Special Report: Walkable Streets

Freeway Speeds on City Streets Designed Like Freeways

Apart from the houses and chain link fence on the Claremont Access, its design is not much different from Highway 407.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published April 16, 2014

When city streets are designed like freeways, some people will drive 125 km/h on them.

Two male drivers, aged 55 and 48, were pulled over by Hamilton police on April 16 and charged with stunt driving and speeding. They were travelling at 125 km/hr in a 70 km/hr zone.

The two drivers were observed speeding on Wellington Street heading toward the Claremont Access.

Claremont likely has a design speed of around 120-130 km/h and is posted at 70km/h. Wellington is a 50 km/h street but can easily be driven at 100 km/h if there is little traffic.

It is shocking that it is even possible to drive at 125 km/h on a city street like Claremont or Wellington!

But this is what you get when the engineering design is based on that of a freeway with a one-way multilane design and limited access (like a divided freeway).

The northern end of Claremont is even built with very large radius curves, fences and no sidewalks to keep pedestrians away from it. It is visually indistinguishable from a freeway!

Compare and (not) contrast:

Claremont Access, Google Street View
Claremont Access, Google Street View

Hwy 407, Google Street View
Hwy 407, Google Street View

Apart from the houses and chain link fence on the Claremont Access, its design is not much different from Highway 407!

It's not surprising some people will drive at 125 km/h on Claremont, just like they do on the 407. Except that the Claremont is in the middle of an urban neighbourhood and is posted at 70 km/h.

We can add the minimal traffic lights and few crosswalks to the list of problems with Wellington Street. In a perverse sort of way, perhaps it's a good thing that it runs right past a hospital.

You will also notice that the speed limit sign in the Google Map for Claremont actually says 70 km/h begins. In other words, the long stretch of freeway-like portions of Claremont/Wellington/Victoria north of that point have the touchingly optimistic limit of 50km/h ... i.e. I'll say 50, but we both know I don't really mean it.

We need to recall these streets.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 15:39:50

The Claremont speed should be raised to 90 km/h up and down. The Kenilworth should also be sped up to at least 80 km/h up and down. I want to get where I'm going quickly, not stuck behind a bunch of knobs going 60 up and down the Kenilworth. The Linc and RedHill should be three lanes each way and its speed put up to 100 km/h like a real highway. Jeez.

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By jorvay (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 16:15:47 in reply to Comment 100330

1) I believe that only MTO highways can post 100km/h speed limits. Municipal road limits max out at 90km/h. (Someone please correct me if I'm mistaken on this). 2) Studies dating as far back as 50 years have repeatedly and consistently confirmed that adding lanes to highways doesn't actually help improve traffic flow after the first year or so from construction thanks to a concept called induced demand. 3) Extra lanes are expensive, especially in an urban area where land is at a premium.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 16, 2014 at 16:30:19 in reply to Comment 100330

The first problem is that these things don't carry half as much traffic as they were built for. You could cut the Claremont in half and it still wouldn't get congested. This infrastructure isn't free, it's tremendously expensive. Think about it, we've got a massive structure of concrete, metal and asphalt carrying multi-tonne trucks towering in the sky, with a retaining wall against a cliff-face keeping the mountain from falling onto it.

That's not cheap.

Second of all, the other problem is there's no real "end" when you arrive back in the city after the access, either at the top or the bottom. This is where psychology comes in. You were driving 90 a second ago, and now you don't even have to stop when you get onto Upper James or Wellington (depending on direction) so you keep going way too fast and 50 feels like a crawl. That's really bad for the people who live and work along Upper James or Wellington - fast traffic kills a neighbourhood, both metaphorically and occasionally literally.

And all for what, to save a few seconds on a trip up the Mountain?

Nobody's arguing that the Clairmont isn't convenient, the question, though, is if it's worth it.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 16:31:12 in reply to Comment 100338

You're correct: City streets can have a maximum speed limit of 90km/h (which is why the 403 goes down to 90km/h as it descends the Chedoke Valley).

There is a real problem with having streets designed for speeds far greater than the posted (or desired) speeds. Claremont is an excellent example of this. The problem is that Claremont actually is designed like a freeway when it is still cutting through a residential neighbourhood, north of the google maps image in the article).

Normal City streets should be designed for safe speeds for all users (including pedestrians, residents and cyclists). A 60km/h design speed is plenty!

