Friday, March 10, 2006


Committee formed to address Cootes Drive crossing

By Craig Campbell (Dundas Star)
News Staff (Mar 10, 2006)
A new committee has formed to find ways of improving pedestrian safety, after the death of 19-year-old Heather Watson, who was struck by a salter truck while attempting to cross Cootes Drive on Feb. 13.
Randy Kay, a Dundas resident and member of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group's transportation for liveable communities working group (TLC) , said last week's meeting was positive.
He said no one at the meeting suggested removing the six-month-old pedestrian controlled traffic light, where Heather was struck.
Police are still investigating and have not said whether or not the traffic light had been activated, or if the light had turned red before Ms. Watson attempted to cross. Police have not charged the truck driver.
"We're happy the light is there," Mr. Kay said. "We just need something to make it safer."
He said those attending the first meeting of the committee included: Ward 1 city councillor Brian McHattie, McMaster University planner Linda Axford, head of security and parking Terry Sullivan, and Ed Switenky of the city traffic department.
Also there were representatives of Hamilton Police, the McMaster Student Union's Alternative Community and Transportation, and Synectics - the traffic engineering consultants that studied the Cootes crossing two years ago and recommended the pedestrian controlled traffic light.
"Brian (McHattie) suggested this would be the first of several meetings," Mr. Kay said.
He said the city has deactivated a link between the pedestrian controlled traffic light and the nearby Main West/Cootes Drive/Leland Street traffic light.
"That was done to make it more responsive," Mr. Kay said. "And it does seem more responsive."
A regular user of the Cootes crossing, he noticed the light sometimes took at least 40 seconds to change while pedestrians waited. Often, there wasn't any traffic on Cootes at the time.
Mr. Kay thinks this may have helped form the habit of some pedestrians crossing immediately after pressing the button to activate the light - before it turned red to stop traffic, or crossing without activating the light at all.
He's not sure McMaster students are aware of the change and may continue crossing against the light.
Sgt. Glenn Jarvie of the Hamilton Police was unavailable for comment before deadline this week, but said last week several witness statements were being reviewed.
Police are to meet with regional coroner Dr. David Eden to review the circumstances of the collision that killed Heather Watson, and determine if there are any recommendations to improve safety.
Randy Kay and TLC wants the city to act on traffic calming measures recommended in the Synectics report.
Mr. Kay specifically mentioned increasing the width of the centre median on Cootes to narrow the lanes, flashing amber pedestrian lights, and replacing the current on-ramp access to Cootes from Main West with a right-turn lane.
TLC also supports a lane in each direction on Main West completely dedicated to transit, cabs and cyclists, speed reduction to 50 kilometres an hour, and improvements to the new McMaster entrance on Main West.

