Police, coroner continue to investigate fatal collision on Cootes DriveBy Craig Campbell (Dundas Star)
News Staff (Mar 3, 2006)
Hamilton Police met with Heather Watson's family Tuesday to update them on the investigation of a collision that killed the 19-year-old McMaster University student as she tried to cross Cootes Drive on Feb. 13.
Sergeant Glenn Jarvie said investigators shared what information they could with Heather's family, but will not publicly release any details until the investigation is complete. Police have not yet concluded whether the six-month-old pedestrian-controlled traffic lights had been activated when the second-year student stepped onto the road just after 6 p.m.
"We are going to go over a few statements with witnesses to clarify parts," Sgt. Jarvie said.
An iPod found at the scene was to be taken to Toronto's centre for forensic science to see if it was in use and, if it was, its volume.
Though Sgt. Jarvie couldn't say if the pedestrian-controlled traffic light had been activated and if the traffic light was green or red, he did say no charges would be filed against the city salter truck driver who struck Heather.
That won't surprise Emile Therien, president of the Canada Safety Council.
When Mr. Therien heard about the accident this week, he immediately suggested a pedestrian probably pressed the button while in motion and continued to cross before the traffic light had turned yellow.
"That's the constant thing with these pedestrian controlled devices. They're not going to change at the time of activation,"
Mr. Therien noted the driver of the truck has not been charged, so it appears he is not at fault. Despite this case, Mr. Therien and the Canada Safety Council support pedestrian-activated traffic lights.
"They make a lot of sense," he said. "People should be aware the light is not going to change as soon as you press the button."
Crossing too early is just one of the problems Randy Kay of Transportation for Liveable Communities has noticed at the Cootes traffic lights. Two years ago, TLC wrote a letter to the City of Hamilton supporting a pedestrian and cyclist controlled traffic signal - and other measures - to improve safety at the uncontrolled crossing.
Mr. Kay said the McMaster-based organization planned to meet with Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie and city traffic staff this week to discuss further safety measures at the crossing.
He said several recommendations in a consultant's report were not acted on.
The detailed traffic safety review completed by Synectics Inc. in 2004 contains traffic and pedestrian counts, speed data, conflict analysis and background.
The study recommends lane narrowing through pavement markings, landscape changes to the roadside to discourage speeding, fencing to prevent downstream pedestrian crossing, enhanced pedestrian safety and enforcement, and increased police speed enforcement.
In addition, 11 potential remedial measures to improve sight distances and enhance the crossing were listed in the report.
They included trimming overhanging foliage, adding reflective material, relocating signing, and placing the word stop on pavement approaches.
This was all recommended in addition to a mid-block pedestrian controlled traffic light.
"Did the city fully implement the recommendations to make it a proper crossing?" Mr. Kay said. "I think not."
He also questioned the timing of the traffic light, noting that many pedestrians over the past six months have reportedly pressed the button but crossed immediately, against the light.
"Traffic flow is given precedence over pedestrian wait time. The light takes so long to change, pedestrians just cross," Mr. Kay said.
The Ainslie Wood - Westdale Secondary Plan includes a policy on the crossing at Cootes and Sanders. It states improvements will be undertaken to facilitate crossing.
"This will include traffic calming, mainly in the form of pavement treatments, and management studies along Cootes Drive, north of Sanders Blvd.," the policy states.
Mr. Kay wants to talk to city staff about putting in some of those traffic calming measures. Both Mr. Kay and Mr. Therien prefer traffic lights to a pedestrian bridge - despite the fact there were no reported accidents in the 10 years before the lights were installed at the end of August.
"We talked about (a bridge crossing) before the lights came in. Pedestrians would probably bypass that," Mr. Kay said.
Mr. Therien said initial cost, and ongoing maintenance, are also problems with pedestrian bridges.
Jeff Suggett, senior research specialist at traffic safety engineering consultant Synectics, said a flashing crosswalk sign was not recommended because such controls have a mixed record.
He said the danger with crosswalks is pedestrians incorrectly assume they have the right of way. Some drivers could ignore the signal and drive through.
"If you are a driver, you're going to stop more readily for a traffic light," Mr. Suggett said.
He agreed a pedestrian bridge is very expensive and there is no guarantee pedestrians would use it.
Meanwhile, Mr. Suggett pointed out, pedestrian controlled traffic lights are becoming quite common.
Two of the pedestrian safety devices are planned for downtown Dundas. One will be installed at King Street West and Ogilvie, the other at King West and Foundry before the end of the year.
Jeff Gowland has lived in Dundas the past 10 years. He said he complained to councillor McHattie about the Cootes Drive crossing within a day of it being installed. Now he's telling Dundas councillor Art Samson the two Dundas lights are a mistake too.
"I told him the light was basically an accident waiting to happen," said Mr. Gowland, a communications operator with the Hamilton Police Service.
"Drivers become complacent. (Pedestrians) don't stop. Ninety per cent of the time you're stopped at a red light and no one's there - they've already crossed."
David Eden, the regional supervising coroner, said his office is investigating the accident that killed Heather Watson.
When police finish their investigation, they will meet with the investigating coroner and pathologist to establish the facts of the case, and see if any recommendations should be made.
"We are looking at the safety of pedestrians who are crossing this thoroughfare," Dr. Eden said. "We have not yet drawn any conclusions.
"We're still working on the facts. We need a good factual basis before making recommendations."
He said the coroner's office has a "fairly clear" idea of what happened, but still needs to answer several questions about the design of the crossing and flow of pedestrians and traffic.