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By arienc (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 16:32:59 in reply to Comment 100330

Brought to you by CRAP...Citizens for Roads, Asphalt & Parking.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 16, 2014 at 16:58:32 in reply to Comment 100343

Thinking it over, we have non-divided highways with speed limits of 80kph. You could close off the South side of the Clairmont and paint the North side as 2 lanes up 1 lane down and it would still be able to safely carry traffic at 70 kph.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 17:38:16 in reply to Comment 100330

But it's not a ;'real" highway, Jeez! there are very frequent on and off ramps and raising the speed would surely increase accidents.

As for the Claremont it should be slower with bike lanes and sidewalks. There is no need for 3 lanes anymore, not since the death of mega employment in the north end, and since the advent of the LINC and RHVP

The Kenilworth access is too winding and has oncoming traffic that is not separated by a physical barrier. too many head ion now as it is.

The dangerous speeds you seek would save you mere seconds. Hardly worth the risks.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 16, 2014 at 18:02:58 in reply to Comment 100352

Skip the bike lanes and sidewalks, just close the South side of the Clairmont and paint some lane markers for pedestrians/cyclists in it. No construction work needed except at the intersections, just paint.

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By Upper James guy (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 19:54:57

The A line Lrt could go up and down on the southbound carriageway and use either the access rd to west 5th or go straight down upper james towards the airport. Would save having to blow holes in the escarpment to get lrt up the mountain

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 20:02:07 in reply to Comment 100368

That is by far the best use of the extreme amount of surplus space on this access.

walkway | bike lanes | LRT lanes | vehicle lanes

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By Quarant (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 21:59:34

This isn't an issue ... move on.

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By new hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 23:52:23

The big issue is pier 15. We should talk loudly against the new proposal Hamilton garbage plant.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 17, 2014 at 00:57:58 in reply to Comment 100368

Would be nice, but where would you run it? I mean, Wellington/Victoria don't exactly see enough north/south transit use to justify an LRT line, so where would it go once it got down to Wellington at Hunter? Just go to King and stop? King and Wellington isn't exactly a great transfer-point. You could turn left at Jackson (a hard sell, it would be transit-only and there are houses there - whee, train 5 meters from your front porch!) or Hunter (maybe one lane of car traffic?) or Main (getting a bit far from the Hunter Street terminal here). Then you could stop at James or turn North and go up to the other GO station and all the way to the harbour. That right turn would be hard though since these things have like a 10 meter minimum turning radius.

Not saying it's a bad idea, just that it would be hard to get it to some place useful from Hunter/Wellington.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 17, 2014 at 08:02:33 in reply to Comment 100383

why not continue on victoria past the hospital? there will also be that new industrial park development down by ferrie st. I'd argue that the TOD potential along victoria is greater than on james. We could have a separate transit link on james between the new go station and the hunter terminal. And an aerial tram from hunter terminal to southam park

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2014 at 11:24:33 in reply to Comment 100379

SWARU 2: Aquatic Boogaloo

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By screencarp (registered) | Posted April 17, 2014 at 12:07:43

Really? This is what you choose to complain about? Claremont looks like a highway because it IS a highway. Pedestrians and bikes have no business using this access. Perhaps we should put up signs so folks don't get confused.

What's next? Bike lanes and sidewalks on the Linc? Traffic calming on the Redhill? I think some folks need to prioritize their ideological outrage a little better.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 17, 2014 at 12:16:35 in reply to Comment 100394

The access itself is merely a gross waste of maintenance dollars. If it carried enough traffic to justify its massive scale, the bulk of it would be perfect reasonable.

The problem is that the access doesnt' really end. It's built as a continuation of Wellington/Victoria and Upper James. Wellington/Victoria have the "continuation" effect particularly strong because they are 1-way and wide.

The effect is that it encourages speeding on the streets that flow into/out-of the access. Streets lined with houses and sidewalks and not so much as a grassy boulevard or a parked car distancing them from the live traffic.

In most cities there are deliberately traffic control features at the end of highways and ramps to make sure drivers don't keep expressway speeds on local streets... only in Hamilton do we deliberately circumvent this kind of design by creating gradual merging transitions between expressways and local streets.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 17, 2014 at 12:19:07 in reply to Comment 100394

If the Claremont was 18 lanes wide, you'd still be saying that nobody has any business walking or cycling up the mountain access that is best for them.

The possibility of separating a walkway/bikeway from live lanes would not even occur to you. Nope. All for cars. What a sickness.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 17, 2014 at 12:23:50 in reply to Comment 100385

... now I'm wondering if part of the CN (CP?) rail line's wide right-of-way could be used for LRT tracks taking a Victoria (or Wellington) LRT to the James North station. But that would mean turns at the CN tracks instead of proceeding north to Ferrie.

