" right after a study came out finding Hamilton is one of the most deadly cities in Ontario to walk or bike in. Tacky much?

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By DM (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 16:26:34 in reply to Comment 94645

I've seen the article about the study, but I didn't actually see the study. Was there a link to the study itself?

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By Sara (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 21:47:52 in reply to Comment 94646

The data presented last week to City council and to the media was a preview of an upcoming SPRC report. The deputation available on the SPRC website provides sources: http://www.sprc.hamilton.on.ca/2013/11/s...

There's no firm date for release of the full SPRC report yet, but should be in a few weeks.

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By DM (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2013 at 19:18:02 in reply to Comment 94660

Sara, Are similar statistics prepared for other cities in Southwestern Ontario? Burlington, Milton, Brantford, London, Oakville using the same formula as Ontario vs. The City

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By DM (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 23:21:22 in reply to Comment 94660


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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 15:02:20 in reply to Comment 94636

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Comment edited by Cultosaurus on 2013-11-11 15:02:39

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 14:45:58

As mentioned before on the RTH, the difference between crosswalks at signalized intersections and unsignalized intersections is that drivers must stop for waiting pedestrians at crosswalks at signalized intersections and allow them to cross, while at crosswalks at unsignalized intersections pedestrians must wait for a large enough gap that motorists have time to stop before starting to cross. In both case once pedestrians have started crossing, motorists must yield by slowing or stopping, even at completely unsignalized and unmarked intersections. This is absolutely clear in the Highway Traffic Act and in court cases.

For example, in http://www.canlii.org/en/on/oncj/doc/200... the judge confirmed that "undelineated" crosswalks defined under s. 1(1)(a) are “portions of a roadway are marked for pedestrian use” where, if there are no markings or signs, the crosswalk is "marked" by the extensions of the sidewalks on either side of the road.

Hamilton is not unique in only putting crosswalks only at signalized intersections, and indeed it seems a fairly common guideline throughout the GTAH, however many municipalities outside the GTAH do not follow this guideline.

A clear and simple McMaster style sign would remind drivers of their duty to yield to crossing pedestrians at all intersections, and remind pedestrians to "watch for traffic" or "ensure motorists have time to come to a safe stop".

The current situation has meant most motorists are unaware of their duty to yield to pedestrians crossing at an unsignalized intersection, and yet pedestrians still need to cross. This leads to especially dangerous situations for the elderly, children and disabled (who are slower or have difficulty judging speed) as well as at busier intersections where it may require waiting an unreasonably long time for a gap so large that traffic does not have to slow down or stop to allow a complete crossing.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2013-11-11 14:59:19

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By MikeyJ (registered) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 18:14:22 in reply to Comment 94641

It wasn't made clear that Hamilton does seem to be following a common municipal legal interpretation of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, not their own unique one.

This interpretation is somewhat supported by recent provincial recommendations discouraging "marked or unmarked uncontrolled crossings":

The Ontario Traffic Manual - Book 15: Pedestrian Crossing Facilities from Dec 2010, page 45:

"3.3 Uncontrolled Pedestrian Crossing

Uncontrolled pedestrian crossings are locations(other than a controlled pedestrian crossing as defined in Section 3.2) where pedestrian crossing activity takes place without traffic control measures to designate and assign the right-of-way for pedestrians at the crossing. Consequently, marked or unmarked uncontrolled crossings are to be discouraged where there is a higher likelihood of conflicts given the lack of formal right-of-way designation for pedestrians. Pedestrian crossings should be prioritized first based on consideration of implementing supporting traffic control measures as defined in Section 3.1.2, and provided that appropriate warrant and site conditions are satisfactory. Wherever possible, pedestrians are to be encouraged to use crossing locations with traffic control devices."

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 12, 2013 at 07:13:36 in reply to Comment 94652

Hamilton does seem to be following a common municipal legal interpretation of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act

The issue is not so much how Hamilton is interpreting what the HTA says about uncontrolled intersections, but rather a) how Hamilton is interpreting its legal liability in the case of a pedestrian injury and b) what Hamilton has been doing about the situation.

Other municipalities have been replacing uncontrolled crosswalks with safer, more visible controlled crosswalks - including PXOs, which are explicitly defined in the HTA and proven to be much safer than uncontrolled intersections.

