Walkability Fail

Cars, Kids and Priorities

By Tanya Ritchie
Published February 02, 2012

Yesterday, I had a wonderful conversation with a neighbour of mine, a gentleman in his seventies, who was actually born in the house next door to mine.

He spoke with great enthusiasm for how Cannon Street East used to look when he was a kid: only two lanes of traffic, tree-lined, with large yards in front of the houses.

His house used to have a large chestnut tree in the front of it. He told me that there was a family living between his house and his school - the recently renovated West Avenue School - who had a pear orchard.

But before we get swept up in nostalgia for the good old days, let's get to the point of his story. One day, he was running from his house as he had been invited to pick pears which were ripening in the orchard. He raced out onto Cannon Street and was struck by a car.

Back then, Cannon Street was a beautiful avenue, he says. Now, successive road-widenings have made it a one-way, four-lane, westbound thoroughfare to the QEW: an urban highway.

Cars and Kids Don't Mix

Even in the past, in the idyll of my neighbour's memory, it was dangerous to a child. Now it is exponentially more so. The reason is simple: cars and kids don't mix.

No matter how smart they are, no matter how many times they've been warned, no matter how well they understand - children will sometimes race off, to chase a friend or a ball or perhaps pick some fresh pears, without thinking.

Children are not always capable of using good sense and exercising appropriate road safety. As a parent, it's tempting to coddle them and ensure that they never go near a dangerous street - or any other kind of danger.

At present, my daughter is only four and is quite happy to walk everywhere holding my hand. But at some point soon (too soon, no doubt) she will want to walk at her own pace, or not be seen to be a "baby" holding mommy's hand.

It's tempting for me to say: I must move away from this neighbourhood, to a safer one. But I think that's looking at the problem from the wrong direction.

Change Streets, Not Kids

I've had some email correspondence in the last few days with Councillor Jason Farr, HWDSB trustee Judith Bishop and Principal Smith from Dr Davey Elementary School to express to them my concerns about road safety around the school, especially on Ferguson Street, which I don't feel is currently sufficiently signed to warn drivers that they are in a school zone.

Approaching from the north along Ferguson, there is only one (rather ambiguous) sign, which is on the far side of the intersection of Kelly Street, and - in Spring - completely obscured from view by a tree.

Farr, Bishop and Smith have all expressed their concern and interest in the matter most sincerely.

I am informed that City staff are currently working on "implementing signage and speed limits around school zones", addressing "school safety zones across the city, as opposed to the case by case model now in play". I wait in eager anticipation for the outcome of this investigation.

But Dr Davey has been open post-renovation since September of 2010. Surely safety measures should have been implemented before the school re-opened, and not after more than a year when parents started complaining.

Making Neighbourhoods Walkable

Nor is Dr Davey the only school in the City which needs to investigate its road safety. Of course, I can speak mostly about my immediate experience in my own neighbourhood, but I think it's important for people all over the City to take a look at the safety of their streets, especially near schools.

We talk a lot about walkability, but the conversation seems not to reach the ears of those with the power to implement change. In the case of school safety and child safety, I don't think we can afford to ignore the issue, not for a moment longer.

If we can bring this issue into focus, we can radically change the City for the better, in a positive cycle - safer streets mean more people would walk or ride instead of driving, which would further decrease the need for cars, which would further decrease the danger.

The HWDSB and City council should give this issue priority.

Tanya Ritchie is an immigrant who moved to Hamilton ten years ago and lives in Ward 3. She is the co-owner of Hamilton Guest House, Hamilton's only backpackers' hostel.

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By Got it! (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 13:25:26

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2012 at 19:38:52 in reply to Comment 73658

Who is this 'Got it!' and when are they speaking in Hamilton next? Can't wait to see them in-person and luxuriate in their oratory skills...

swoon

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 15:07:16

Hess Street school is another one. Wow. A 5-lane truck freeway blasting past right out front. I'm not sure if the HWDSB remembers that Hess St is still open, but it's pretty sad to see the condition of the property and the dangerous streets surrounding it - Queen, Hess and York.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 18:22:51

Well said. I think this type of involvement is needed to shake things up. Look at the sad state of cannon St. How is the two way conversion if that coming along?

