After local residents organized to dedicate money to new walkability infrastructure, they are now faced with the prospect of spending another few months trying to get the city to fix the broken-by-design implementation of that infrastructure.
By Ryan McGreal
Published September 30, 2014
Once again, the City's Traffic department is sacrificing the usability of a new signalized crosswalk on the altar of traffic flow.
New crosswalk on Hunter at MacNab (RTH file photo)
The new crosswalk on Hunter Street at MacNab was just put into operation last week after Ward 2 residents voted in the Participatory Budget process to spend some of the Area Rating Capital Fund on it.
Instead of being pedestrian-activated as requested, the traffic signals are on a cycle that is timed to coincide with the "green wave" of synchronized lights on Hunter Street.
The City installed a button on each side of the crosswalk, but as the buttons do not actually activate the traffic signals to change, they merely serve as non-functioning decoys that have the effect of reducing pedestrians' confidence that infrastructure will work for them.
So we have a new signalized crosswalk that stops automobile traffic at regular intervals whether or not someone is trying to cross, yet has no way for a pedestrian to activate it to stop traffic when someone is trying to cross.
An email response from Public Works yesterday explains the decision to put the signals on a timed cycle rather than making them pedestrian-activated:
Staff noted that progressive traffic flow on one-way streets results in groups of vehicles travelling along the one-way roadway and as they proceed they encounter successive green displays. When this progressive flow is not provided the appearance of the green displays is completely random and sporadic and can create situations where approaching drivers are suddenly faced with an unexpected red display. When this occurs some drivers may brake, others may elect to run-the-red which would endanger pedestrians who are crossing the roadway.
Yes, you literally just read that the City is afraid drivers will see a red traffic signal and not know what to do.
The whole point of this crosswalk is to calm traffic, slow down the dangerous vehicle speeds on Hunter and establish a safe way for people to cross in a high-pedestrian-traffic area.
But the traffic engineers have decided to make the intersection less usable to pedestrians in order to avoid facing drivers with an "unexpected" red light.
This beggars belief. Drivers don't expect to encounter red lights because we have designed our streets so automobiles never have to slow down. That assumption is exactly what needs to change, and it will not change until we change the design of the environment in which people drive.
The response also suggested that it is a practice to synchronize crosswalk signals with the green wave on one-way streets. Last year, the City installed a signalized crosswalk on Herkimer at Caroline and put it on a cycle as well, but that cycle was not even synchronized with the rest of the green wave on Herkimer.
After a few months of pressure from local residents and the Durand Neighbourhood Association, the City came back and reprogrammed the intersection so that it works as expected: the traffic signals are green unless a pedestrian pushes the button, at which time the trafic signals turn yellow and then red, and then the Walk signal comes on.
Similarly, the signalized crosswalks on Queen at Duke and on Aberdeen at Kent were programmed to have a "minimum service level for pedestrians" - someone waiting to cross the street would have to wait between 40 seconds and almost two minutes after pushing the button.
These new crosswalks are being installed because residents are choosing to spend the Area Rating Capital Fund on them, not because the Traffic Department has decided to start making our streets safer and more accommodating for pedestrians.
So it is particularly frustrating to see them programmed in a manner that comes across as passive-aggressive. After local residents organized to dedicate money to new walkability infrastructure, they are now faced with the prospect of spending another few months trying to get the city to fix the broken-by-design implementation of that infrastructure.
It's insulting to the engaged residents, a waste of everyone's time and an irresponsible use of scarce City resources that must go back and revisit an installation that should have been done right the first time.
Enough is enough! The City needs to stop deforming and sabotaging the positive changes that residents demand to make their neighbourhood streets safer and more welcoming.
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