Walkability Fail

Worst Crosswalk Ever?

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 19, 2012

Last weekend I was on Brant Street in Burlington, arguably the city's most urban commercial district. It has a more or less coherent streetwall, two-storey buildings that mostly front onto the sidewalk and curbside parking with bumpouts for pedestrian crossings.

Still, something seemed not quite right about the crosswalks themselves.

Sign at crosswalk reads: 'VEHICLES HAVE RIGHT OF WAY'
Crosswalk at Brant Street and Maria Street reads: 'VEHICLES HAVE RIGHT OF WAY'

It's hard to imagine what the traffic engineers must have been thinking when they came up with a crosswalk on which pedestrians don't have the right of way.

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, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. 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 John Neary (registered) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 07:45:04

There are two or three crosswalks on James North that are identical save for the absence of such a sign. I expect that Public Works will remedy the error by the end of the week.

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By Nougat (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 13:21:43 in reply to Comment 75272

This is basically the same death gauntlet faced by reservists travelling back and forth between the Armouries and Mulberry.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 08:22:46

They must have paid Hamilton public works staff as consultants on that one.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-03-19 08:23:08

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 10:22:31

Ryan, the more important question is: what were you doing in the suburbs? Do you have no shame?

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By arienc (registered) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 10:51:29

Ah, my wonderful, misguided home of Burlington.

We're also the owners of the Worst Bike Lanes Ever.

Take a look a the bike lanes over the 403/QEW on Appleby Line. The length of the 'bike lanes' is approximately 10 metres, and you have to cross the freeway on-ramp to get to them. I'll send in a photo sometime.

In addition to the 5 signs warning of the upcoming bike crossing, there's the obligatory 'cyclists must cross to dismount' sign. I say 'thanks but no thanks' and take my chances on the road.

Of course in Burlington, the whole purpose of all of this incredible effort to make walking and cycling unfriendly is not to prevent pedestrians and cyclists from being killed, but to save the municipal government from the inevitable lawsuits when they are.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 11:52:29 in reply to Comment 75278

Hey, be thankful there are bike lanes at all. It's still legal to ride on the sidewalk in Burlington. Now there's a lawsuit waiting to happen.

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By Nougat (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 11:55:26

Maria dead-ends at Brant, where there is a stop sign, but Brant does not have stop signs at Maria. It does have traffic lights one block NW at Caroline and one block SE at James.

At this point on the map, Brant has two lanes of curb side parking and one lane of traffic in either direction. Because it is near the mid-point on two signalled intersections, traffic never moves that fast.

The sign is anomalous but I imagine that people would have found it just as strange if there were no pedestrian crosswalk.

And at least there's a sign at Maria. the same dynamic is at play nearby where Ontario meets Brant, but I don't think there's a sign there. (Maybe it's because you've got the ocular consideration of Encore Cinemas' movie theatre clientele at Maria?)

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By Rene Gauthier (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 12:16:09

Doesn't that sign contravene the HTA?

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By rednic (registered) | Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:01:09 in reply to Comment 75281

i bet it was paid for ( and the road work) with some grant designed to make 'city' centers more pedestrian friendly. So the province should step in.

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By Lakeside (registered) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 12:35:41

They probably just haven't had a chance to post the second sign that details exactly how pedestrians should behave in order to properly protect themselves from injury. The sign department's probably backed up, or the wording hasn't cleared legal yet.

Just in case there are actually any pedestrians who haven't attended the Pedestrian Re-education camps yet, here's a short refresher, courtesy of the City of Hamilton website:

Pay attention. Think. Be prepared to make decisions.

Step up to the curb and make eye contact with drivers so they know you intend to cross.

Keep watching all the way across as you cross a multi-lane roundabout, watch for a driver coming in the next lane. Make sure that the driver sees you.

Look and listen for a safe gap in the traffic flow before crossing. Do not start to cross if a vehicle is so close that the driver can not safely yield the crosswalk to you, or if a driver shows by the way that they are driving that they do not intend to stop for you.

Use the sidewalks and crosswalks around the outside of the roundabout. Do not cut across the middle of the roundabout.

Use the splitter island. This will let you cross one direction of traffic at a time. Wait on the splitter island if needed.