Obviously there would be no stops for the KM-ish span from Wellington to James and that's unfortunate, but it would have the advantage of connecting the Mountain to the GO. The big question would be whether the City could use the wide area surrounding the existing tracks.

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By It's a Shame (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2014 at 12:44:12

We are talking about history here and to me, the real shame is that the Linc and the Red hill Creek expressway were not built in the 60's so that there would likely have been little need for the Claremont. Now a combination of industry flight and traffic movement to the Linc has made the Claremont largely redundant. This is mostly a lament but also a lesson to those who had no vision and fought so relentlessly against the the Red Hill Creek. Imagine if we had a perimeter road.
We could have two way Main and King. Such a shame.

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By AlHuizenga (registered) | Posted April 17, 2014 at 14:51:29 in reply to Comment 100394

I wish you'd just go ahead and explain what that ideology is supposed to be.

We've got a city street built just like a freeway. Two drivers are caught doing freeway speeds on that city street. Nicholas argues that hey, maybe the city street shouldn't be built like a freeway...

So what is he? An anarcho-syndicalist? A libertarian Marxist? Which set of ideological blinders have so clouded his vision that he could possibly take such an irrational stance?

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2014 at 15:41:43 in reply to Comment 100401

Nicolas is not part of the radical community as such. In my lifetime I have seen cars racing at high speeds which is dangerous.Maybe if cars did not rule our society things would better!

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 17, 2014 at 18:25:38 in reply to Comment 100397

Yes exactly, if the A line is supposed to follow U James to the airport, imagine it running down a re-partitioned and beautiful Claremont (and there would still be enough room for vehicles to be seized by police for doing 125kph), up Victoria, and making a loop past or near the James N GO station. In my walking tour of Nottingham UK I noticed a few sidestreets closed to throughfare for LRT routing. As a result the shopping district there is pedestrianized and extremely pleasant. And busy, with buskers, etc. With some agreement and vision it could be made to work so beautifully!

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By JeffRintjema (registered) | Posted April 17, 2014 at 21:19:03

Hey! Back off! I need to get to my job making Studebakers as quickly as possible!

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By upper james guy (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2014 at 22:44:37

Ok so the a line idea isnt perfect but ya gotta think james south and john south are overserviced. Ie routes 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 33 35. 10 bus lines seriously? They dont exactly need an lrt line. If we run the a line lrt down main and king to Wellington from james north you would pick up people from the b line trying to get up the mountain and you also have a huge transit reliant seniors complex in the first place high rise in the area too. Wellington is not a far detour from the originally proposed ALine.

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By daviejones (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2014 at 23:54:05

Sometimes I wonder if this article is about the rebuilding of our city, or article after article of people complaining about roads.

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By screencarp (registered) | Posted April 18, 2014 at 00:21:22 in reply to Comment 100398

I enjoy your sarcasm, but you're showing me pictures of empty tree lined streets and telling me how awful it is. There's a bit of a disconnect there. You're also showing me a picture of someone walking on Victoria Street, not the Claremont Access, and complaining there's not a crosswalk to nowhere. It's an access, not a street. It's a giant on ramp to the Mountain. A bridge across the geographical divide in our city. A better choice than the more residential James and Queen Street Hills. There are no cross streets or houses on the access and if you do want to walk up the mountain, there are stairs a few blocks away. I'll admit it may cause problems at the bottom of the hill as idiots try to race for the green light, but that seems like an easy thing to fix. There is also a semi permanent speed trap at the base of the hill, which I'm sure is the catalyst for this article.

I live in this neighbourhood and I assure you it's very nice and filled with very nice people. Calling it "code red" or "at risk" only lowers the property values and doesn't really reflect Stinson. I would prefer the access stayed rather than endure the upheaval and tax increases that would be caused by trying to remove it. You see it doesn't really cut through Stinson as much as it goes over it. When I walk or bike west I go under it.

The city has a billion dollar infrastructure deficit and pond sized holes in the streets. We have cars and buses whizzing by, inches from sidewalks. We have, as you put it, pedestrian carnage. There isn't enough money to fix everything and championing nonsense like this is counter productive. Pick your battles.

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By ScreenCarp (registered) | Posted April 18, 2014 at 00:39:34 in reply to Comment 100401

Apparently he is a passionate amateur urbanist. It's not a city street, it's a big bridge up an escarpment.

