Special Report: Walkable Streets

King-403 Ramp Crossing Update, December 2015

The City has made some changes to the King Street West ramp over Highway 403, but the fundamental issues remain unresolved.

By Martin Zarate
Published December 21, 2015


In 2013 I wrote about the King Street West/Highway 403 ramp crossing. This on-ramp breaks an essential pedestrian and cyclist connection between Westdale/Ainslie Wood and the rest of Lower City Hamilton. Traffic is fast, the crossing is uncontrolled, and drivers are prone to last-second lane-changes into the ramp, making it difficult for pedestrians to know when it is safe to cross.

In December of 2014, just over a year ago, April Severin contacted the MTO to discuss the problems with the crossing.

Since then, the city has made some safety-minded changes to the ramp, but they don't really seem to solve the fundamental problems. I'll get into these later, I mostly want to get to the meat of this topic:

The MTO and the City both replied to Ms. Severin saying they were working with their respective counterparts to make this ramp safer.

Specifically, a representative from the City of Hamilton - David Ferguson, Superintendent of Traffic Engineering - responded with this:

Good Morning Folks,

We are currently in negotiations with the MTO in finalizing designs for several locations to create pedestrian crossing at these types of locations throughout the city. [emphasis added]

We are also expecting the approval of changes to the HTA in 2015 that would see changes that provide a right of way to pedestrians over vehicles.

We are currently working with PWs communications staff on how we can educate all road users of these new legal changes and will be part of our Traffic Safety work program in 2015.

Noticing it had been over a year since that reply, I contacted Ward 1 Councillor Aidan Johnson to see how these negotiations had turned out, if anything had come of them.

The Follow-Up

Councillor Johnson forwared my concerns on to city staff, as well as Hamilton Centre MPP and Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath's office.

The following was received from David Ferguson, Superintendent of Traffic Engineering:

Approvals for any changes at locations such as this, are the responsibility of the MTO. As mentioned in my email, the City and MTO have been in discussions on several locations with respect to pedestrian features, however the majority of these require the proposed changes to the Highway Traffic Act to permit the implementation of Pedestrian Crossovers as identified in the Ontario Traffic Manual, Book 15.

In looking at this specific location, based on volumes, speeds, etc, I would have some concerns with implementing a Pedestrian Crossover, however we will continue to have discussions with the MTO.

The other thing we will need to think of and consider, is the future LRT design for the area and maybe possible opportunities to improve pedestrian and cycling connectivity through this area.

My response was as follows:

Thanks everyone for your speedy replies.

Am I right in understanding that, because of the MTO and the LRT planning, it won't be possible to do any more than has already been done for this crossing (I've noticed the new solid lane-marking and the denser knockdown-sticks) for several years? Would it be at all possible to improve something if Ward 1 made it a participatory budgeting priority? The crossing may not look worth the cost by the numbers, but the in-person experience is somewhat worse for a variety of reasons.

Thanks for your time,

And Mr. Ferguson reiterated:

Approvals must follow the appropriate process with higher jurisdictions. The location has been identified to the MTO and we will continue to communicate with the MTO on this issue.

I am not optimistic.

Improvements in 2015

As mentioned above, the city has made some improvements to the ramp over the past year:

However, the new turning lane seems to only confuse some drivers, who don't realize that the lane with a solid line and hatch-looking arrows is actually the exit lane until the last possible second, making the matter worse.

And the speed limit mostly allows the police to use the bridge as a speed-trap, since the bridge still feels like an expressway. I've driven across it many times and I constantly have to remind myself to drive slower.

Fundamentally, the improvements do not seem to solve the problems outlined in previous articles. The traffic is still fast going toward the unprotected crossing, cylcists and wheeled pedestrians are still only protected by knockdown sticks, and drivers are still prone to last-second lane-changes making it difficult to determine when it is safe to cross.


I'm generally a pessimist about municipal matters, but I've been wrong before. I didn't think Hamilton Bike Share was going to work out, and it has. So hopefully, I'm wrong here - but I don't think we're going to see a proper solution for this crossing for a very long time.

Martin Zarate is a software developer who lives in Westdale with his wife and three children.