The appropriate gap in traffic is something that you can create by your behaviour, not just something that will eventually occur if you wait long enough. Most drivers slow down as soon as they see a pedestrian at a roundabout crosswalk. Whether they then yield the crosswalk to you by slowing or stopping will depend mostly on your body language. There is enough sight distance at the roundabout for the driver to see you and slow or stop. Drivers are more likely to yield the crosswalk to you if your body language shows that you intend to cross. Use the following assertive body language to clearly tell drivers that you intend to cross:

Come up to the crosswalk briskly and deliberately – this also shows that you will not make drivers wait a long time for you to cross;

Scan for a gap in traffic as you come up to the crosswalk;

Look at the drivers;

If you have to wait, step up to the curb or even stand with one foot into the crosswalk;

Start to cross as soon as you are sure that the driver intends to slow or stop to yield the crosswalk to you.

Drivers are more likely to NOT yield the crosswalk to you if your body language shows that you are willing or expecting to wait for a very long gap in traffic before crossing. The driver will assume that you are not ready to cross or do not intend to cross. Passive body language that tells drivers that you are willing to wait may include:

  • Slowly ambling up to the crosswalk;
  • Not looking at drivers;
  • Standing on the sidewalk back from the curb;
  • Standing with your hands on your hips;
  • Setting down your grocery bags;
  • Playing with your cell phone or music player;
  • If you are jogging up to the intersection, beginning muscle stretches to fill in the time;
  • Not taking advantage of an appropriate gap in traffic to make your crossing;
  • Waving drivers on; and
  • Hesitating and not starting to cross even when a vehicle is slowing to yield the crosswalk to you.

(These instructions are specifically applicable to roundabouts, but there's lots of good advice that can be applied to pedestrian responsibility in other situations, including crosswalks.

For the full text, and some useful information on how to properly operate bicycles as well, see the website -


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By Roundup (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 04:43:11 in reply to Comment 75282

I think roundabouts have to be the most pedestrian Unfriendly/Unsafe idea ever. (Don't forget to put some big trees in the middle so that no cars can see you until you are right at the curb.) :O

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By TnT (registered) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 16:28:52

Well said, Ryan, I’ve seen that sign for many years and thought how outrageous it is. Inspite of that sign, I wonder what the law has to say regarding pedestrians being struck by vehicles? Or insurance claims? I’ll bet somehow the city it free to post any sign it wants, but that doesn’t totally negate liability. Not speaking as a lawyer, just thinking out loud.

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By 80 in school zone? (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 04:47:37 in reply to Comment 75289

They may be free to post whatever signs they want, but plead poverty if asked to put a 40kph or a school zone sign on a street less than 50 yards from 3 school yards & a park.

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By Perspective (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 20:53:25

In fairness, while it's amusing, let's not suggest this sign says it all at all. Brant Street is two lanes with traffic calming bump-outs, wide sidewalks, and nice set-backs for patios and public spaces. Furthermore, if I recall correctly, there are a probably a half dozen demarcated concrete or painted pedestrian crossings in the kilometre between Lakeshore Road and Caroline (just north of Maria). I'd take this "worst crosswalk ever" over almost anything the Hammer has to offer. I'm hard pressed to think of any areas in the lower city that compare to Brant for overall walkability, pedestrian friendliness and vitality. The sign is there because Burlington has been successful attracting pedestrians downtown, not because they want to reserve it for the car like our traffic planners seem to want to.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 21:28:57

The really dangerous one in Burlington is across Lakeshore, just west of Brant at Locust St. There is a narrow but protected median so pedestrians can cross one side at a time, but unless traffic is really heavy and slow, Lakeshore can be a dragstrip - cars trying to beat the lights at Brant, or accelerating after it when heading west. Combine that with vehicles turning onto and off of Locust, or to/from the gas station, or preparing to make a left onto Brant, and there is quite a lot for pedestrians to look out for.

The same signs are there too.

There is a pedestrian-activated traffic light another block west at Burlington Ave., but far more people use the Locust St. crosswalk.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 21:36:10 in reply to Comment 75292

"There is a pedestrian-activated traffic light another block west at Burlington Ave., but far more people use the Locust St. crosswalk."