Hamilton, in contrast, has simply been allowing the pavement markings on its uncontrolled crosswalks to fade away, and in some cases cancelling uncontrolled intersections altogether by putting up signs ordering pedestrians to walk hundreds of metres out of their way to cross.

Warning sign on Aberdeen at Kent

When residents have asked for some kind - any kind - of controlled crosswalk to be installed in these locations, the City's response has been to deny the request on arbitrary grounds, usually citing the fact that not many pedestrians cross at these spots (duh).

Finally, the City of Hamilton has had a policy that even if it does decide to install some kind of controlled crosswalk, it will only install a pedestrian-activated traffic light at a cost of $120-150,000 a pop. Since there is no budget to install these crosswalks, there were no crosswalk installations until city councillors in wards 1-8 gained access to the area rating levy in the past couple of years.

Even so, prior to the participatory budget process it took extensive, broad-based community organizing efforts with strong councillor support to get any kind of action at all - and even then, crosswalks would be installed in a decidedly passive-aggressive manner to provide "minimum service level" to pedestrians.

Things are definitely changing today. The Traffic department has been shifting its priorities, especially since the tactical urbanism events earlier this year, and the message from the City Manager's office has been loud and clear. The new Pedestrian Mobility Plan will only continue to move the City in the right direction, and I look forward to the upcoming Complete Streets Policy, which will provide even more tools and vectors to design streets with all users in mind.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-11-12 07:13:51

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By MikeyJ (registered) | Posted November 12, 2013 at 14:42:23 in reply to Comment 94673

I’m only saying that the sign pictured above at Kent is essentially what Ontario told Hamilton is the best practice to do in such circumstance, and Ontario sets these laws for Hamilton.

Using the 2010 Ontario Traffic Manual for Pedestrian Crossing Facilities (Book 15), that intersection at Kent is not a candidate for a PXO, as the intersection is within 200m of both Locke & Queen signal-protected pedestrian crossings. Nor did it meet the pedestrian volume justification for an Intersection Pedestrian Signal in the 2007 Ontario Traffic Manual– Traffic Signals (Book 12) at the time of study.

Therefore the next option in Book 15 would be “Wherever possible, pedestrians are to be encouraged to use crossing locations with traffic control devices.” Which Hamilton did by putting up the sign, following the provincial recommendations.

It seems we (myself included) have been historically blaming City Staff for something that appears to be mostly the fault of the poor provincial interpretation of the HTA, as laid out in their own manuals for implementation.

Hamilton is not alone in its decisions on pedestrian infrastructure. So far a clear majority of Ontario cities I've looked into have made, and are making, similar pedestrian policy decisions as Hamilton. They are following the Ontario Traffic Manual's and perceive they cannot do much else legally without changes clarifying pedestrian right-of-way in Ontario Highway Traffic Act, which takes precedence over any local by-law.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 12, 2013 at 16:04:35 in reply to Comment 94677

that intersection at Kent is not a candidate for a PXO, as the intersection is within 200m of both Locke & Queen

It's actually 400 m from Locke to Queen, and Kent is right at the midpoint, i.e. 200 m from either intersection. So it's right at the minimum distance.

Nor did it meet the pedestrian volume justification for an Intersection Pedestrian Signal

According to the traffic engineering study that justified not putting in a crosswalk in 2011, only 40 pedestrians were observed crossing during the 7-hour observation window, much fewer than the minimum 100 pedestrians the engineers demanded.

Of course, that might have had something to do with the big signs telling pedestrians not to cross there.

In a classic case of induced demand in action, pedestrian use at that intersection more than tripled once the pedestrian-activated crosswalk was installed, to well over 100 pedestrians in the same 7-hour study period at the same time of year in 2013.

So we can point a finger at the Provincial manuals but it has been abundantly clear that the City's interpretations have also been biased sharply against improving pedestrian infrastructure, and has undertaken the few pedestrian improvements it was forced to implement in a manner that can only be described as passive-aggressive.