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By HMstudio (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 21:24:58

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By Cindy Lou Hoo (anonymous) | Posted February 03, 2012 at 00:21:48

I'm confused @HMstudio....whose well are you rattling in? And I'll say it before anyone else does...I must be one of the ignorant masses. However, I do know that busy streets, like one-way Cannon, make it difficult for business to thrive as well as endangering individuals when everyone is rushing to the next green light. Tanya, your article makes me want to go back in time...

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2012 at 07:18:00

I'm compelled to contribute this from the Ward 3 Residents' Association Facebook group discussion of this very topic:

As for slowing traffic down - it is a stupid idea. The children should be in school not on the street when school is operating. Before school and after school there are traffic jams because of students being picked up and let out, so there is no need for signage. It would slow cars down needlessly, causing more air pollution, thereby increasing the asthma and cancer rate. Do you really want that?

I think you have to weigh the risks involved in doing something like slowing the traffic down, when there are factors already lowering the speed limit. Compare the risk of the accident which you described with the risks of increasing asthma and cancer rates as well as the increase in road rage with the risk of such an accident occurring. By lowering the speed limit, you actually tempt dummies to race through and create stress in drivers who will eventually behave like the rivers in Toronto.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted February 04, 2012 at 10:18:00 in reply to Comment 73689

will eventually behave like the rivers in Toronto.

I guess that this is a reference to "Forests and Sands" by the Scottish band Camera Obscura, though I'm not sure I understand how it relates to traffic and school zones ...

"But if the blood pumping through my veins could freeze Like a river in Toronto then I'd be pleased"

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2012 at 11:30:45 in reply to Comment 73689

Same old claims - we need faster (ie: larger, more subsidized and less regulated) roads to combat pollution caused by cars. Seems logical.

On a similar note, would any taxpayers be willing to double the size of my the Doors Pub, cover half the price of pints and hire a few more servers to cut down on wait time? Oughta cut down on drunkenness, right?

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By beasley (anonymous) | Posted February 03, 2012 at 11:45:06

You should join the Beasley Neighbourhood Association which is actively working on turning the block around Dr.Davey school on Ferguson, Wilson and Cannon into a SCHOOL SAFETY ZONE. www.ourbeasley.com

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By TDR (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2012 at 21:57:54 in reply to Comment 73694

I will get in touch with them, thanks. I only hesitate to do so because I live in Landsdale.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2012 at 12:51:07

Tanya - great piece. Cannon is a grotesque and unsafe urban highway. The plan is to keep it that way. This, in spite of the fact that at least 3 schools are located at its curb. Hess, Sir John A., and Dr. Davey. If there are others, please add them. Two-way re-conversion is one of the simplest projects to implement, but it gets zero attention from Council and staff. School zone signs, flashing lights, crossing guards are not the answers, although they too should be implemented.

As I'm fond of asking, "What's your favourite one way street on the mountain?"

Right, there isn't one. And that's because?

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted February 03, 2012 at 18:01:08 in reply to Comment 73695

East 31st

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2012 at 19:08:35 in reply to Comment 73704

randonguy

Why is it your favourite? What's your second most favourite?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2012 at 13:51:13

The city has made it repeatedly clear that they have no interest in making Cannon and Main 2-way... what I can't help but notice is that they also seem to have no interest in making those streets safe.

Look, there are many fast streets. I'd argue that the usual comments about streets on the mountain is kind of a red herring, because outside of rush-hour the traffic on Rymal or Garth is every bit as fast and scary as the traffic on Main and Cannon.

But you know what is different? What's next to the roads. Name me one high-speed street on the mountain that has the sidewalk directly adjacent to a live traffic lane, without even a grassy boulevard giving parents a moment to rescue their kid darting into the street. Where the ramps of the driveways occur in the same space parents are pushing strollers? There are parts of Cannon where it seems like businesses have their entire frontage sidewalk sloping into the road.