Are there stats to back it up? I'd hazard the guess that at Locust it's busier, hence the pedestrian-activated crosswalk.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 23:25:40 in reply to Comment 75294

I'm not sure about statistics, that's my anecdotal observation from living on that stretch. When there's a festival in the park all of those crossings are quite busy, but on a daily basis I tend to see more people trying to cross at Locust - foot traffic between the park and the restaurants/shops on that block.

There is probably no light at that crossing because it's so close to Brant, and Burlington Ave. is more of a halfway point to the next light at Nelson, between Spencers and the art gallery.

For a two-lane road west of Brant (through-lanes, not including the turning lane immediately west or the median turn lane), before it widens again to three at Nelson and four when it becomes Northshore at Maple, Lakeshore Rd. handles a lot of traffic, especially during rush hour or on a nice weekend, and it can move at a good clip.

Comment edited by ScreamingViking on 2012-03-19 23:33:23

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By SpaceMonkee (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:01:52 in reply to Comment 75296

I agree that Lakeshore in that area can get quite busy and the cars can move at "a good clip", but usually the two are mutually exclusive.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 21:44:47

Here's a link of the flip side of the street (imagine standing in front of the florist looking across Brant):


I can't see that sign the author has taken a photo of. I don't know when the Google Maps picture was taken, but I'd guess within the past couple of years. So the sign must be new. As a previous poster said, the sign must be new and may be waiting on an additional sign.

Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2012-03-19 21:45:08

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By TnT (registered) | Posted March 20, 2012 at 00:33:31 in reply to Comment 75295

To my observation in has been there 10 years.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 20, 2012 at 21:29:04 in reply to Comment 75298

...then where is it in the photos from Google Maps? That picture is certainly not more than 10 years old.

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By strange but true (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2012 at 00:25:10

There are lots of intersections where pedestrians do not have the right of way. The sign is just a gentle reminder of that fact.

Do you really want to live in a city where a pedestrian has the right of way at every intersection at all times? What a traffic nightmare that would be. That could cripple the economics of the city.

How did you get out to Burlington anyway? I thought you hated cars and would never get in one. Oh wait I know you took the LRT didn't you? No that can't be it cause that is only in your imagination.

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By valour (registered) - website | Posted March 20, 2012 at 21:08:01

I am pretty sure that is not a crosswalk. It has been a few years since driving school, but crosswalks are indicated by painted lines and pedestrians always have the right of way.

That just seems like a fancy cement strip that you can cross at, if you give vehicles the right of way.

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2012 at 21:09:22

Thought of this when walking through the Macnab Bus Terminal and its "Wait for Gap" signs.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:10:43

Well i bet i could get across that intersection quicker and safer than i can cross King St east at steven St. to get back and forth to the no frills. 'couple of days ago I was crossing with my bike and saw two cops standing there. A third police car was parked was parked on the south side completely obstructing the pedestrian view of traffic. I asked on of the cops on the other side to tell me when it was safe to cross. To my amazement he walked out into the middle of the road and stopped traffic so i could cross.

To my further amazment we then had a conversation regarding the dangers of the intersection and how it could be improved for every one. When i suggested that they had more 'sway' than i did , he claimed to brought that intersection up in various safety meetings ( not sure if their safety meeting are the same as mine!)

I realize i could have been fed a line of BS .. but the police are an excellent resource to exploit in this 'war'.As a cop once said to me in toronto 'Do You know what the worst part of my Job is ? Scraping people off the road'.

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:45:21

Really naive question here:

Why don't we have pedestrian cross-walks like in Toronto? The kind where you put your arm out to cross?

Also I've spend the last three weeks in Toronto and Montreal. The cars move too bloody fast in this city. It's ridiculous.

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By Very True! (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2012 at 04:57:29 in reply to Comment 75408

Every member of my family has been 'bumped' while on foot by vehicles. A car stops for you to cross on a 'Walk' light', & the car behind the stopped car pulls around that car & hits you.
A car that ran a Red nearly took out 4 of us @ one time!
Drivers here don't stop for red lights, pedestrian lights, yield or even stop signs. I don't know that pedestrian crossings would be any better at getting their often distracted (phoning, texting, gaming, yapping, sleeping, fixing hair, applying make-up, reading etc.)

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