Monday, March 06, 2006

lots of opinions, little action

Police, coroner continue to investigate fatal collision on Cootes Drive

By Craig Campbell (Dundas Star)
News Staff (Mar 3, 2006)
Hamilton Police met with Heather Watson's family Tuesday to update them on the investigation of a collision that killed the 19-year-old McMaster University student as she tried to cross Cootes Drive on Feb. 13.
Sergeant Glenn Jarvie said investigators shared what information they could with Heather's family, but will not publicly release any details until the investigation is complete. Police have not yet concluded whether the six-month-old pedestrian-controlled traffic lights had been activated when the second-year student stepped onto the road just after 6 p.m.
"We are going to go over a few statements with witnesses to clarify parts," Sgt. Jarvie said.
An iPod found at the scene was to be taken to Toronto's centre for forensic science to see if it was in use and, if it was, its volume.
Though Sgt. Jarvie couldn't say if the pedestrian-controlled traffic light had been activated and if the traffic light was green or red, he did say no charges would be filed against the city salter truck driver who struck Heather.
That won't surprise Emile Therien, president of the Canada Safety Council.
When Mr. Therien heard about the accident this week, he immediately suggested a pedestrian probably pressed the button while in motion and continued to cross before the traffic light had turned yellow.
"That's the constant thing with these pedestrian controlled devices. They're not going to change at the time of activation,"
Mr. Therien noted the driver of the truck has not been charged, so it appears he is not at fault. Despite this case, Mr. Therien and the Canada Safety Council support pedestrian-activated traffic lights.
"They make a lot of sense," he said. "People should be aware the light is not going to change as soon as you press the button."
Crossing too early is just one of the problems Randy Kay of Transportation for Liveable Communities has noticed at the Cootes traffic lights. Two years ago, TLC wrote a letter to the City of Hamilton supporting a pedestrian and cyclist controlled traffic signal - and other measures - to improve safety at the uncontrolled crossing.
Mr. Kay said the McMaster-based organization planned to meet with Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie and city traffic staff this week to discuss further safety measures at the crossing.
He said several recommendations in a consultant's report were not acted on.
The detailed traffic safety review completed by Synectics Inc. in 2004 contains traffic and pedestrian counts, speed data, conflict analysis and background.
The study recommends lane narrowing through pavement markings, landscape changes to the roadside to discourage speeding, fencing to prevent downstream pedestrian crossing, enhanced pedestrian safety and enforcement, and increased police speed enforcement.
In addition, 11 potential remedial measures to improve sight distances and enhance the crossing were listed in the report.
They included trimming overhanging foliage, adding reflective material, relocating signing, and placing the word stop on pavement approaches.
This was all recommended in addition to a mid-block pedestrian controlled traffic light.
"Did the city fully implement the recommendations to make it a proper crossing?" Mr. Kay said. "I think not."
He also questioned the timing of the traffic light, noting that many pedestrians over the past six months have reportedly pressed the button but crossed immediately, against the light.
"Traffic flow is given precedence over pedestrian wait time. The light takes so long to change, pedestrians just cross," Mr. Kay said.
The Ainslie Wood - Westdale Secondary Plan includes a policy on the crossing at Cootes and Sanders. It states improvements will be undertaken to facilitate crossing.
"This will include traffic calming, mainly in the form of pavement treatments, and management studies along Cootes Drive, north of Sanders Blvd.," the policy states.
Mr. Kay wants to talk to city staff about putting in some of those traffic calming measures. Both Mr. Kay and Mr. Therien prefer traffic lights to a pedestrian bridge - despite the fact there were no reported accidents in the 10 years before the lights were installed at the end of August.
"We talked about (a bridge crossing) before the lights came in. Pedestrians would probably bypass that," Mr. Kay said.
Mr. Therien said initial cost, and ongoing maintenance, are also problems with pedestrian bridges.
Jeff Suggett, senior research specialist at traffic safety engineering consultant Synectics, said a flashing crosswalk sign was not recommended because such controls have a mixed record.
He said the danger with crosswalks is pedestrians incorrectly assume they have the right of way. Some drivers could ignore the signal and drive through.

"If you are a driver, you're going to stop more readily for a traffic light," Mr. Suggett said.
He agreed a pedestrian bridge is very expensive and there is no guarantee pedestrians would use it.
Meanwhile, Mr. Suggett pointed out, pedestrian controlled traffic lights are becoming quite common.
Two of the pedestrian safety devices are planned for downtown Dundas. One will be installed at King Street West and Ogilvie, the other at King West and Foundry before the end of the year.
Jeff Gowland has lived in Dundas the past 10 years. He said he complained to councillor McHattie about the Cootes Drive crossing within a day of it being installed. Now he's telling Dundas councillor Art Samson the two Dundas lights are a mistake too.
"I told him the light was basically an accident waiting to happen," said Mr. Gowland, a communications operator with the Hamilton Police Service.
"Drivers become complacent. (Pedestrians) don't stop. Ninety per cent of the time you're stopped at a red light and no one's there - they've already crossed."
David Eden, the regional supervising coroner, said his office is investigating the accident that killed Heather Watson.
When police finish their investigation, they will meet with the investigating coroner and pathologist to establish the facts of the case, and see if any recommendations should be made.
"We are looking at the safety of pedestrians who are crossing this thoroughfare," Dr. Eden said. "We have not yet drawn any conclusions.
"We're still working on the facts. We need a good factual basis before making recommendations."
He said the coroner's office has a "fairly clear" idea of what happened, but still needs to answer several questions about the design of the crossing and flow of pedestrians and traffic.

Cootes Danger Designs

Friday, March 3, 2006

McMaster University has by far the highest concentration of pedestrians and cyclists in the city, yet the auto-centric infrastructure on Main Street West and Cootes Drive ignores this fact, posing serious barriers to their safe movement.

The recent tragedy on Cootes Drive only serves to highlight the ongoing conflict between cars and people walking and cycling in an environment where motor traffic dominates all other modes of transportation.

Transportation for Liveable Communities (TLC) is seeking structural changes to calm traffic on streets bordering McMaster University.