One final anecdote relating to the crosswalk at Aberdeen and Kent: when it was first installed, pedestrians immediately noticed that when you pushed the button to activate the crosswalk, there was a delay from between 40 seconds and almost two minutes before the light changed. In most cases, pedestrians would get tired of waiting and dart across the street during a gap in traffic, and the light would eventually turn red with no one left waiting to cross.

After several months of prodding from the community, a Public Works manager met with Councillor McHattie and me on site and acknowledged that the crosswalk had been deliberately programmed to provide "minimum service level" for pedestrians.

The manager added, "You may have noticed that we're trying to change the culture in Public Works," and to his credit he quickly had the crossing reprogrammed so that it would start the light change cycle as soon as you pushed the button.

Again, I'm happy that things are finally starting to change, but we must note that the change is coming as a result of citizen engagement (including some civil disobedience), not as a result of changes coming from the Provincial level.

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By MikeyJ (registered) | Posted November 12, 2013 at 18:08:17 in reply to Comment 94684

I measured from the pedestrian crossings not the intersection centrepoint, as I inferred from the manual: Kent to Queen was approx. 183m, and Kent to Locke was approx 194m.

I'm not claiming the City has no fault, just that the provincial aspect is being overlooked, even though it's clearly a direct influencing factor in a municipalities pedestrian policy.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 13, 2013 at 09:57:40 in reply to Comment 94685

The thing is (math and guidelines aside), pedestrians are legally allowed to cross at ANY crosswalk, whether marked or simply implied by perpendicular sidewalk intersections.

What we need to do is foster a culture where everyone understands their responsibilities. We can't put controls at every intersection, it would be a ludicrous waste.

Pedestrians are responsible for "looking both ways" so to speak - to make sure they cross only when there is a reasonable gap.

Most pedestrians do this as part of basic self preservation instinct.

The breakdown is with motorists who are generally unaware that they actually do have to stop for pedestrians who have started crossing - even if it's at an unmarked, unpainted intersection where they have "right of way" over other vehicles. This is not only a legal requirement but a basic social and safety obligation that goes along with living in a city with other people.

Putting signs up telling pedestrians to wait for a gap is an absolute waste of money.

Putting reminder signs for drivers has probably become necessary now - due to the blatant disregard for these laws shown by most of us when we drive. It's not that we are jerks, it's just that the city has encouraged this mentality through street design. It simply never occurs to us when we drive that when a pedestrian steps off the curb we must stop.

Just because most large population centres in ontario are guilty of the same historic bad design that we are doesn't mean we shouldn't do our best to change it.

Comment edited by seancb on 2013-11-13 10:03:41

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By MikeyJ (registered) | Posted November 13, 2013 at 14:02:11 in reply to Comment 94699

I completely agree,

There is a finite amount of controls a municipality can be expected to purchase, install & maintain. What is currently being implemented is not a sustainable course of action for all pedestrian crossings.

Pedestrian right-of-way should be a given at any intersection.

Clarifying the HTA and correcting the provincial Manuals are mandatory steps to make this a reality in Ontario municipalities.

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By huh? (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2013 at 01:19:26 in reply to Comment 94685

to put the province's guidelines in perspective: if the average walking speed is somewhere around 5 km/h and the average driving speed is around 50 km/h in the city then 200m is to a pedestrian what 2km is to a driver. if we had the same guidelines for drivers it would mean that if you were driving along james street north and wanted to cross king street you would have to drive either west to DUNDURN or east to beyond WENTWORTH just to cross king! and then of course you would need to drive back to james street. the city would never impose this type of restriction on a motorist so why do we expect pedestrians to simply accept this serious impediment to travel?

and this is just a time consideration which does factor in the added elements of weather, effort, or simple phycological barriers. if we want people to walk, bike, and take transit in this city we need to make it easier by using more realistic metrics.

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By DM (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2013 at 10:43:01 in reply to Comment 94693

If you are 200m from a crossing, under the standards, would that mean you are standing at a crossing?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted November 12, 2013 at 16:03:31 in reply to Comment 94677

It is true that much of the blame goes to the recommended standards in the various traffic manuals, although this is distinct from the actually HTA which DOES say that drivers must yield to pedestrians crossing at uncontrolled intersections (and that pedestrians must ensure that motorists have time to come to a safe stop before starting to cross). The HTA also defines "undelineated" crosswalks at every intersection, although motorists and the manual tend to forget this.

