After the Ontario Legislature changed the law to allow cities to lower speed limits to 30K, a group of residents in Hamilton's North End started to look at what other cities were doing about speed limits. They found a huge body of research on what speed does to people and to neighbourhoods.
One such UK research report put it very simply:
That study was in England, where speed limits in the study area were reduced to 20 mph after parents took to the streets and demanded action on speed reduction. Elsewhere in Europe citizens did the same, putting sofas and used furniture on the roads to reclaim them for the neighbourhood.
Governments throughout Europe and the UK and in Canada and the U.S. responded by legislating many ways of taking back the streets in neighbourhoods.
In Canada, the rich and famous in places like Toronto’s Mount Forest area were early adopters of the 30K traffic calmed neighbourhood with winding curved streets and lots of parking that slowed motorists.
This slow traffic strategy makes sense from a health point of view.
Reducing speed works to reduce injuries.
The Canadian Centre for Sustainable Transportation linked speed to injury long ago. In simple terms, in a collision at 50 - 60K, you kill the child. At 30K, you send her to the ER. At 20K, you patch him up with a band aid.and send him home
The problem of course is me, the motorist. I love my car. I need my car. I want to get to the Meadowlands as fast as I can because I am only thinking in my driving monologue. I will get angry if you drive your car in a way that slows me down or if your bike interferes with my trip, or if you walk in front of me.. I am a tunnel-visioned horror show when I get behind the wheel. Selfish. Single-minded. Protected and invulnerable inside that ton of steel that is my car. Even without my cell phone. These are all perfectly good reasons you really do want to keep me off the street where your children are playing, where your elderly parent is trying to cross, where people are using bikes or skate boards or inline skates or just hanging out in front of their homes.
I am your family’s and your neighbours’ worst enemy.
If you can’t keep me off your street, then you will want to manage my driving, slow me down, build a better connection between me and your child.
30K does that.
A major difference between 50K and 30K is that at 30K the driver can make eye contact with the pedestrian, and the pedestrian becomes a person. That makes the connection between drivers and pedestrians and cyclists more effective. We tend not to hurt people we really see.
Reduced injury was the first by-product of this movement.
But a second important lesson came out of the research. It turned out that this is not just a discussion about speed limits and safety. It is a discussion about how we build and maintain the character of communities and neighbourhoods where families want to live.
We should have known that intuitively. Parents will move to where their children are safe.
There are no children on Main Street between McMaster and Centennial Parkway today. King Street is similarly void of children. 75-years ago we had children all along King and Main.
The answer is that traffic speed and volume changed.
The message was conveyed loudly and clearly: Children were no longer welcome on those streets, families left and the streets changed. In the same way, the Cannon-Wilson Expressway changed every block it passed through.
Parents understood that a 6-inch slip on the part of a child or a driver of a fast-moving vehicle could mean instant death or catastrophic injury. They were not prepared to risk their children. They moved their children to safer locations,
Sometimes the impact is more subtle.
Human bodies are fine-tuned instruments designed to warn, at many levels, of near danger. The car or truck coming at 50K in the curb lane hikes the adrenalin levels of every pedestrian on the sidewalk. Humans resist danger, and will alter behaviour to try to avoid it. A vehicle at 50K a foot or so from your body is a threat. Too much of the threat, and you move if you can.
And so the nature of the traffic determines the nature of the neighbourhood.
For those reasons, studying traffic becomes not just about moving people in vehicles. It is about defining the nature of the neighbourhood you want and then managing traffic to get that kind of neighbourhood.
If you want families with children living in the centre of the city, you have to make their streets safe for children.
Thousands of cities and towns in Europe and many cities in North America developed ways to give their streets back to pedestrians, cyclists, children and seniors and when they did, they changed how people felt about their neighbourhoods. In Holland and Flanders, the solutions are called ‘Woonerfs’.
Toronto last year became the first Ontario city to formally establish a Woonerf district—where cars do not have the right of way over pedestrians at its waterfront. This strategy has not yet reached Hamilton.
Hamilton is perfectly poised to become the first City in Canada to use these new traffic strategies as neighbourhood building tools.
City Council will be ask to approve a pilot project employing these concepts—on a neighbourhood-wide basis—in a neighbourhood that has ideal characteristics for such a pilot project.
Hamilton’s North End Neigbhourhood residents have proposed to be designated Canada’s first “Child and Family-Friendly Neighbourhood”.
Next: Why Hamilton’s North End Neighbourhood was selected for a Child and Family Friendly Neighbourhood pilot project. Herman Turkstra is a Hamilton lawyer and a North End resident.