Kids in low-income areas at higher risk of being hit by commuters, prof warns

McMaster University study of Toronto streets has lessons for Hamilton. Areas with higer levels of commuter traffic saw more kids injured by automobiles.
Children crossing busy Hamilton streets are at higher risk, the study showed. (Sheryl Nadler/CBC)

Children living in downtown Hamilton may be at a higher risk of pedestrian injury, according to a new study out of McMaster University.

The study shows a link between high-levels of commuter traffic — as opposed to local traffic — and higher levels of pedestrian child injury.

Geography professor Nikolaos Yiannakoulias studied Toronto neighbourhoods and compared local traffic (drivers coming from that neighbourhood), arriving traffic (drivers arriving at their destination in that neighbourhood) and flow-through traffic (drivers passing through the neighbourhood on their way somewhere else).

He discovered certain neighbourhoods, especially lower income areas, with higher levels of flow-through traffic also saw higher levels of pedestrian child injury.

However, areas with high levels of local traffic did not see the same levels of injury. Even if the neighbourhood had very high volume of traffic, if it was local the levels of injury did not increase, the study found.

"It may be that drivers going through a neighbourhood may not know where children are or where schools are," Yiannakoulias explained. "Their decision to commute or not commute has an impact on everyone."

Yiannakoulias said he plans to continue the research to identify exactly what the connection is between commuter traffic and pedestrian injury. He hopes to expand the research to other cities, especially Hamilton, where Yiannakoulias says many similar issues exist.

"There are major East-West throughways in Hamilton with schools very close," he pointed out.

"There are kids walking to school and many are having to cross these major streets where there is a lot of traffic going fast and this is the same kind of commuter traffic we saw in Toronto."

Yiannakoulias said busy commuter streets have an impact not only on pedestrian injury but also personal and community health. If parents are worried about traffic, they may not let their children walk to school, which deprives them of physical activity and a chance to engage with their neighbourhood, he said.

"It's definitely a concern to many people living in lower Hamilton. They're scared to let their children walk to school."

City council has been cautious in making transit changes in Hamilton. The issue of two-way street conversion often crops up, as recently as last fall, but as Mayor Bob Brattina said then, making changes is not always as simple as it seems.

"We will have to plan carefully as we move away from the one-way system of the 1950s, which I believe is why council wants to move cautiously with further changes to traffic management."

Ryan McGreal, editor of RaisetheHammer.org, is an advocate for transit change in Hamilton, particularly introducing two-way streets. He wasn't surprised by the research and said he would welcome a similar study in Steeltown.

"Hamilton isn't the only city observing and experiencing these kinds of things but we need to learn from what other cities are doing. We need to make policies based on data and research rather than emotions and fear," he said, adding it seems decisions on transit issues in Hamilton are too-often influenced by sympathy for commuters.

"We're sacrificing an awful lot for through traffic."