Hamilton

Council votes to convert 'serial killer' Main Street to 2-way traffic

Council voted Wednesday to convert Main Street, the location of several recent pedestrian injuries and deaths, to two-way traffic, a change aimed at slowing down vehicles that will drastically impact the lower city.

The vote came after protesters outside chanted, 'Hey hey, ho ho, killer streets have got to go'

Protestors calling for safer roadways in Hamilton blocked off Main Street West outside of City Hall for about five minutes on May 11. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Shortly after protesters outside were chanting, "Hey hey, ho ho, killer streets have got to go," Hamilton city council approved a motion Wednesday that will convert Main Street – the location of several recent pedestrian injuries and deaths – to two-way traffic.

Despite opposition from councillors Lloyd Ferguson (Ancaster) and Maria Pearson (Ward 10, lower Stoney Creek), the motion from Coun. Maureen Wilson (Ward 1, west lower city) and Nrinder Nann (Ward 3) passed easily following impassioned pleas from several councillors who said the change would save lives and honour those who have been killed.

"Imagine your best friend just turned 49, and as a dedicated accessible transit driver...  was struck and killed by a driver who jumped the curb," said Nann, referring to the recent death of a DARTS driver near Main and Locke streets after a driver mounted the curb.

"Imagine your dad booked his flight to your wedding but will never make it because [he and his colleagues got hit while walking to work]," she said, referring to a victim killed in March near Gage Park. 

The motion called for the "conversion of Main Street from one-way to two-way be approved as an immediate safety intervention."

It also directs staff to create an implementation plan "that integrates a Complete Streets redesign that will enable safer use for all people who need to use the streets including public transit riders, pedestrians, motorists and cyclists and that these spaces also contribute to climate resilience by providing shade trees and permeable surfaces."

Councillors voted on the part of the motion dealing with Main Street conversion separately from the rest of the document, which also calls for implementing measures including more pedestrian space, temporary lane reductions, the removal of parking restrictions, a reduced speed limit and reviewing the synchronized traffic lights on Main and King streets.

While Pearson voted against the Main Street conversion, she voted in favour of the rest of the measures proposed.

Protesters call Main Street a 'serial killer'

Earlier Wednesday, a handful of protesters blocked Main Street West outside of Hamilton city hall for a few minutes, and a group of more than 50 people demanded city councillors take immediate action to make roadways safer after the string of pedestrian deaths.

Protesters held up signs and banners that labelled Main Street a "serial killer." 

It came after a short demonstration in the city hall forecourt where community members shared stories and demanded change.

Lynda Lukasik, Environment Hamilton's executive director, shared a story about her dad being hit by a vehicle in the city. She was among a crowd of over 50 people demanding safer streets in Hamilton. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

"I am not some militant anti-car radical, I'm simply a parent that cannot believe how we can normalize the absurdity on our streets," Tom Flood said to the crowd.

"We have a very simple choice right now, we can protect people in our community or we can continually protect the roads that steal them from us."

The demonstration comes as the city has seen 11 pedestrians killed in vehicle-related incidents this year.

The debate to change the one-way traffic on Main Street to two-way traffic has been going on for years.

A protestor holds a sign calling Main Street a serial killer in an effort to raise awareness of the string of pedestrian deaths Hamilton has seen this year. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Dave Shellnutt, a personal injury lawyer for cyclists and pedestrians, said people need to see driving as a privilege, not a right. "If you here have almost been hit or been hit, could you please raise your hand?" he said.

Just about everybody raised their hand.

Chris Ritsma, who helped organize the demonstration, said Main Street is a symbol of the city's inaction. "It's the start, not the end, of safe streets throughout all of Hamilton," he said.

Some suburban councillors worried about traffic 

The councillors who opposed the conversion, Pearson and Ferguson, worried their suburban residents would have to deal with congestion when they go downtown.

"The concern for my residents is the efficiency," said Pearson, singling out changes to traffic-light synchronization, which can allow drivers to pass for kilometres through the lower city without having to stop. "You have to be doing [the speed limit] if you want to be making those lights."

Ferguson was worried about reducing easy access to Highway 403 westbound for his constituents who work downtown. He said that voting for the change "on emotion" would make for poor decision-making, and said he was unaware of evidence that two-way conversion would be the "silver bullet" in reducing collisions.

"I need to have factual data because I am going to get clobbered by people from Ancaster who use Main Street to go to work."

Coun. Russ Powers (Ward 5) said he'd initially been of that mindset too, but changed his mind after consulting with city staff and seeing the support from all four councillors with wards that include the at-times five-lane thoroughfare.

"We know it will not be immediate, but if we don't get started, it never will get done," he said.

Earlier in the meeting, Coun. Sam Merulla (Ward 4), put forward a motion to reaffirm council's belief that Ontario should change its policy to recognize the right-of-way of pedestrians, no matter where they are on the roadway. He initially put forward a similar motion in 2013.

"I was mocked relentlessly for being stop-sign Sam," he said. "Yes, I probably have the most stop signs in [my] ward."

Merulla emphasized repeatedly over the course of the meeting that slower speeds save lives.

"It's a good sign to have congestion," he said. "It is by design to create congestion to slow traffic down."

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