Special Report: Walkable Streets

Whitehead Concern Trolling Aberdeen Traffic Calming Recommendations

Will Ward 14 Councillor Terry Whitehead ever stop being wrong about what makes our city streets safe and functional for everyone?

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 26, 2019

City staff want to allow all-day curbside parking on Aberdeen Avenue to protect pedestrians from the carnage of frequent traffic collisions, and Ward 14 Councillor Terry Whitehead is predictably opposed.

Collision at Aberdeen and Queen on April 6, 2018 (Image Credit: Tadhg Taylor-McGreal)
Collision at Aberdeen and Queen on April 6, 2018 (Image Credit: Tadhg Taylor-McGreal)

At the June 17, 2019 Public Works Committee meeting, staff presented an update on safety measures on Aberdeen Avenue from Queen Street to Longwood Road [PDF] that made the following recommendations:

(i) Timing modifications to the intersection of Aberdeen Avenue and Dundurn Street to implement a pedestrian lead phase for pedestrians crossing the east leg (north to south);

(ii) That a "No Right Turn on Red" be installed during the morning hours to align with the School Crossing Guard operations that take place on the west leg of the intersection;

(iii) Working under the principles of Vision Zero, staff are recommending permitting parking on both the north and south sides of Aberdeen Avenue between Queen Street and Dundurn Avenue; and,

(iv) That a flashing 40 km/h zone along Aberdeen Avenue from Queen Street to Longwood Road during school arrival and dismissal hours be implemented

The Public Works Committee approved the recommendation with only Whitehead and Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson opposing, and it is going to City Council today for final approval.

Whitehead is not going down without a fight. He has long regarded Aberdeen as a de facto highway for his constituents to get to work a minute faster and has consistently obstructed all efforts to make this harrowing minor arterial safer or more inclusive for people living around it.

Collision at Aberdeen and Queen on September 19, 2017 (Image Credit: Maureen Wilson)
Collision at Aberdeen and Queen on September 19, 2017 (Image Credit: Maureen Wilson)

His latest tactic is concern trolling: he claims that traffic calming on Aberdeen will result in more congestion and air pollution that will hurt children in his ward.

This is not a new argument. It turns out there have been a number of studies trying to measure this and the results are generally contradictory and inconclusive. Some studies find an increase in local air pollution while others find a reduction.

One thing is very clear: cities that design their transportation systems to prioritize driving have the most overall driving and the most overall air pollution, whereas cities that design their transportation systems to be inclusive and multi-modal have less overall driving and less overall air pollution.

High-Collision Street

It is disingenuous in the extreme for Whitehead to oppose making Aberdeen safer because of concern for public health and safety, considering the number of children who have to walk along and across Aberdeen every day to get to school, to the library, to the park and other local destinations.

A follow-up study released by Public Works staff on June 25 notes that there have been 466 reported collisions on Aberdeen since 2008, of which 15 involved pedestrians and five involved cyclists. Staff note:

The overall collision rate for this corridor is 4.70 collisions per million vehicle-kilometres. The industry standard for identifying an area of concern based on collision rate is 1.0.

So it's not just your imagination: Aberdeen is a high-collision street.

Perhaps Whitehead should consider the fact that one of the major causes of traffic congestion on Aberdeen and upstream is getting stuck behind one of the frequent collisions along this dangerous-by-design street.

Three-car collision on Aberdeen between Queen and Locke on March 22, 2018 (Image Credit: Ryan McGreal)
Three-car collision on Aberdeen between Queen and Locke on March 22, 2018

Two-car collision on Aberdeen between Queen and Locke on December 13, 2017 (Image Credit: Ryan McGreal)
Two-car collision on Aberdeen between Queen and Locke on December 13, 2017

Five-car collision at Aberdeen and Kent on December 6, 2017
Five-car collision at Aberdeen and Kent on December 6, 2017

Dangerous Vehicle Speeds

The physics of moving vehicles is clear: the only way to bring the fatality risk in a collision close to zero is to keep vehicle speeds below 30 km/h. That is why the Vision Zero approach to road safety, which the City has formally endorsed, calls for a 30 km/h speed limit enforced by physical design.

The June 25 staff report summarizes a three-day traffic study recently conducted along Aberdeen. It found that overall, the 85th percentile speed in both directions is significantly higher than the already-too-high 50 km/h speed limit, including during morning and afternoon rush hours.

The 85th percentile speed is a common traffic engineering measure. It means 85 percent of drivers measured are going at or below that speed, and 15 percent of drivers are going above that speed.

It also means that at all times of the day, including during rush hour, fully 15 percent of drivers on Aberdeen - approximately 3,000 cars a day - are going significantly faster than the speed limit.

85th Percentile Speed on Aberdeen
Overall AM Peak PM Peak
Eastbound 56.1 55.3 54
Westbound 55.7 56.2 50.2

If Aberdeen was a congested street with no spare capacity, this would not be possible. As it turns out, we know Aberdeen can handle the current vehicle traffic on one lane in each direction, because Beckett Drive already does this.

One thing we learned from the extended closure of the Beckett Drive escarpment access (Queen Street Hill) six years ago is that nearly all of the car traffic on Aberdeen is cut-through traffic. When Beckett was closed, Aberdeen was a ghost town.

Aberdeen Avenue during evening rush hour when Beckett Drive was closed
Aberdeen Avenue during evening rush hour when Beckett Drive was closed

Beckett carries some 23,000 cars a day on one lane in each direction, so Aberdeen can definitely carry 20,000 cars a day on one lane in each direction.

