Special Report: Walkable Streets

Safe Streets in Hamilton's North End up to Ontario Municipal Board

Urban neighbourhoods cannot go on allowing themselves to be terrorized by large volumes of traffic moving at high speeds on streets not meant to act as extensions of provincial highways.

By Shawn Selway
Published May 07, 2012

Last Wednesday evening, we heard once again about the importance of reducing the automobile's near-absolute domination of our downtown streets. This time the message was delivered by Ken Greenberg, globe trotting architect and planner, to an overflow house of Doors Open first-nighters at the Board of Education auditorium - a nicely detailed and seriously underused soft-seater entered from the Bay Street frontage.

(Aside: Except for a few glancing references, the fate of Joe Singer's marble and copper confection, currently anchoring the civic precinct of City Hall, Hamilton Place, Family Court, and the Art Gallery, was out of bounds for comment.)

Greenberg, the Toronto-based principal of a planning consultancy with a list of projects longer than the phone book gave a very well received presentation that riffed on his 1996 visit to Hamilton, during which he led a charrette on - what else? - downtown activation.

Conflicting Priorities

Long story short, Greenberg said that this old town has come a long way toward the light since 1996, but still has conflicting priorities. The conflict is impeding an essential transformation of urban form that is being dictated to cities everywhere by the inevitable upward trend in petro-pricing.

One aspect of the transformation has to do with making the city more walkable. To this end, a number of things must occur, including a reduction in the role of the automobile as a discomfiting presence in the lives of walkers, cyclists and battery chair jockeys.

Complete streets, i.e. those which accommodate all modes of transport comfortably, will improve walkability along with slower speeds, to take the dangerous edge off car traffic - and walkability has everywhere proven to be good for business.

OMB Hearings on Slow Streets

How the updating of the car culture might concretely occur in this particular city at this particular moment remains unclear - but part of the answer may arrive very soon.

Hamilton's North End and Harbour
Hamilton's North End and Harbour

While listening to Greenberg and his fellow panelists, I couldn't help reflecting again on an old puzzle, which is this: I still have no idea why the North End Neighbourhood Association (NEN) wound up at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) over a traffic management plan.

We asked for a three-year pilot project, in a clearly defined corner of the city which is bound by water on two sides. Alternate routes exist for through traffic, in the case of those who refuse to drive at less then 50 km/h, which is the posted speed on James and Burlington in the North End - a speed that is frequently exceeded.

Visitors headed for the water's edge would need an extra couple of minutes to get there traveling at 30 km/h rather than 50. So what is the big deal? Why was a pilot project for a limited time such a huge obstacle for Council? We don't know.

At one point we thought we had a settlement, but on Decision Day, the councillors went in camera to discuss the matter, and then rejected it. At the OMB, we heard from the city's planner that James and Burlington are classified "arterial" and that speeds on an arterial must be arterial speeds, period. That is, once an arterial, forever an arterial.

After 16 days of hearings spread over ten months, followed by a six month silence, the parties in OMB PL050408 were told that the board chair - "Sir" as he is addressed during the proceedings - had begun to write his judgment.

That news came in February, which means that any day now we should learn the outcome of a very lengthy and detailed discussion on the merits of instituting a blanket 30K speed limit in the north end of Ward 2 on a trial basis.

Despite all the complications, the principal issue was this: is it desirable to slow the speed of vehicular traffic to 30 K not only on all the smaller streets, but also on James and Burlington over the several blocks of each that pass through the North End?

We Need to Take our Streets Back

Hopefully Sir will give this irrational position the treatment it deserves, and greenlight Hamilton's first all-over 30 km/h zone - at least for long enough to allow us to evaluate the effects.

If not, I don't know exactly what is next if we are to begin the necessary transformation toward walkability that Greenberg and others see occurring so rapidly in so many other cities.

But one thing is clear: Neither North End, nor Beasley, nor Central, can go on allowing themselves to be terrorized by large volumes of traffic traveling at high speeds on streets that were never meant to act as extensions of provincial highways.

The current situation is doing harm to the people who live there. Those pieces of James, Burlington, Cannon, Wilson and Bay that serve through-bound traffic are also our neighborhood streets, from the earliest days of the existence of this city. We need to take them back.

Further Reading:

Shawn Selway is a Stelco trained millwright who runs a consultancy in the interpretation and conservation of historic machinery. He lives in the North End with his family.


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By jason (registered) | Posted May 07, 2012 at 09:12:29

Amazing that something being done in cities all over the world, including here in Canada, is at the OMB when Hamilton tries to do it. I'm sure those councillors and Chamber of Commerce types who oppose this idea are the first to gaze longingly on the quality of life in many TO or Vancouver neighbourhoods...several of which have 30km speed limits, and have for years. We want the good life without making the necessary choices to get there.

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By RB (registered) | Posted May 07, 2012 at 13:46:02 in reply to Comment 76543

"...We want the good life without making the necessary choices to get there..."

That statement rings so true with this city.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted May 07, 2012 at 11:11:49

At one point we thought we had a settlement, but on Decision Day, the councillors went in camera to discuss the matter, and then rejected it.

