Saturday, March 04, 2006

Group studies fatal Mac crossing

Gary Yokoyama, the Hamilton Spectator
City staff will examine traffic speeds on Cootes Drive in the next months to see if there's still a problem.

Students continue to cross against red on Cootes Drive near campus

By Meredith Macleod, The Hamilton Spectator (Mar 4, 2006)

As a group of city, police and university officials met yesterday to figure out how to make the Cootes Drive crossing into McMaster safer for pedestrians and cyclists, a fire truck blared its horn at a young woman who appeared about to step into its path at that very spot.

It was a frightening reminder of the accident that took 19-year-old Heather Watson's life just 19 days ago. The arts and science student was killed by a City of Hamilton truck as she walked home from school. Witnesses have said Watson was wearing headphones and that the truck honked before it hit her.

The accident is still under investigation.

An as-yet-unnamed committee is being formed to address pedestrian safety all around the campus. Called together by Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie, it met yesterday afternoon and has compiled close to 20 suggestions -- including lowering the speed limit, increased signage and peer safety education.

The first priority is Cootes Drive but Randy Kay, a volunteer with Transportation for Liveable Communities (TLC), says recent upgrades to the Main Street entrances to the campus are "an unmitigated disaster. Someone is going to get hit there too. It's just a matter of time."

TLC, which took part in yesterday's meeting, is calling for "traffic calming" measures on Main and Cootes. That could include fewer, narrower lanes, flashing amber lights, eliminating the ramp from Main onto Cootes and squaring up the intersection, says Kay.

He says the entire campus area has been built to best accommodate cars, even though it has the highest concentration of pedestrians in the city.

"There needs to be real, drastic changes there."

Yesterday, as a pile of frozen flowers rested by the road in tribute to Watson, a female student riding a bike and wearing large headphones crossed two lanes of traffic against the pedestrian light heading to campus from Sanders Boulevard when the fire truck blared its warning.

During a couple of hours of observation at the site where an estimated six people on foot and 18 cars cross paths each minute, about one-third of pedestrians crossed against the light.

That light was installed last year after a safety study determined speed and volume made it necessary.
Many pedestrians pushed the button to get the light to change but were too impatient to wait for it. They preferred to dash across during gaps in traffic. It's a dangerous dash.

It didn't take a radar gun to see that many vehicles were well above the 60 km/h permitted in the area.
It may seem that the fatal accident has had little effect on drivers and pedestrians, but several students said they have changed their ways.

Student Sherise Johnson no longer uses both earplugs on her MP3 player.

"The accident scared me."

Jimmy Sekhou, in his fourth year of commerce, says many students simply ignore the light but that Watson's death has made him more cautious.

He says the speed limit in the area should be reduced, especially coming out of Dundas.
"It's an open road all the way down there."

City staff will examine speeds on Cootes in the next couple of months to see if there continues to be a problem since the pedestrian light was installed.

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