Carnage is Not a Competitive Advantage

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 28, 2014

Editor's Note: I just sent this as a letter to Council.

Hamilton has the second worst rate of pedestrian injuries of any city in Ontario. There have been four vehicle collisions with pedestrians this month alone, two of them on Queen Street involving serious injuries.

Our streets are dangerous by design. We have too much excess lane capacity, as the data makes clear. Over the past decade or so, daily traffic volumes on lower city streets have been falling steadily, and we now have four- and five-lane expressways built for a much different economy than the one we have today.

Because we have so much excess lane capacity and there is so little affordance for pedestrians (like wide sidewalks or frequent pedestrian crossings), automobiles drive at dangerous speeds.

A pedestrian's risk of being killed in a collision with an automobile goes up exponentially as vehicle speed increases. At 30 km/h, a pedestrian has a 5% chance of dying. Double the speed to 60 km/h and the risk of dying jumps to a staggering 85%.

The vehicle's stopping distance also increases exponentially: at double the speed, a vehicle needs four times the distance to stop. So not only are pedestrians more likely to be mangled or killed, but they're also more likely to be struck in the first place.

Some councillors have argued that our streets somehow provide a competitive advantage for Hamilton. The evidence abundantly contradicts that notion.

It is not a competitive advantage to spend money we don't have maintaining excess lane capacity we don't need, instead of redeploying it for better, more cost-effective uses that will reduce our lifecycle infrastructure obligations and deliver real net benefits.

Today's economy depends on urban neighbourhoods characterized by density, mixed uses and safe, lively streets designed to accommodate people doing a variety of things.

Most of the new jobs being created in Ontario in the past several years are being created by young, small, fast-growing companies run by creative entrepreneurs - people who want to live in lively urban environments.

As the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce argues, walkability is a strategic investment in economic development.

Carnage is not a competitive advantage.

Our streets are injuring and killing people at a rate 43% higher than the Provincial average. The people being injured and killed are disproportionately senior citizens and children (not careless hipsters, as some commentators suggest). This is unacceptable.

We need to move beyond wringing our hands about what will happen if someone has to stop behind a red light during rush hour. We need to start taming and humanizing our city streets now, not at some unspecified, unfunded time in the distant future.

No more people should have to die because we're afraid to let go of a status quo that stopped working for us a long time ago.

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 jimstreet (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2014 at 16:43:34

How could he end that email with "Respectfully" - that was anything but respectful to the people affected by these terrible road conditions. Shame councillor!

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 29, 2014 at 15:33:17

I am going to send a letter to Councillor Terry Whiteheads suggesting that he look at alternatives to people being crushed and killed by car drivers. There is absolutely no reason why proven effective measures cannot be implemented in Hamilton. For example, take a look at this video of Groningen in The Netherlands:

They did it. They changed their city for the better. We can too.

Local connection: On 13-16 April 1945, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry fought in the Battle of Groningen that liberated the city. See:

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted March 29, 2014 at 15:52:13

And another young woman now enjoys a fractured skull after being struck by a vehicle turning from Main W onto Thorndale.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 31, 2014 at 12:16:05

I love how the idea that residential streets should be normal two-way neighbourhood streets like any other place in the country is now considered an "agenda".

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