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By ScreenCarp (registered) | Posted April 18, 2014 at 00:56:12 in reply to Comment 100395

Fair enough. I think there are easy wins at it's base to slow traffic. I'm a big fan of protected bike lanes and on street parking as a cheap way to shield the sidewalks and homes from traffic. Certainly both Wellington and Victoria could benefit from this. Most of the traffic coming down turn off at Main, King or Cannon and very little makes it past Barton. As I understand it Wellington is due to be converted to two way past Barton.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 18, 2014 at 10:05:57 in reply to Comment 100420

The billion dollar deficit is exactly why we do need to deal with this monstrosity and other infrastructure like it. The per-lane-meter cost of maintenance is unaffordable. Has anyone said we should tear the whole thing down and replace it? I don't think so... but perhaps we should reduce the number of active lanes, eliminate the unnecessary ramp configurations, create more value by accommodating additional uses, and most importantly, have the discussion NOW about what we should do when it comes due for reconstruction rather than just put it back the way it was because "that's the way it was".

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 18, 2014 at 10:10:51 in reply to Comment 100419

Well, the roads are a huge "roadblock" here because of the insane costs associated with them, which we are shacled to paying every year, preventing us from doing any true rebuilding... It's hard to talk about building Hamilton's future without discussing our #1 budget item

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:47:27 in reply to Comment 100421

There are three problems:

  1. The way this 'highway' just gradually merges into a pair of wide multi-lane one-way residential streets at the north end (which have narrow sidewalks, no buffers and few pedestrian crossings). And the way chain link fences and the on-ramp design have cut the neighbourhood into little islands making it uncomfortable and dangerous for residents and visitors to walk easily around their own urban neighbourhood (e.g. people who want to walk back from the Canadian Tire).

  2. The massively over-built and extremely expensive to maintain infrastructure of have a mini-elevated freeway (like the Gardiner) that is no long needed (if it ever really was). As Sean has pointed out, this is also extremely wasteful of land that should be generating taxes and productive uses for the community, instead of sitting unused as little triangles of grass or under-used expensive to maintain lanes.

  3. The fact that even on the highway portion the 70kmh limit is completely unrelated to the way the street is designed for speeds at least 50% higher which encourages dangerously high speeds as cars 'merge' into Victoria and from Wellington.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-04-18 12:52:39

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By newcomer (anonymous) | Posted April 18, 2014 at 13:50:04

I just moved to Hamilton from Toronto. I'm really satisfy with traffic in Hamilton. it's really easier to moving around the city. The bus system here is way better than Toronto. Everywhere you go in Toronto, it takes 30 minutes for 5 kilometers or 45 minutes to an hour for 10 kilometer. People who are complaining, you just don't know what you have. We need a neighborhood street where is quite, slow traffic (30km/h to 40km/h), and the main streets in city where the traffic can move faster up to 70 km/h. And this article is pointless or it points wrong place, wrong issue in Hamilton. People can speed up to 100km/h in the street which designed 40km/h (this is driving behavior). I used to live in quite, slow traffic neighborhood in Toronto, the speed limit is 40km/h but some guys with sport car still speed up to 100km/h then have to stop at the stop sign in a minute. If you want to raise family in quite neighborhood, just avoid to live near main streets. I would love to see more bike lines in any cities of Canada (not only Hamilton). It would be nice when we have more options. Building the new system bike lanes in city (where don't have many bike lanes) isn't cheap (special in Canada, it cost 5 to 10 times more it should be if it is taxpayer money)
However I would support slower traffic in many neighborhood streets by putting more stop sign. It is one of good way to keep pedestrian safer and walking crossing the street more easy.

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By durander (registered) | Posted April 21, 2014 at 16:12:41 in reply to Comment 100343

I don't understand the comment about the 403 going down to 90 km/h. It's still an MTO highway, so the speed could be higher. I believe it is lower because of reduced design standards through the area.

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By durander (registered) | Posted April 21, 2014 at 16:16:26 in reply to Comment 100398

I think it's also important to note that it's the designated truck route through the city, from the escarpment to the lower city. That obviously warranted the higher design standards back in the day. Could they be reduced now? Possibly a bit, but that costs money too...so maybe on the next significant rehab?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 22, 2014 at 12:22:11 in reply to Comment 100531

A city of Hamilton traffic engineer told me the lower speed was because that section of the 403 is not an MTO highway.

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