The Pedestrian Traffic Manual does not help as it clearly prioritizes vehicle flow over pedestrians, as shown by the 200m rule and pedestrian volumes. The pedestrian volume rule is particularly bizarre as it does not make sense to assess potential demand from actual demand at a location where the city actively advises pedestrians not to cross.

However, in the past (this seems to be changing) the city has been inconsistent in following the Manuals: they applied standards rigidly when it came to limiting pedestrian facilities, while being rather lax or experimental in other ways.

For example, Barry Wellar of the University of Ottawa was shocked when he observed that almost no intersections had stop bars painted at stop signs in the Durand. The city also pioneered pedestrian activated traffic signals before these were in the Manuals, but then decided these expensive and non-standard devices would be the only ones they would install, instead of the usual PXOs. Because they are so expensive they were almost never installed.

There is also the fact that when the Durand Neighbourhood Association accepted the City's offer to co-host an 8-80 Cities workshop on improving walking facilities the Traffic Department refused to even respond to the resulting report by 8-80 with a list of recommended changes until our Councillor finally forced them, months later. The final response was to reject every last recommendation, even those Gil Penalosa called "petunias": simple low cost short term measures.


Eventually, they said they might be able to consider increasing parking on some arterial streets, at least during certain times of day, to provide a buffer to pedestrians. Again, there was no response, until after much reminding, months later we were told that, after carefully examining the matter, they determined that due to traffic volume there was not a single location in the Durand were parking could be increased, even off-peak! The fact that buffers have recently been introduced on Bay Street, near Central School shows this was not true.

In contrast with other municipalities, in Hamilton pedestrian crossings at unsignalized intersections were simply removed rather than being replaced or upgraded.

And, as I keep saying, the fact the painted crosswalks were left to fade rather than being removed is appalling negligence. There is also no excuse for setting pedestrian activated traffic lights to provide "minimal service" after spending $150k to install them after telling residents asking for a crosswalk that it was the only approved solution.

I am very happy that things are changing for the better, but until recently the pattern was one of obstruction, refusal to compromise and rigid adherence to policy when it suited the purpose of denying upgrades for pedestrians. This should not be glossed over.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2013-11-12 16:06:56

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By Kevin Love (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2013 at 15:57:43

"... pedestrians behaving negligently (e.g. an 8-year old running out from a playground after a ball)."

Wow! Talk about blaming the victim. Needless to say, that is perfectly normal 8-year-old behaviour and not negligent at all.

Negligence occurs if a car driver drives through a residential neighbourhood or near a playground at such a speed that the car driver fails to allow for perfectly normal, reasonable and expected child behaviour such as running out onto the road.

Such a car drivers is, of course, criminally negligent and appropriate criminal charges need to be laid.

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By scenario (anonymous) | Posted November 12, 2013 at 04:20:29

i keep trying to wrap my head around this problem and how little concern there seems to fix this particularly destructive element in society. the best analogy i can come up with is imagining if car drivers were being injured and killed at the rate of pedestrians and cyclists by TRAINS. imaging if there were hundreds of uncontrolled unsignaled intersections that cars were forced to navigate daily with freight trains speeding by constantly. where motorists were routinely struck by trains and severly injured or killed? how much uproar would there be to solve that problem? would we still blame the driver for trying to drive around a city filled with trains? does not the city have a duty to create safe infrastructure to minimize the impact of the interaction between one mode of transportation which is inherently orders of magnitude more dangerous to another mode of transportation? should not the city act in all earnestness to protect that more vulnerable mode of transportation from the more dangerous?

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted November 12, 2013 at 15:21:57 in reply to Comment 94670

That is an excellent analogy. It is absolutely exhausting how much the victim is blamed. Shock jock quality articles are quick to show up in our newspapers blaming everybody except the root causes. They are truly exhausting and sickening. This region is truly stuck in an Idiocracy right now. How will it play out? Hard to say. Suburban rage is a big problem in elections, and it's directed at the victims, not the root causes. The thought of living in Ford Nation almost makes me suicidal. I hope the renaissance of sane people continues to gather steam. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm on the run from the Brawndo people for recommending water on farm fields.

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