Hamilton councillors have voted to revive a task force aimed at making the city streets and sidewalks safer for drivers pedestrians and cyclists.
The Hamilton Road Safety Program committee dates from more than a decade ago. In 2007, council passed a bundle of the recommendations that were designed to reduced road crashes causing death, injury or property damage by 10 per cent every three years.
But in the past seven years — during which time the plan fell dormant — collisions on Hamilton roads increased by nearly 14 per cent and traffic fatalities have hovered at around 20 per year.
A study by Hamilton's Social Planning and Research Council suggested Hamilton pedestrians and cyclists are at higher risk of getting hit by cars than the provincial average, and that the city has one of the highest rates of pedestrian deaths in the province.
The study found that Hamilton is second only to Windsor for the number of pedestrians who die while walking, usually by getting hit by vehicles.
Thursday, councillors on the city’s public works committee have endorsed a staff recommendation to resuscitate the traffic safety group, hire a traffic analyst for a three-year term to identify how to mitigate the dangers residents face on city streets, and install new crosswalks and safety signage across the city.
A portion of the revenue generated from the city’s red light cameras will cover the $875,000 price tag associated proposals.
Ward 1 Coun. Brian McHattie voted in favour of the plans and said they reflect a “huge shift” in city staff’s mentality on traffic planning over the last term of council.
“It made a huge difference in the sense that they are really focusing on pedestrian safety now — pedestrians crossing the road safely and slowing traffic down in a variety of ways,” said McHattie, a candidate in the upcoming mayoral election.
“What we’ve seen today is the re-establishment of a traffic safety and education program that was here historically, but we’ve lost over the years.”
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McHattie and Ward 6 Coun. Tom Jackson called on the city to make sure that the task force will consult school boards, seniors’ groups and other community stakeholders about their traffic concerns.
'We need to involve citizens in that new committee to make sure our neighbourhoods are safe.'—Ward 1 Coun. Brian McHattie
“We need to involve citizens in that new committee to make sure our neighbourhoods are safe,” McHattie said.
Ancaster’s Lloyd Ferguson was the lone councillor to vote in opposition to the report, which still needs council approval. He said the city doesn’t need to hire an additional employee to achieve the plan’s objectives.
“In my view, it’s everyday work that’s already being done,” Ferguson said. “It just worries me. Our population is not going up at the same rate that our staffing levels are going up, and I want to keep a check in that.”
The staff report lays out a plan to devote $200,000 for new crosswalks, $25,000 to install a flashing school crossing sign in front of Tapleytown Elementary in Stoney Creek and $100,000 for a study on how to improve signage on truck routes in the city. It also establishes a $200,000 pool of funding for projects “to address various road safety issues as they arise in 2014.”
City staff estimate that employing a new senior traffic safety technologist will cost $110,000 per year, for a total three years.
More red light cameras
The public works committee also approved on Thursday a proposal to install six more red light cameras across the city.
Hamilton currently has 13 of these cameras, which snap photos of vehicles that enter an intersection while facing a red light. Drivers who are caught in the act are slapped with a $325 fine for each infraction.
Designed to prevent “T-bone” collisions, the system brings in about $1.5 million in net revenue for the city every year. The six new cameras are expected to yield an additional $500,000 in surplus money.
Martin White, the city’s manager of traffic operations and engineering, says city hall won’t pay directly for the installation of the new cameras. Instead, a private company covers the capital costs, and in turn, collects operating fees from the city for the maintenance and operation of the cameras.
Jackson lauded the program “first and foremost, because of safety” but also because of the revenue it yields for the city.
“Here’s a program that’s not only paying for itself, but it’s giving us a surplus of dollars… to be used prudently.”