Hamilton has second lowest traffic congestion rate in country: study

The City of Hamilton is ranked as having one of the lowest congestion rates in the country, according to a recent study from Tom Tom.

Annual Tom Tom study puts Hamilton in 11th place out of 12 Canadian cities

Hamilton is ranked as having one of the lowest congestion rates in the country, according to a recent study from Tom Tom.

The GPS company places Hamilton 11th out of 12 large Canadian cities in its annual traffic congestion study.

The city's congestion level — the extra amount of time added to travel when compared to driving in free-flowing traffic — is measured at 16 per cent. This is down one percentage point from last year.

The morning congestion rate is measured at 27 per cent and the evening rate is 36 per cent.

The only Canadian city lower than Hamilton on the list is Kitchener-Waterloo, which ranks the same overall, but has a little less congestion in the mornings and evenings. The list also includes cities such as Winnipeg, Edmonton and London, Ont.

Congestion as a sign of a city's vitality

Ryan McGreal is the editor of a local civic affairs website, Raise the Hammer. He said while the Tom Tom ranking seems positive at first glance, the lower congestion levels in Hamilton actually points to other problems in the city.

"The real problem in Hamilton isn't that we have this horrible congestion, that people are stuck in traffic," he said. "The problem is that our streets are too wide, they have too little space for walking and cycling, and they're dangerous."

To a certain extent, a certain amount of traffic congestion is a necessary side effect of vitality.- Ryan McGreal , editor of Raise the Hammer website

They're dangerous because with all that room, vehicles are able to drive fast, faster than they should, he said. Narrower and more congested streets have a way of keeping speeds low and pedestrians and cyclists safe.

"The most dangerous thing on a street is a fast-moving vehicle. The easier you make it to drive fast, the more dangerous that street is."

The city streets in Hamilton, especially in the downtown core, have been designed for "pass-through traffic," he said, rather than streets designed with the businesses and shops in mind.  With four lanes of traffic all heading in one direction, this type of street design deters people from accessing the downtown.

Cities like Vancouver, the No. 1 ranked city on the Tom Tom list, is congested because it is an extremely valuable city that a lot of people want to be in, McGreal said.

"To a certain extent, a certain amount of traffic congestion is a necessary side effect of vitality," he said. "Our half-empty streets are like dangerously low blood pressure; it's not a healthy sign."

There needs to be a balance

Dave Ferguson, the superintendent of traffic engineering with the city, said he's not too surprised with the findings of the Tom Tom list.

Our traffic patterns move quite well.- Dave Ferguson, Hamiltons superintendent of traffic engineering

The city does have pockets of congestion at times, he said in an interview on Tuesday, but with the one-way road networks, it makes it easier to time traffic signals and move a larger number of vehicles through an area.

Outside of any major events on the roadways, "our traffic patterns move quite well."

When it comes to looking at congestion as a safety strategy, Ferguson said it's not always true that a crowded street is a safer one.

There are studies that show traffic collisions occur more often in congested streets rather than free-flowing streets, he said. Also, congestion can have a negative impact on air quality and the environment.

For walkers and cyclists, however, more congestion on the streets may provide a safer environment for them, he said. 

Looking back at the development of Hamilton, Ferguson said the streets were designed to move a lot of people to the north end for work in the steel industry.

The traffic flow is very different today, he said, and the city is working on finding that balance between having open streets and congested ones.

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