Speed is intimately linked to death, and speed is a recognized problem at McMaster. For instance: the report that preceded the installation of pedestrian lights on Cootes at Sanders Blvd where a 19- year-old McMaster student was struck and killed recommended a speed reduction strategy, noting that,
"Despite the presence of a posted 60 km/h speed limit, speed data recorded in the vicinity of the crosswalk indicates that vehicles significantly exceed the posted speed limits. The combination of excessive speed and the high pedestrian-bicycle crossing volume create a particularly hazardous situation." (Cootes Drive at Sanders Boulevard, Pedestrian and Cyclist Crossing Safety Review, City of Hamilton, Synectics Transportation Consultants Inc. October 2004 )
TLC believes that structural changes are needed to calm traffic on Main West and Cootes drive. For Cootes we simply point to the unfulfilled recommendations that were to accompany installation of the pedestrian lights:
"To address excessive vehicle speeds on Cootes Drive:
  • Provision of horizontal deflection, in the form of lane narrowing;
  • Provide increased police speed enforcement or use of a speed trailer; and
  • Changing the roadside environment to discourage high vehicle operating speeds."
  • (Synectics)
TLC strongly feels that lane narrowing (by increasing the width of the centre median) should be implemented both north and south of the pedestrian crossing to address the speed of approaching vehicles, as well as flashing amber lights indicating pedestrian crossing ahead.

TLC would like to see the pedestrian crossing light more responsive to pedestrian needs by giving pedestrian priority (rather than traffic priority) to reduce wait times.

We also suggest replacing the current on-ramp from Main West with a right-turn lane at Cootes and Main, to discourage the "highway mentality" of drivers as they head north into the pedestrian crossing.

With regard to the recently re-engineered McMaster Front Entrance, TLC can only wonder why this was allowed to happen - and demand changes to allow safe crossing for cyclists and pedestrians.

Specifically, TLC wants the turning radius for cars decreased, the crosswalks aligned at the corner (rather than mid block) and the islands extended toward the centre of the intersection to allow safe and direct passage for pedestrians.

In order to calm traffic on Main Street West, a road entirely devoted to fast flowing traffic despite the presence of several schools, TLC advocates one lane in each direction be designated a "diamond lane" for the exclusive use of transit, cyclists and taxi-cabs; a reduced and enforced speed limit of 50 km/h; and adjustments to the traffic light synchronization to discourage speeding.

"The changes must be substantial to redress the current imbalance that marginalizes the thousands of people walking and cycling in this area," says TLC's David Cohen.

TLC representatives are meeting with City staff, ward one councillor Brian McHattie and others from the McMaster community Friday, March 3 to discuss these issues.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Group studies fatal Mac crossing

Gary Yokoyama, the Hamilton Spectator
City staff will examine traffic speeds on Cootes Drive in the next months to see if there's still a problem.

Students continue to cross against red on Cootes Drive near campus

By Meredith Macleod, The Hamilton Spectator (Mar 4, 2006)

As a group of city, police and university officials met yesterday to figure out how to make the Cootes Drive crossing into McMaster safer for pedestrians and cyclists, a fire truck blared its horn at a young woman who appeared about to step into its path at that very spot.

It was a frightening reminder of the accident that took 19-year-old Heather Watson's life just 19 days ago. The arts and science student was killed by a City of Hamilton truck as she walked home from school. Witnesses have said Watson was wearing headphones and that the truck honked before it hit her.

The accident is still under investigation.

An as-yet-unnamed committee is being formed to address pedestrian safety all around the campus. Called together by Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie, it met yesterday afternoon and has compiled close to 20 suggestions -- including lowering the speed limit, increased signage and peer safety education.

The first priority is Cootes Drive but Randy Kay, a volunteer with Transportation for Liveable Communities (TLC), says recent upgrades to the Main Street entrances to the campus are "an unmitigated disaster. Someone is going to get hit there too. It's just a matter of time."

TLC, which took part in yesterday's meeting, is calling for "traffic calming" measures on Main and Cootes. That could include fewer, narrower lanes, flashing amber lights, eliminating the ramp from Main onto Cootes and squaring up the intersection, says Kay.

He says the entire campus area has been built to best accommodate cars, even though it has the highest concentration of pedestrians in the city.

"There needs to be real, drastic changes there."

Yesterday, as a pile of frozen flowers rested by the road in tribute to Watson, a female student riding a bike and wearing large headphones crossed two lanes of traffic against the pedestrian light heading to campus from Sanders Boulevard when the fire truck blared its warning.

