Proceed with caution on lower speed limits
Before cities decide whether to lower the speed limit on residential streets to 30 km/ h from 50 km/ h — as Calgary is contemplating — let’s make sure they’ve done their homework.
While it’s laudable that road safety has been put on council’s radar, let’s make sure we’ve got the right solution for the right problem.
Coun. Druh Farrell, who is leading this initiative, has a chart that says the faster the vehicle the more likely a collision with a pedestrian is fatal. That’s the law of physics.
Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra says residents keep asking for lower speeds on residential streets. Who doesn’t?
Let’s assess the size of the problem, according to the latest statistics from the Alberta government. The 1,185 pedestrian casualties amounted to just seven per cent of all casualties on the province’s roads in 2016. Of the 299 fatalities, 50 or 16.7 per cent were pedestrians.
Almost 50 per cent of drivers in collisions with pedestrians failed to yield to the victim. But in 30.1 per cent of driver-pedestrian collisions, the driver did nothing wrong. One can only presume that the pedestrian did something to endanger him or herself.
Indeed, in 34.2 per cent of pedestrian fatalities, the pedestrian had consumed alcohol. In injury collisions, nine per cent involved alcohol. Are residential neighbourhoods prone to wandering drunks?
When it comes to age, the stats are interesting, too. In Calgary, playground zones are limited to 30 km/ h. That must be working to some degree since in all of Alberta, only four children under the age of 15 were involved in a fatal pedestrian collision in 2016.
The age group with the highest casualty rate was 15 to 19. Maybe the 30 km/ h rate works. Maybe it’s teenagers not looking twice before crossing the street.
Then we come to enforcement. Without it, rules are just window dressing.
Let’s take those playground zones. Many in Calgary say while they’ve driven through those areas, they’ve been passed illegally by some idiot speeding above the 30 km/ h limit. Clearly, there is not enough enforcement and punishment for transgressors.
Finally, we need to hear from the traffic section of police departments, the officers on the front lines, before decisions are made. Do they think there’s a problem and can they enforce a new rule?
Obviously, we all want zero fatalities for all road users, but society has accepted there’s a risk to our automobile culture. Should we keep working to lower the casualty figures? Absolutely. But let’s make sure it’s effective and not merely annoying.