Whitehead is both wrong-headed and objectively wrong, and I hope Council supports the staff recommendation to make Aberdeen safer for everyone - including Whitehead's constituents in cars.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus and HuffPost. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

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By Blotto (registered) | Posted June 26, 2019 at 09:37:40

Everyone that drivers a vehicle - do an experiment and try driving 40km/h right on the nose. Very challenging to achieve.

Now, try driving 30km/h. It will be almost 'mentally' impossible without the presence of other physical factors.

Comment edited by Blotto on 2019-06-26 09:39:44

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By Ryan (registered) | Posted June 26, 2019 at 09:46:16 in reply to Comment 129999

It's very easy to drive at a safe speed of 30 km/h on a street that has been designed for driving at that safe speed. Not so much on a four-lane thoroughfare designed to encourage speeding and high-speed passing inches away from vulnerable pedestrians.

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By ceesvang (registered) | Posted June 26, 2019 at 11:35:34

Unfortunately the speed obsessed yahoos reign, happily supported by super longtime and reactionary councillor Terry Whitehead...

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted June 27, 2019 at 22:26:23 in reply to Comment 130004

Without impacting overall safety is an acceptable goal, though improving safety is the better one.

But note the much higher collision rate for Aberdeen reported by city staff. Kind of puts a skewer through the premise of your post.

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By positive1@cogeco.ca (registered) | Posted June 29, 2019 at 09:55:06 in reply to Comment 129999

Blotto - "...Now, try driving 30km/h. It will be almost 'mentally' impossible without the presence of other physical factors." Would a school-age child stepping out in front of your vehicle be considered a 'physical factor'?

I taught elementary school children in the north end (on John St.) for many years and advocated for safe walking and safe cycling. The City listened to residents and changed the speed to 30kph. Guess what? The sky did not fall in. People do it and you can too. You just have to overcome your selfish reasons for driving too fast. Your perceived 'right' to get to work 1 or 2 minutes earlier does not take priority over the health, safety and very lives of children, the elderly and everyone in between from walking safely in their own neighbourhood.

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By positive1@cogeco.ca (registered) | Posted June 29, 2019 at 09:58:36 in reply to Comment 130004

PGFontana - "...Accordingly, speed limits on Aberdeen could be increased marginally without impacting overall safety." Are you serious?? With high collision rates already at 50kph, you want to INCREASE the posted speed? Let's increase the speed of traffic in front of YOUR house. I mean, to use your words, I don't see how it could "...impact overall safety".

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By positive1@cogeco.ca (registered) | Posted June 29, 2019 at 10:03:00 in reply to Comment 130004

PGFontana - "...We assume that most drivers are prudent while trying to reach their destination as fast as possible."

Nailed it! There is something wrong with the 'as fast as possible' part of that sentence - especially when paired with the much more sensible word 'prudent'.

You've let the cat out of the bag with that one. Why not try leaving one or two minutes earlier and then it won't be a 'Mad Max' scenario where every destination has to be reached 'as fast as possible', but rather, at a reasonable speed that gets me where I'm going in a timely fashion without endangering the health, safety and lives of pedestrians and cyclists on my route?

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted June 29, 2019 at 16:13:39 in reply to Comment 130061

It only seems goofy if one doesn't take all the information in the article into proper context.

And there is no need for a sarcastic retort like that. Are you that insecure in your position feel the need to devolve to that level?

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By Blotto (registered) | Posted July 03, 2019 at 16:56:15 in reply to Comment 130056

Positive1 - appreciate the reply and i agree.

But do you think that maybe a very narrow road width (sub standard) - lower than your typical local residential street + all-way stops almost every intersection + parking on both sides of the street, where opposite traffic cant pass by + midblock sections less than 100m in length - have anything to do with it? I cant even drive 20km/h down those streets - im stopped waiting for someone to pass me by:) Now try driving any local residential street on the mountain , stoney creek and binbrook at 30km/h and lets seee. As Ryan mentions - its the design. Remove those speeed signs and nothing changes in that neighbourhood - it will still have good compliance.

Comment edited by Blotto on 2019-07-03 17:00:19

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By grok (registered) | Posted July 07, 2019 at 18:29:36

The likes of Terry Whitehead and all the other scum sitting on HamOnt City Council can continue to get away with NOT actually representing the mass of people who struggle to live in Hamilton, ONLY because they continue to get re-elected, in this Fake 'Democracy'. There is no true Opposition in this town, whatsoever. Certainly none comes from the likes of the NDP or 'Labor Council'. Never has.

The point, of course, is to NOT play this game. At all. And the first step there is to NOT fall for all the coercive propaganda hype about how we're all being properly 'represented', yadda. We are NOT being represented much, at all, are we..?

And we should all know by now that Terry Whitehead has little interest in facts or in the truth of anything -- and appears to be, in fact, PAID OFF to not be interested. Such people should never have been able to get elected to city office in the first place. No wonder Steel City suffers so.

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By grok (registered) | Posted July 07, 2019 at 18:34:13 in reply to Comment 130056

If HamOnt had been investing in mass urban transit all these past decades, a lot of the people who 'simply must drive, to get around' wouldn't have as much of an excuse for doing so.

Why does such an incompetent, uncaring, and likely corrupt City regime even exist..?

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