Raise your hand if you're surprised.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted May 07, 2012 at 12:24:08

Not to be a naysayer but ... reducing speed limits will have zero effect unless it is enforced. While i don't drive ( on a regular basis ) the only place i see speed limits enforced regularly is on the eastern stretch of Burlington, and Northbound at Wellington south of main. These are obviously revenue generating locations. Unless the focus of enforcement is changed to pedestrian safety from revenue generation, the only people who will benefit from lower speed limits will be sign makers

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 07, 2012 at 13:46:45 in reply to Comment 76558

I've been busted for speeding three times in my life... mea culpa, of course.

In every case, they were streets that have been designed as highways but still sport urban speed-limits - westbound on Cootes Drive (there's a short stretch that's after all the intersections and crossings but before the speed limit rises), westbound on Burlington, and southbound on Longwood S.

I don't mind getting busted, I just wish we saw the police enforcing the rules with this vigor in the places where people actually live. Not one of those streets has any homes nearby (although teens are often commuting along Longwood).

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 07, 2012 at 12:31:29 in reply to Comment 76558

I hear ya, but at the same time that's not a reason to not proceed with safety improvements. And it's not entirely fair to assume that 100% of drivers just bomb around ignoring speed limits...10k over seems to be acceptable, so I'm confident that several folks will do 40k in these zones, which is far safer than 60. I know when I enter a 30 or 40km zone I slow down....the possibility of enforcement is usually enough for most motorists to obey the law.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-05-07 12:32:06

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By Breeze (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2012 at 12:57:03

Here's a simple solution, Shawn: Convert John St N to two way traffic flow north of the tracks.
James being two way traffic with stop lights at Ferrie & Picton keeps vehicles to a minimum speed, though the stop lights are pedestrian-prompted. That should certainly change.

So I'm not convinced a 30km/h speed zone for our treasured neighbourhood would result in a pedestrian-friendlier environment, I can guarantee a two way John St with proper stop lights would.

Perhaps the NEN is barking up the wrong tree?
Though Hamilton was known as The Ambitious City many decades ago, it's seems we are more the "Afraid-to-be Ambitious City" now.

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By Sheri (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2012 at 17:18:48 in reply to Comment 76563

Both The City and NEN agree with you on those suggestions. Macnab also to be converted to 2 way. James to have crossing enhacements, with special consideration to James/Strachan and Bay/Strachan where people are having trouble crossing. Bay Street N is also to have calming measures. The Neighbourhood itself to rely on calming measures and education rather than enforcement. A big component was to label the whole thing as "child and family friendly". Our research was done over 6 years ago but included the slow traffic movement in Europe and building child-friendly communities as part of the liveable cities movement.

The major difference between NEN and the City was on the speed of Burlington and James and labeling our neighbourhood 'child friendly'.

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By Breeze (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2012 at 22:37:41 in reply to Comment 76572

Honestly, I'm 1000% against naming any neighbourhood as a "child and family friendly" area.
It's like putting a giant sign saying 'Downtown Hamilton' at a particular street like that is where the downtown begins and ends.


The North End, like Downtown, is organic. They grow as time passes. People come, people go. Children are born, and they leave.

To label the entire north end as a "child and family friendly" area limits the posibility of attracting those who do not want to live in such a neighbourhood, but who love the gorgeous vistas & amenities us Northenders appreciate so much.

Sorry Sheri & Shawn, as a Northender myself I cannot support your efforts to label the north end as such. Please stick to lobbying the city for a two way John St with traffic calming measures (bike lanes, speed humps, etc).

It seems the NEN has a hidden agenda disguised by legitimate urbanist activism. Just in my opinion of course.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 08, 2012 at 10:53:21 in reply to Comment 76579

I think the point here is that any neighbourhood that is safe for families with young children is going to be safe for everyone. It's the 8-80 principle. Make streets safe for an 8 year old and an 80 year old, and everyone in between benefits. It doesn't mean that those without kids aren't allowed in. It's simply an easy way to gauge the safety and livability of a neighbourhood.

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By sselway (registered) | Posted May 09, 2012 at 12:49:47 in reply to Comment 76614

Exactly. I like the 8-80 principle. Like you said, the "child friendly" label is a benchmark to liveability and safety.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 07, 2012 at 14:26:09 in reply to Comment 76563

In general, the mottos of Hamilton are almost a hilarious mockery of the city itself - The Steeltown with its ever-shrinking steel industry, the Best Place to Raise a Child while closing schools and avoiding making the streets actually friendly for children, the Ambitious City whose ambition is to become Mississauga's Mississauga. "Together Aspire - Together Achieve" while we seem to constantly undermine our agreed-upon aspirations with constant infighting.

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2012 at 16:05:52

Over yonder across the bay...


Speed Limits will be reviewed using the Transportation Association of Canada’s (TAC) Speed Limit Guidelines, calculation sheet attached. These guidelines will help determine if a speed limit change is warranted and what the new speed should be for the subject roadway. The resulting speed limit will typically fall within the recommended speed limits outlined in Table 1:

Major Arterials = 60
Minor & Multi-Purpose Arterials = 50 or 60
Collectors = 40, 50 or 60
Locals = 40 or 50

All rural sections have an upset maximum speed limit of 80 km/h.The resulting speed limit may be set below the recommended speed limit when constrained by the physical characteristics of the road, such as the design speed

required for heightened safety in sensitive areas such as school and playground areas.

