‘How many other deaths or serious injuries?’
In advance of the Oct. 22 municipal election, The Spectator will be delving into the key issues facing our city and its politicians. In today’s instalment, Matthew Van Dongen tackles the topic of road safety, and the difficult balance of cars, bikes and p
lost the ability to ride a bike — or even sit without pain — just weeks after the 2014 city election when a car slammed into the back of his bicycle on Aberdeen Avenue.
Four years later, he is hopeful voters in the next election on Oct. 22 will elect a council “focused on protecting its most vulnerable residents rather than protecting its car culture.”
The physics professor was biking home from work
at McMaster University with two other cyclists four years ago when he was struck from behind by a car at the corner of Aberdeen and Hawthorne avenues.
Ironically, the cyclists had stopped and signalled their intent to turn left onto a side street — bike safety lights flashing — because they wanted to get off the busy artery that ushers fast-moving cars off Highway 403.
The force of the impact launched Dalnoki-Veress into the air — and impaled him on the shaft of his own bicycle seat. Those “life-changing” injuries mean the 50-year-old is no longer able to sit on a bike, so he now uses an adapted foot-powered scooter to get around.
“That was hard for me, because cycling was such a big part of my life,” he said. “But on the other hand, I’m alive and happy ... When you look at other (car) collisions with pedestrians and cyclists at 50 or 60 kilometres and hour, I’d have to say I’m incredibly fortunate to still be here.”
A few weeks after the collision, he wrote a first-person account for Raise the Hammer urging residents to push council to slow its traffic arteries and redesign roads to protect vulnerable users.
Four years later, he admits feeling “disappointed and bitter” about the “slow pace” of change. “I think we’ll get there in the end ... But I worry how many other deaths or serious injuries it will take before we just design our roads with the safety of all users in mind,” he said.
THE DEBATE over road safety in Hamilton often centres on street design, even more than cost.
Changes that slow traffic on busy roads like Aberdeen — whether it is a bike lane, a “road diet” or signalized pedestrian crossover — often pit neighbourhood residents worried about safety against car commuters and companies that rely on asphalt arteries to move goods or get to work.
An extra confounding factor for current and future politicians is light rail transit. The uncertain traffic implications of the $1-billion LRT planned for the King-Main corridor continue to paralyze debate over proposed changes to many lower city streets.
Voters can ponder several highprofile — and sometimes contentious — road safety decisions made by council over four years. A selection:
The addition of a $600,000 two-way
cycling track on Bay Street and semiprotected lanes along Charlton and Herkimer. Popular with cyclists, the lanes are blamed by some Mountaindwelling car commuters for traffic backups up and down the hill.
Underspending on bike lanes. Despite some high-profile projects, the city has on average spent less than half of the $2.5 million annually needed to meet its 20-year bike lane target in 2029. We’re way behind. The city’s first protected walking-cycling path up a Mountain access .It took the death of cyclist Jay Keddy and a provincial grant to make this $2-million Claremont access project a 2019 priority. Two-way traffic coming to Queen Street South. Celebrated as a win-win for neighbourhood residents and Mountain commuters. But the 2019 project won’t change the one-way arterial between Main and King. A 77-year-old cyclist was struck and killed by a cement truck last month at Queen and King. No Aberdeen road diet. LRT uncertainty allowed council to punt a debate over a proposed narrowing of the busy road that carries 19,000 vehicles daily from the Queen Street hill to Highway 403. A staff review of temporary safety measures will go to the new council next year.
Speed limit reductions. Council signed off on a default speed limit reduction to 40 km/h on residential or unsigned streets. It also cut max speeds on some arterials, like Ottawa and Kenilworth.
IT’S TOUGH TO GAUGE the success of these measures on Hamilton road safety based on collision statistics, partly because the details aren’t readily available to the public.
Neither the city traffic department nor police make detailed city-wide collision information available online. Toronto police, by comparison, provide a searchable online database of pedestrian and cycling collisions that includes information about location, fault, time of day and direction of travel.
Hamilton’s high-level numbers don’t tell a very clear story.
Cyclist-car collisions have hovered around an 160 annual average for a decade, for example. An August cyclist death was the first bike-vehicle collision death since 2015.
The city saw 278 pedestrian-car collisions in 2016 — the highest number since amalgamation — but those numbers dived down to 230 last year. Four pedestrians died in each of those years.
New computer software should allow the city to make more details available to the public next year, said traffic operations manager Martin White. He added more detailed analysis, including about “collision hot spots,” is coming in an upcoming traffic safety report to council.
Sorry, voters and candidates: that report is so far not slated to go public until after the election.
WITH OR WITHOUT the stats, road safety appears to be an issue for voters. Dozens of would-be councillors listed safer streets as a high priority in a Spectator survey of candidates.
Cycle Hamilton also conducted its own poll of candidates and received 74 responses, said co-chair Kate Whalen. She said a majority appear “generally supportive” of more spending on bike lanes and road safety. “They’re also telling us they’re hearing from residents about these things, which is heartening,” she said.
Road safety is also a city-wide concern — even if the loudest council debates tend to be over downtown road design and two-way traffic.
Residents on the Mountain, in Ancaster and Waterdown are increasingly demanding sidewalks and better pedestrian protections, particularly in formerly rural areas where population growth outpaces infrastructure upgrades.
That challenge came into tragic focus in 2017 when Jasmin Hanif, 10, was struck and killed while trying to cross Evans Road in heavy traffic.
The once-rural Waterdown road now has many residential homes, but is still lined with ditches rather than sidewalks and often serves as a cutthrough option for traffic in the growing community.
Jasmin’s father, Shakeel Hanif, made a moving plea to councillors after his daughter’s death calling for road safety improvements. New signs, lighting and traffic dividers have since been installed on Evans Road.
There is so much more to do, he said. “Signs are not enough, (knockdown) sticks are not enough. People just drive over them,” said the still-grieving father this week. “You need to be able to force people to slow down. You need enforcement ... I’m not seeing that.”
Hanif is hopeful the city will choose to use photo radar to crack down on dangerous drivers if the province finally enacts regulations to allow the technology in pedestrian-sensitive areas.
He is also wondering if council will follow through on “all the talk” about Vision Zero, an increasingly popular planning strategy for cities with the stated goal of preventing all traffic deaths.
Hamilton’s latest master transportation plan says the city is studying the “feasibility” of formally adopting a Vision Zero strategy. (In Toronto, that meant a $25 millionplus funding commitment over five years.)
“I know getting things through council takes time,” Hanif said. “But look at all the people getting hurt. This should be priority one for them.”
Residents on the Mountain, in Ancaster and Waterdown are increasingly demanding sidewalks and better pedestrian protections.
Kari DalnokiVeress with his foot-powered scooter at Aberdeen and Studholme. This is near the site of a bad collision four years ago where a car drove into him on his bike, impaling him on the seat shaft.
Police and firefighters on the scene of a fatal collision where a 77-year-old cyclist was killed by cement truck on King Street just west of Queen Street in August.