During a couple of hours of observation at the site where an estimated six people on foot and 18 cars cross paths each minute, about one-third of pedestrians crossed against the light.

That light was installed last year after a safety study determined speed and volume made it necessary.
Many pedestrians pushed the button to get the light to change but were too impatient to wait for it. They preferred to dash across during gaps in traffic. It's a dangerous dash.

It didn't take a radar gun to see that many vehicles were well above the 60 km/h permitted in the area.
It may seem that the fatal accident has had little effect on drivers and pedestrians, but several students said they have changed their ways.

Student Sherise Johnson no longer uses both earplugs on her MP3 player.

"The accident scared me."

Jimmy Sekhou, in his fourth year of commerce, says many students simply ignore the light but that Watson's death has made him more cautious.

He says the speed limit in the area should be reduced, especially coming out of Dundas.
"It's an open road all the way down there."

City staff will examine speeds on Cootes in the next couple of months to see if there continues to be a problem since the pedestrian light was installed.

Valley Inn Road renovation

Kaz Novak, the Hamilton Spectator
This military-style Bailey bridge is aging
and may be replaced by a pedestrian bridge that
would link Hamilton and Burlington waterfront trail.

City officials eye pedestrian route to replace decaying Bailey bridge

By Eric McGuinness, The Hamilton Spectator (Mar 4, 2006)

This may be the last year to delight kids big and small by driving across the clattering timber deck of the Valley Inn Road bridge.

Hamilton officials want to silence the bay area's noisiest bridge, tear it out, close the roads on either side and put in a span just for cyclists and pedestrians.

Although it was once the main route between Dundas and Toronto, Valley Inn Road and its landmark bumpy bridge over Grindstone Creek now carry only 1,000 cars and small trucks a day.

Users are mainly sightseers, birdwatchers, fishers, kayakers and people going to and from the Royal Botanical Gardens' Laking Garden, Woodland Cemetery and Easterbrook's, locally famous for its foot-long hot dogs.

The new bridge would become part of a waterfront trail link between Hamilton and Burlington, which meet at that point.

The staff recommendation goes to Hamilton's public works, infrastructure and environment committee Monday. If the committee and council go along, an environmental assessment report on the project will be posted for public review for 30 days.

The present structure is a Bailey bridge, a military-style portable structure installed after the previous bridge collapsed beneath a heavy truck in 1964. It was rented from the province and was supposed to be temporary, but the city eventually bought it for $1 and continues to maintain it.

Engineers say the steel frame is corroding, underpinnings at either end are eroding and deck timbers the size of railway ties are decaying. They say the whole thing will last only three to five more years.

The environmental assessment, which included two public meetings, concludes that a new vehicular bridge would be too expensive and too damaging to the natural area at the creek mouth, described as "a sanctuary for both wildlife and humans wishing to escape the surrounding urban areas."

It's also the site of a barrier of Christmas trees built by the Royal Botanical Gardens to keep large carp from Hamilton Harbour out of a pike spawning area in Sunfish Pond upstream.

Sean Dillon, an Aldershot resident who was walking past a gaggle of geese, many ducks and a lone swan in the pond yesterday, said he welcomed the replacement plan.

"I think it would be a good idea as long as there's some way to cross here. I would not want to see it where we couldn't walk over."

Mike Zacjenko, organizer of the historic Around the Bay Road Race -- which will be run March 26 this year -- said runners would be fine with a three-metre-wide pedestrian bridge.

Werner Plessl, executive director of the Hamilton Waterfront Trust, which wants to extend Hamilton's Waterfront Trail across the High-Level Bridge and down Valley Inn Road to Burlington, said the new bridge would accommodate service vehicles and police cars.

But eight of 31 people who commented at the first public open house last June said they wanted to keep the road open to all drivers.

Planners say Valley Inn Road, named for a hotel that burned down in 1928, would dead end on the Hamilton side on high ground between York Boulevard and the CN Rail bridge. A turnaround and small parking lot would be built.

There are two options for the Burlington side.

The first is to close Spring Gardens Road above the creek valley and allow only limited vehicle access down toward the bridge and the one private home there.

The second would add a water-level parking lot at the bridge's east end and allow two-way traffic up and down the hill.

For further information, check Monday's public works committee agenda on the city website,, or phone the city call centre at 905-546-CITY (2489).