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By jorvay (registered) | Posted December 21, 2015 at 08:45:01

I cross this twice a day, every day. You've hit the nail on the head. This statement is hugely concerning though: "In looking at this specific location, based on volumes, speeds, etc, I would have some concerns with implementing a Pedestrian Crossover, however we will continue to have discussions with the MTO." It's one thing to say this when you could tell people to walk/bike a block either way, but when the next crossing to the north is the Waterfront Trail and the next Crossing to the south is Aberdeen (I don't count Main as that bike route is suicide), you're basically denying reality in favour of one-mode traffic modelling.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted December 21, 2015 at 09:31:46

if there's anywhere that city that does need a traffic control signal of some sort it's here, and on York Blvd near the 403 ramps. Every other QEW, Linc, 401 exit that I take has a stoplight immediately at the end of the ramp. Many have stoplights at the entry ramps too. With any political will at all in Hamilton to calm dangerous stretches of road like this we could gain approval for lights or PXO's as such locations. They simply don't care about anyone but speeding drivers. Not that we need any further proof of this, but the continued lack of pedestrian crossings allowed in all directions at King/Dundurn, Strathcona, Locke, Pearl along with the refusal to do 'no right on red' at these intersections shows who matters.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:09:57

There are proper engineering designs to make highway on-ramps safe. I’ll post examples this evening.

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By Stephen Barath (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:45:54

Painting a solid rather than a dotted line doesn't do much, in my experience at this crossing. It remains difficult to know for sure whether the vehicle a few lanes over is going to decide to make a late lane change into the on-ramp lane.

I wouldn't hold your breath for any real changes here or the equally problematic off-ramps onto Main West. This part of town is tremendously difficult for people on foot (King and Dundurn and Main and Dundurn are both terribly hostile), so incremental changes aren't likely to entice additional foot traffic, anyway. We need a complete rethink of the way the roads in the west end are designed. A single intersection can be improved marginally, but that won't change the reality that Strathcona is cut off from Kirkendall and both are cut off from Westdale.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 21, 2015 at 13:09:37 in reply to Comment 115753

I actually think that the new line makes it worse. With the strange diagonal arrowheads that appear to be the new standard for such things an the solid line, the lane actually looks hatched-off at a glance. When traveling at speed, it is not obvious that this is the lane you should be in to get onto the 403, or at all. Only at the very last second does it become obvious what the lane even is. I've seen this confusion many times in drivers at that ramp. They're signaling right coming up King, but brake and then move into the lane at the last second.

The hatch-looking arrowheads are bad visual language, but I assume the MTO is to blame for them and not the City. Signage for the "right lane 403" has not been moved East, though, so drivers are expected to know where they should be by psychic intuition, as the solid line appears right about the same time the sign told them they needed to be in the right lane to get onto the ramp.

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By Stephen Barath (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2015 at 15:10:32 in reply to Comment 115757

'Signage for the "right lane 403" has not been moved East.'

You're right, and it's a problem. It should be signed east of Dundurn, and motorists should be expected to be in the right lane, ready to exit, immediately following Dundurn (rather than trying to overtake buses or other traffic, or whatever other reason they may have for being in the inside lanes).

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 21, 2015 at 16:35:33 in reply to Comment 115758

Google Maps actually has a good view of the confusion here, although if you get closer you get older data.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2015-12-21 16:35:47

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By pause (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2015 at 21:30:33

Before we go bonkers trying to fix something that's potentially not broken (it's not right, but it's not broken), how many pedestrian injuries and fatalities have occurred at this location in the last 30 years?

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted December 21, 2015 at 21:36:19 in reply to Comment 115766

I suspect the police would have that data. But don't forget the law of induced demand. Only absolute hardcore pedestrians/cyclists will even think of walking here.

The night the Skyway was rammed by the truck showed us how short the walk actually is from Strathcona and downtown over to Westdale. Thousands of people made the walk that night and traffic was stopped on King. You can't believe how many of my downtown neighbours who work in the west end commented on how quick the walk was, much to their surprise. Yet all agreed, with King in it's usual state, they'd never think to walk to or from Westdale.

In Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa you wouldn't think twice of making a walk that distance. Our goal should be to encourage active lifestyles, not treating King and Main like 403 extensions rammed through neighbourhoods.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted December 21, 2015 at 22:43:19 in reply to Comment 115767

I used to drive this stretch daily, up until about a year ago. I always waited for any pedestrians, be it seniors, young people, parents with kids in strollers or holding hands, students, anyone - to cross when they were patiently waiting - why not? I'm in a car, and they aren't, I have time to spare, they don't - but never saw anyone who was silly enough to not look before crossing, unless they were using a cell phone and not paying attention. Also, kudos to whoever is responsible for the dedicated line painting and tight knockdown stick configuration - saw this on the weekend and was pleased to see it. Hopefully that will cut down on any of hte last minute drivers trying to swerve their way onto the ramp. We need that up on the Linc at the eastern end where you have to decide between getting off on the local roads, 403 east or 403 west. Too many people do the same thing there.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted December 22, 2015 at 09:30:03 in reply to Comment 115768

Most people scream by at 80+

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted December 31, 2015 at 04:46:56 in reply to Comment 115774

so let us encourage cyclists and pedestrians to congregate in such dangerous areas, that will teach them

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By STFU (anonymous) | Posted December 31, 2015 at 07:26:42 in reply to Comment 115871

Oh just STFU already

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted December 22, 2015 at 20:20:37 in reply to Comment 115774

Nope. But to you, to try and make your point, they do.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted December 22, 2015 at 21:36:41 in reply to Comment 115808

ummm, nope. that's the 24-7 reality. I was there about to cross last week with a young woman when a driver stopped and waved for us to cross the ramp. We both looked at each other and the young lady said "that's a first! Usually it's life-risking standing here".

Let me guess, she is part of some secret cabal lying through her teeth to a stranger to make a point....

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted December 24, 2015 at 00:29:47 in reply to Comment 115810

It must be tiring being so negative all the time. Seriously, every minute you waste being negative is 60 seconds of positive time you've wasted.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted December 24, 2015 at 07:33:12 in reply to Comment 115823

Nice try changing the topic.
Reporting the facts on that awful, dangerous crossing is necessary when you're on here trolling, making it sound like a walk through central Amsterdam.

Comment edited by JasonL on 2015-12-24 07:33:58

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted December 30, 2015 at 06:56:44 in reply to Comment 115826

Jason, that's the point - IT'S NOT FACTS.

You are providing your opinion, and I provided mine. But they're just that, opinions.

I think that's the point the OP is trying to make also. Once we have the facts (stats from an unbiased third party, like the OPP or HPS) would tell the story. Good try on the deflection yourself, though.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 22, 2015 at 09:05:48

Here are 25 examples of safe highway crossings.


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By JasonL (registered) | Posted December 22, 2015 at 09:48:31 in reply to Comment 115773

Good stuff.

Here are some examples from Portland, Oregon. None of this could work here tho because snow....escarpment...war on cars....CHML.....Westcliffe Mall......

A cycling lane literally in them middle of an interstate freeway: http://www.theslowlane.com/99tripe/i205b...

Part of it actually dips below the freeway: http://www.theslowlane.com/99tripe/i205c...

Bike path next to a freeway, and under overpasses: http://www.traillink.com/trail/highway-2...

Washington DC has a great path along I-66 for many miles. Also, a subway along the same freeway.


Note the bike networks in both DC and Portland:



Funny how people ride bikes in cities where they've built bike networks.

Comment edited by JasonL on 2015-12-22 09:51:51

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted January 05, 2016 at 17:47:48

On this topic, let's bring this to attention, that several people have brainstormed Main/King 2-way related modifications (for LRT era) to this interchange:


Basically, various people have brainstormed the addition of signalized intersections as a solution to the onramps. With strong zebra crossing marking, sharp-radius curb (to discourage high speed turning), and crosswalk lights, this would also concurrently provide improved pedestrian crossing safety.

Westward cars on King would still be allowed to turn right onto the freeway at all times, so would only be a minor slowdown in the majority of cases. Except moments where there are lots of pedestrians, where they have priority during an active crosswalk light.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-01-05 17:53:03

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2016 at 17:00:58

^That would be a exponential improvement over the current situation. I just saw a young lady on a SObi bike almost hit by two different vehicles as she attempted twice to cross the King-403 on ramp. She did end up making it safely, but only barely. Drivers have no idea how challenging it is to try and navigate that on-ramp safely. The only solution is an activated crosswalk in my opinion. No motorist is going to stop willingly (unless they have previously tried to cross that point themselves on foot or by bicycle and realize that it is completely non-functional).

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