Urban highways happen just fine without one-way streets, it's just most of them aren't as obvious as our Main and Cannon with their one-way signs. But you know what doesn't happen in most urban highways? Pedestrians standing not three feet from traffic going at 50 kph. That, to me, is the big difference. Sidewalks next to a highway.

Many of Ontario's actual regional highways do have sidewalks... with a ditch separating them from traffic.

I mean, look at the 403 Bridge to Westdale - when it was built, it had a live traffic lane next to pedestrians. When the city put in bike lanes, they first tried little meaningless plastic bollards. Since then, the city has upgraded it to proper Jersey barriers. Now? That walking path is comparatively safe.

Of couse, we can't line all of Cannon with concrete barriers. It would make street-side parking impossible, for example, and coverage wouldn't be perfect anyways because of the aforementioned driveways. Also it would be prohibitively expensive.

So what can we do? We can slow traffic down, obviously. We could at least put some space between the live traffic and the pedestrians with more parking lanes and bike lanes. We could take out a lane of traffic and add some grassed boulevards like occurs on every high-speed street in the suburbs. We could do something instead of just having a sidewalk next to a highway.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2012 at 16:29:03 in reply to Comment 73697

The thing is, Cannon and King and Main are city streets, whereas Garth and Mohawk are essentially suburban streets. In a city street, the sidewalk is immediately adjacent to the road, and businesses do open directly onto the sidewalk.

That arrangement has been the normal building form in cities for the past 10,000 years, and it works fine even today - as long as traffic moves slowly.

The reason Cannon and Main and King (at least outside the downtown core) have one-way traffic flows is that they have been designated as high-speed arterials. The only reason to keep them one-way is to keep them high-speed and high-volume.

Anything substantive that we would do to make those streets safer for pedestrians - grassy medians, curbside parking, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, etc. - will be rejected for the same reason that two-way conversion is routinely rejected: because it will interfere with their role as high-speed, high-capacity thoroughfares.

The fundamental conflict is that high-speed, high-capacity thoroughfares have no business running through urban city neighbourhoods. Until the value system that prioritizes traffic flow over urban vitality changes, we will continue to suffer the consequences of these urban highways.

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By TDR (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2012 at 21:54:09 in reply to Comment 73700

Yeah, there are a lot of variables that can be argued here; walkability, separation of the pedestrian and vehicle area, etc.

But here's the thing. My point is that kids particularly don't reliably use good judgement on sidewalks, and parents can't handcuff themselves to their kids 24/7. I'm not even just talking about the urban highways, but any area near where kids might congregate, especially schools and parks.

This is not an issue open to argument: it's called Newton's Second Law. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton%27...

This is completely indisputable physics. Lower the speed, lower the force of impact, lower the chance of grievous injury or death. It is just that simple.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 04, 2012 at 00:30:09 in reply to Comment 73708

This is not an issue open to argument: it's called Newton's Second Law.

You're absolutely right. We have written about this to the point of nausea - and then some more.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-02-04 00:30:17

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted February 06, 2012 at 13:20:30 in reply to Comment 73710

And yet nothing changes. I can only assume that it because we are clearly in the minority. If the numbers were reversed, our councillors would probably consider ridding us of these ridiculous urban expressways.

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted February 06, 2012 at 15:12:07

Walking on Main, King, or Cannon is never a pleasant thing.  I suggested to the previous Ward 2 councillor that a  cost effective way to make walking on these streets (I was specifically referring to Main St but I think it would apply elsewhere) would be this: Allow parking on one side of the street at all times (yes, even during rush hour) except overnight for street cleaning;  when there wouldn't be a lot of pedestrian or vehicular traffic anyway.  This would create a "buffer zone" where a pedestrian would get some isolation from the rushing traffic.  In my opinion, even during rush hour, this would not cause undue hardship to the motoring public.  (To prove my point, the other day there was a collision at Main and Wellington at 5:30 pm.  All but one eastbound lane was obstructed by emergency vehicles etc. and yet the traffic wasn't even backed up to Ferguson.) I received a reply saying he would pass it on to the traffic department which led me to believe that maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. To make a long story short, this a quote in response to my suggestion. "The matter of traffic calming on Main Street is more complex than simply closing down a lane.  Our Traffic Engineers have to deal with road capacities and traffic volumes.  Rush hour in large Cities is always problematic, and often solutions that seem simple are in fact not.

