Hamilton High Street traffic headaches to be evaluated

City Manager Joshua Smith has had it with cross-town traffic delays on High Street through Hamilton. He can look out his office window and see them daily.

“A small group of us today met with the Traffic Engineering Division,” Smith told City Council on Wednesday. “The traffic on High Street to me is unacceptable.”

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He said he requested a memo on the matter that he received last week: "Basically, the contents of the memo were, 'The traffic (signal) timing is optimal the way it's currently designed,'" he said.

“I did not accept that memo,” Smith said. “We met today, and I told them … ‘It very well may be optimal in your mind, but we’re going to try something different in January, and we’re going to observe it.’”

That evaluation will be welcomed by residents like Alfred Hall of downtown, who watches traffic on High Street daily, and motorists who use Ohio 129 to get from I-75 to Oxford and other places west of the Great Miami River.

Perhaps it will turn out that timing of traffic lights was optimal, he said. But, “As far as I’m concerned, until we try something different, we don’t truly know if it’s optimal or not.”

Smith has asked the traffic experts to give a presentation to council at its Jan. 11 meeting to discuss the matter before making timing changes that will be evaluated for 120 days.

High Street in particular has many issues, including people running through red lights, and cars getting stuck in the middle of intersections after lights change because traffic is so stacked up and cars aren’t moving in front of them.

Smith noted that construction of the key intersection of High and Martin Luther King Boulevard, as well as the South Hamilton Crossing, are worsening traffic issues to an extent. But: “In my mind, we still should be able to do something better.”

Hall said he sits on a bench in front of High Street Cafe early each morning. What he sees scares him.

“I’m a pedestrian,” he said. “I’m also a driver, but normally, downtown, I’m mostly a pedestrian.”

“My outlook is yeah, there’s a little bit of a traffic jam, but some of that is due to the construction we’ve had going on for the past year and a half,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work on the street, so obviously the traffic flow is not going to be as good as when there’s no construction going on.”

Hall has lived in Boston, London and Milan, so feels he knows how traffic is supposed to flow. “My view is it’s dangerous, more than anything else,” he said. “Cars have to stop and start, and stop and start.”

He estimated 25 to 30 percent of cars on High “are speeding 10 mph or more above the speed limit” when the street isn’t too crowded to speed, although he said he has spoken with city officials who disagree with that assessment. “That’s my opinion,” he emphasized. “I don’t have a radar gun.”

“But I would invite anybody who doesn’t believe that to come sit with me on the bench in the morning,” he said. “I’ll buy ‘em a cup of coffee, and they can just watch the traffic, and then they’ll see.”

“The other thing that concerns me a lot is the disregard for red lights in the city,” he said, “especially at Journal Square. If you sit there an hour and you don’t see three cars go through a red light, I’d be shocked. At any hour of the day.”

"It can be a real adventure trying to get across the street — even after a stop light, even after you look both ways," he said. "It's not uncommon that I'll be halfway across a street, and a car will go right by me, and the light's red. Been red."

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