Two recent instances at Ottawa and Cannon last year, where drivers lost control of their cars and smashed into buildings, have highlighted the issue of road safety for local residents and merchants in the Crown Point area.
Fortunately, nobody walking along the sidewalk during these incidents were injured or killed, but many residents are deeply concerned that a more tragic ending might occur next time.
Ottawa Street between Main Street West and Barton Street is designated by the city public works department as a “major arterial road.” This has resulted in the road being dominated by speeding, noisy cars and trucks. The lack of bump-outs and road space for cycling prevent this thoroughfare from becoming a truly pedestrian-friendly retail area.
Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann believes this is a holdover from an industrial past when a large number of factory workers commuted to and from their jobs in the lower city.
Nann told The Point that the designation should have been changed a decade ago by city hall transportation planners when Ottawa Street began evolving into a destination area and manufacturing jobs left through either closure or automation of factories.
At that time Wards 1 and 2 were receiving greater attention regarding transportation planning associated with the revival of Hamilton.
“From my perspective Ward 3 has been left out of broader complete street work (in Hamilton),” says Councillor Nann.
There has been a sea change in direction with Edward Soldo taking on the job of Director of Transportation, Operations and Maintenance at city hall. “I am so optimistic about his leadership as a director in the city of Hamilton,” Councillor Nann says.
“He brings with him the expertise from the work he has done in other municipalities…transforming (streets) to be more pedestrian (and) cycling friendly. He is bringing the right people together, ” says Councillor Nann.
An unfinished 2013-15 Master Street Plan for Ottawa Street will be replaced by a more comprehensive technical review of all roadways across Ward 3. City infrastructure funds are already slotted for street improvements in Ward 3 once the review and public consultation are completed.
Among the roads to be examined will be Main, King, Barton, Ottawa, and Cannon. In addition, the intersection of Ottawa and Cannon Streets will be looked at as it relates to the collisions which happened last year. This intersection will also be examined separately by the road safety team in Transportation Operations, says Mike Field, City Manager of Transportation Operations in Public Works.
Is the Ottawa Cannon intersection accident prone?
The north-south Ottawa and the east-west Cannon do not look that different. Both experience fast-moving cars and trucks following their respective routes. Yet each road is slotted differently by the public works department.
Cannon from Sherman Avenue to a little east of Kenilworth is designated as “a collector” road which permits an average running speed of 60 kilometres per hour, compared the 60 to 80 km-hr for Ottawa, Main and King streets which are all major arterial roads.
Road traffic heading west toward Ottawa Street is affected by a bend/misalignment of Cannon Street close to the intersection. Distracted drivers not paying attention can end up in a collision with another vehicle coming from the opposite direction because they can’t see it properly.
But creating a straighter Cannon could prove to be expensive and possibly require expropriation. Rev. Douglas Moore at the Laidlaw Memorial United Church – which had one of the cars crash into his building in 2020 – is urging the city to install metal posts (pylons/bollards) at this corner to protect buildings and pedestrians.
This form of protection has already been put in place in front of the Walmart store at the Centre on Barton.
“You need bollards that are actually going to stop a vehicle”, he says. The clergyman applauds the complete streets review for Ward 3 and is looking forward to participating in the planned public consultation. But he worries that the Ottawa-Cannon intersection is vulnerable and urges the city to install some protection as soon as possible.
Accident at the Laidlaw Memorial Church
On Dec. 18, a black Acura sedan heading south on Ottawa St around midnight accidently veered right towards the south-west corner of Ottawa and Cannon and smashed into the front concrete steps and railing of the church.
A Hamilton police constable arriving on the scene found an abandoned sedan stuck in the church steps and the driver gone. The constable did track down a former owner who told the police the vehicle had been sold online. The new owner, presumably the same person fleeing the scene of the accident, could not be traced and thus their identify remains unknown.
Rev. Moore has a video that captures the driver “staggering” from the vehicle and walking across the lawn of the church before disappearing into the night. He is unhappy that the Hamilton police made arrangements to have the black sedan towed away before he personally heard about the accident and rushed over to the church. In his defense the police constable told the Point he tried but was unable to reach the clergyman.
The Laidlaw church was built 109 years ago and this is the first time the building has ever been hit by a car going out of control, says Rev. Moore. He suggests some of the car accidents experienced at night result from illegal racing on Hamilton streets.
He also believes the road was affected by repairs which took place to upgrade a watermain under Cannon Street. When the roads were repaved Cannon Street was heightened by several inches above Ottawa Street at the intersection.
Typically, the middle of a road is usually higher than at the edges near the curb to allow for the draining of rainwater into the sewer. Rev. Moore says the watermain installation on Cannon enhanced an already existing elevation in the middle of the intersection of Ottawa and Cannon, which he calls “a double-crown.”
In his scenario the driver of the black sedan heading south on Ottawa, likely quickly lost control of the vehicle at the intersection. “What (drivers) do is hit those corners, at speed and the corner is a double crown. If you hit that at speed, you are going sideways into thin air,” says Rev. Moore.
Both the design of intersections and the actions of speeding drivers can invariably lead to accidents. Roughly half of the 114,408 collisions between vehicles happen at intersections, according to the National Collision Database.
The car crash at the Cannon coffee shop
Echoing the case for metal posts for the corner of Ottawa and Cannon is Chris Poirier, co- owner of the Cannon Coffee Co. which sits directly across the street from the Laidlaw church at the northwest corner of Ottawa and Cannon.
On Sept. 18 around 4 am another driver lost control of his car heading west on Cannon and crashed through the café front window. The Hamilton Spectator reports that the man was charged with impaired driving. Meanwhile, the front window remained boarded up for a few months until new glass was installed.
“Normally (pre-COVID) we have people sitting close to the windows and so if a car comes up and goes through the window that is really bad news. Something that stops it is obviously a good idea,” says Poirier.
Poirier has worked at the Cannon since its inception in 2011. “In the first three years that I was working here I probably saw three or four accidents on that corner and the reason is that people who were travelling west don’t see each other coming because of the jog in the street and so there are tons of people making left turns.”
One accident was particularly unforgettable. “One of the cars that got hit went on rolling onto the sidewalk and bumped into a pedestrian that was there, ” he says.
Responsible for installing a new plate of glass at the Cannon was Manny Fresco, the owner of Campbell Glass & Mirror on Ottawa which does front window replacements across Hamilton. One client was the Big Top Family Restaurant at Main and Sherman which in the evening of Sept. 28 also experienced a car careening through the window after hitting another vehicle at the intersection.
Solutions for Ottawa and Cannon
McMaster professor of transportation geography, Antonio Paez, supports metal posts at Ottawa and Cannon but says that alone will not be enough. Ultimately, westbound traffic on Cannon approaching the lights at the intersection has to be slowed down. But he warns against adding traffic lights further east on the same street. “Because of synchronization (of the traffic lights along Cannon), the driver is going to be speeding anyway, ” he says.
More likely to work, the traffic expert argues, are road modifications downstream from the intersection such as a narrowing of Cannon (possibly with a bike lane separated by metal posts) or subtle street calming measures such as rumble strips on the road surface.