Finally, the volume of messages received by my office makes it impossible to be immediately and thoroughly responsive, which is regrettable."

Nowhere in that response did it give any mention of concern about pedestrians. I love the 2 way conversions that have taken place and from what I've witnessed, I don't think that traffic has been severely impacted.  The pedestrian experience however has improved considerably.  I want to believe that eventually all of our downtown streets will be converted to 2 way. Ah but I think I'm dreaming in technicolor.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 07:56:43 in reply to Comment 73750

"Walking on Main, King, or Cannon is never a pleasant thing."

I walk King and Main on almost a daily basis and don't have any problems.

How often are you walking these streets?

Still not convinced that it's the Indy 500 on one-ways. 2-way streets are not the silver bullet everyone thinks they are. Haven't seen John, James South or Wilson/York turn into happening places as a result. In fact on Wilson I hardly ever see cars going from east to west. Guess it's because they all parked and are walking around, right?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 10:41:52 in reply to Comment 73774

How about this.. James North & John North: These two-way reversions were performed with equal lanes given to each travel direction, and street parking was increased. What do we see here? Businesses flourishing.

Locke: Once a speedway, we calmed the traffic and added street parking and what happened? They became comfortable pedestrian spaces and businesses flourished.

Have you looked closely at James and John south? And Wilson? Why do they still suck? Because the conversions were barely conversions at all. All of them still have more lanes going in the "old" direction than they do in the "new" direction. And none of them has ANY street parking. In other words, they still act as one way thoroughfares.

You are right - it's not just about the direction of travel. As the original commenter pointed out, it's about calming the traffic and creating a buffer. Bike lanes, parked cars and wider sidewalks are more important that travel direction - but travel direction DOES help. Two way streets also help people to reach their destinations without backtracking and doing unnecessary loops.

Comment edited by seancb on 2012-02-07 10:42:39

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 08, 2012 at 07:51:05 in reply to Comment 73804

Living right off of John South, I can say this:

  • The 2-lane conversion here is not helping anything retail-related. We aren't flourishing here.
  • Of course there's more lanes going north than south since that's how the Jolley Cut and John used to be. In most areas it's 3 lanes wide. How would you fix this? Remove a lane for the people heading to St. Joes, the courthouse, TH&B, downtown, the east end, the west end? Make 2 lanes going south to get out of the core and up the mountain?
  • There is street parking everywhere off of John and James. Forest, Young, Catherine, Agusta, St. Joseph, Walnut... they all have bumper to bumper parking. Further to this, there's really no need, on John anyway, for street parking. What do you need to go to - the gas station? The tattoo parlour? The mental health building? the building for metaphysical research? the garages? the convenience stores?

James, on the other hand, has lots of business. But again, there's plenty of side-street parking and parking lots to use instead.

Sorry, but I disagree with your post. Most of the "sucking" 2-way conversions aren't due to the way it was done or the outcome - it's because there isn't anything there that people need to go to.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 08, 2012 at 08:38:32 in reply to Comment 73935

The street parking serves not only as parking but as a buffer zone to make it more comfortable to walk on the sidewalk. If the street is designed to move cars quickly, and the sidewalk is terrifyingly close to this traffic, then people will tend not to walk there. And people visit businesses on foot. Cars don't shop.

You could have framed your question the same way in regards to Locke and James North back before their renaissances - why would we put stop signs and street parking there when there are no businesses to visit anyways? Well - we did it and the businesses moved in. Ryan did a nice brief write up on Locke history here.

If we have no businesses and services, shouldn't we be asking what we can do to change it? Rather than designing to support the current state?

As for James and John South, these are my thoughts...