Required temporarily for safety in a construction zone

The 85"‘ percentile speeds are significantly lower than the recommended speed, or

There is a significantly higher than normal frequency of, orseverity of, collisions attributable to excessive speedsSpeed limits will be set between 40 km/h and 80 km/h in increments of 10 km/h.

The minimum length of a speed zone should be 500m for urban sections and 1km for rural sections. For roadway passing through school frontage the following shall apply:

Roadways with less than 3000 vehicles per day, a speed limit of 40 km/h should be applied to these areas at all times of theday.

Arterial roadways and roadways with traffic volumes over 3000 vehicles per day should be considered for a part-time reduced speed zone (flashing 40 km/h zone).

The 40 km/h speed limit would apply to the portion of roadway which is directly fronting the school property andincludes a section 150 metres in either direction beyond the edge of the land designated as being for school use.

The point beyond 150 metres from the edge of the school shall revert back to the speed limit that governed prior toentering the school zone. The reverted speed limit should notbe more than 60 km/h. The 40 km/h zone may be extended if it results in an adjacent speed limit that is too short to adequately enforce. Under the Highway Traffic Act R.S.0. 1990, C.H. 8, roads that do nothave a speed limit posted are limited as per the following:

Urban speed limit — 50 km/hr unless othenrvise posted
Rural speed limit — 80 km/hr unless otherwise posted

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By Fleet (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2012 at 09:10:08 in reply to Comment 76569

In 2011, it was named the second best place in Canada to raise kids.


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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted May 08, 2012 at 12:29:05

Just came across this video and this seemed like a good place to share it.

Australian TV commercial; 1997; "This was the first commercial to tackle the issue of low-level speeding and to show the extraordinary difference that driving just 10 km/h less can have on a pedestrian.

SFW but heads up if you're sensitive; mildly brutal in a way that gets the message across.


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By ridiculous (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2012 at 04:49:26

The reason this is before the OMB is because the notion of reducing the speed limit to 30 is ridiculous. Your problem is not with the speed limit but with the enforcement of that limit. 50 kph is pretty much a universal limit in urban centres with some reductions to 40 in selected areas like school zones. Trying to lower the limit to 30 in such a large area is plain silly. The city is doing the right thing in not caving in to a small radical vocal neighbourhood association. The reason this is wasting the time and resources of our system is because the association is out to lunch and has lost all touch with reality. You have the right to take your ridiculous notion to the OMB which is more than you deserve.

What is the point, you want to give speeding tickets to mobility scooters?

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By Fleet (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2012 at 06:10:53

Here's a new benchmark. And for variety's sake, it's not Oregon or the Netherlands.


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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted May 09, 2012 at 10:28:58 in reply to Comment 76678

This is an incredible article.

... many councils show little enthusiasm for such projects, and sometimes downright hostility. The Welsh administration hopes the active travel (Wales) bill, if passed, will sweep aside such stagnation and deliver a change to the nation's entire transport culture.

I'm speechless. Very inspiring. Their quality of life is only going to get better as time passes. Provided this isn't just talk and is actually applied. This idea needs to spread; status quo is proving very hard to break in some places.

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By Serendipity (registered) | Posted May 09, 2012 at 14:21:22

Breeze, if you really are a North Ender, as I am, you would know that an overwhelmingly 90%-plus North Enders voted for 30k, way back in 2007 or 08. As well, you would know that two City-hired experts, Dan Burden and Dr. Catherine O'Brien, wrote letters in support of a blanket 30k in the North End.

Finally, you would know that the City agreed in the past to 30k, save for James and Burlington Sts; the two aforementioned experts, and NEN, and close to 100% of those who live on James and Burlington Sts wanted James and Burlington Sts to have a 30k speed as well. The City balked and balked about James and Burlington, and NEN went to the OMB. If you're really a North Ender, where have you been since January 2006 when the North End Traffic Study began and North Enders overwhelmingly agreed to a blanket 30k?

ps...The City informed all residents of the North End during the traffic study that speed bumps/humps would definitely not be used in the NE; in fact, they are rarely, if ever, used anymore for traffic calming. Breeze, no disrespect, but the time to say nay to 30k in the North End was many, many moons ago and I'm sorry to say you completely missed the slow-moving traffic study when it was in motion. Mind you, you would have been one of a very small minority who was not in favour of a blanket 30k; at the same time, had you been involved and voiced your disagreement you might not be spewing this nonsense at this stage of the game.

The North End will be Canada's first Child and Family Friendly Neighbourhood with, as you say, "gorgeous vistas & amenities us Northenders appreciate so much."
Now, we just have to wait on the OMB report to see if James and Burlington will be 30k too.

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By Woundering (anonymous) | Posted August 08, 2013 at 21:54:28

Can anyone actually get pasta 30 between stop signs and stoplights

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