  1. The Jolley Cut. Do we need two downbound lanes? The speed limit is 50 - how many vehicles go slower than that? Why does anyone need to be passing people? The cut should have much wider sidewalks, bike lanes, and a buffer between people and cars so that it's comfortable to use it as a pedestrian/cyclist friendly access. There would still be plenty of room for two upbound lanes (so no one gets stuck behind a climbing bus) and one downbound lane. I wrote about this here.

  2. John South. Two lanes in each direction from st. joseph's drive to Young Street. A pedestrian light at Augusta. Two lanes in each direction with on street parking (off peak hours only) from young to King. We already have this north of King.

  3. James South. Two lanes in each direction for the length of it, with on street parking wherever there are businesses (I suppose Bold to Charlton). We could take one side of parking away for each rush hour.

Simple enough - and it would have great benefits to the streets. If you live in the area you know what it's like to try to walk across John at Augusta. It's ludicrous... the street is built to encourage speed and that's what we get. Despite my consciousness of what it's like to walk and bike around there, when I'm behind the wheel I also go too fast (not over the limit, but too fast for the comfort of pedestrians nearby) because it's hard not to when the street is designed to support speed so well.

Some might cry that there will be traffic mayhem - just like when the two way conversion was planned. But there wouldn't be. The intersections would be simplified. But most importantly, the traffic volume would not stay fixed. If John was a little bit slower, some people would use claremont instead (a grossly overbuilt and underutilized access that is wider than the 403 in some parts), and some people would use the Linc. And those of us who actually live in corktown will no longer be bending over backward to give way to the people who simply drive through our neighbourhood. Aren't you sick of catering to them at our cost?

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By TDR (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 10:39:13 in reply to Comment 73774

I think people aren't driving west on Wilson because Cannon is still a huge westbound highway! Why didn't they convert both streets at the same time?

PS I drive west on Wilson. Sometimes.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 10:49:12 in reply to Comment 73803

People aren't driving west on that street because it's surprisingly difficult to do so.

It's TWINO: two way in name only. Much like James and John South, in which the prevailing traffic flows were preserved with token conversions.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-02-07 10:49:46

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By TDR (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 11:22:10 in reply to Comment 73806

As always, you are a great source of education. Thanks for the link. It's amazing how happy I was when Wilson was (semi) converted, only to become increasingly frustrated with the reality.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted February 06, 2012 at 17:25:27 in reply to Comment 73750

Closing down lanes is impossible due to the absolute chaos that would ensue.

Look at trying to get in or out of West Hamilton now that the two 403 bridges have been half out of service since summer.

Heck, if I need to go to the bank I leave the night before and don't make it back till dinner time the next day!

Imagine, closing lanes on Main and King. Flat out impossible.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 10:33:20 in reply to Comment 73753

Seriously! Plus, they had the right lane of King closed near victoria park and the left lane near hess for months and I for one got sick and tired of being stuck in gridlock all the way from hess to catherine every evening while 3 people try to merge. I was consistently 1.5 minutes late for my tv shows every night!

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By Annonymous (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 11:09:09

To Tanya Ritchie, If you are so concerned about the traffic in front of your child's school to the point that you feel compelled to write an article about it, then it confuses me why you would hesitate to accept the invitation to join the Beasley neighbourhoods campaign to make a school safety zone in and around Dr. Davey on the grounds that you reside in the Landsdale neighbourhood. I would think that contributing to their efforts would solve your issue with children's safety and that what they are trying to do directly impacts you. We have to stop letting neighbourhood boundaries regulate how much effort we should put forth in solving a problem that is obviously city wide. I'm sure the Beasley neighbourhood association would love to have you as an active member since you seem to be knowledgeable in the area of neighbourhood improvements. From what I hear the Beasley Neighbourhood Assoc is doing a great job!

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By TDR (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 11:19:04 in reply to Comment 73809

Thanks for your encouragement. I'll push aside my insecurities and power on!

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By Old School (anonymous) | Posted February 16, 2012 at 21:01:02

These arguments kind of fail when you look at the failure of Barton Street. Something bigger than just traffic has to happen. When you ghettoize a nehgboorhood like Ward 2/3 filled with new immigrants and the poor it fails. Nothing at all to do with 2way streets.\

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