How about 40 km/h on res­i­den­tial streets?

Com­pro­mise still of­fers a safety boost while be­ing eas­ier for pub­lic to ac­cept


Cal­gar­i­ans may be con­fused about why the ques­tion of res­i­den­tial speed lim­its is sud­denly a pri­or­ity at city hall, but a sim­ple com­pro­mise could pre­vent this from be­com­ing a pro­longed and di­vi­sive de­bate.

It’s not the first time the ques­tion of lower res­i­den­tial speed lim­its has come up, nor is Cal­gary the first city to con­sider such a change, but new pow­ers be­stowed upon Cal­gary via the new city char­ter would make a broad, sweep­ing change that much eas­ier and pro­po­nents of the idea have seized the op­por­tu­nity.

The mayor and six coun­cil­lors have backed a no­tice of mo­tion to lower the de­fault speed limit from 50 km/ h to 30 km/ h res­i­den­tial streets. The no­tice of mo­tion would also push for changes to road de­sign, aim­ing for neigh­bour­hood streets that would be more suited to a lower speed limit. The mat­ter is set to be de­bated this week.

The ar­gu­ment from pro­po­nents of the change is that a pedes­trian hit by a ve­hi­cle trav­el­ling at a slower speed is much more likely to sur­vive the en­counter. This is no doubt true. How­ever, there does not ap­pear to be an epi­demic of such en­coun­ters on res­i­den­tial streets in Cal­gary.

That’s not to say that there aren’t is­sues with pedes­trian safety in Cal­gary. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Her­ald ear­lier this year re­vealed that the 10-year pe­riod from 2004– 2014 saw 3,834 pedes­trian-in­volved col­li­sions, re­sult­ing in 3,317 in­juries and 95 fa­tal­i­ties. Much of that oc­curred along busier streets that wouldn’t fall un­der the def­i­ni­tion of “res­i­den­tial.”

But it’s prob­a­bly true that at least some of the prob­lem could be ad­dressed by slow­ing driv­ers down in res­i­den­tial ar­eas. Why, though, does it have to be 30 km/ h?

Amid the sud­den furor last week that erupted around the speed limit pro­posal, Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keat­ing stepped for­ward with a pretty rea­son­able solution: let’s split the dif­fer­ence be­tween those de­fend­ing the sta­tus quo and those push­ing for change and go with a 40 km/h speed limit for res­i­den­tial streets.

While pro­po­nents of 30 km/ h will no doubt ar­gue that 30 is safer than 40, one could also ar­gue that 20 is safer than 30 and 15 is safer than 20, and so on. The fact is that 40 km/ h still de­liv­ers a safety im­prove­ment over the sta­tus quo and it’s a change that is far more likely to have pub­lic buy-in.

More­over, the city’s own 2016 pedes­trian strat­egy, de­signed with the ex­press aim of im­prov­ing pedes­trian safety, specif­i­cally called for a re­duc­tion of the speed limit to 40 km/ h in res­i­den­tial ar­eas. That plan, by the way, also called for safety au­dits in prob­lem ar­eas, im­prove­ments in clear­ing ice and snow, and im­proved safety mea­sures at train cross­ings, among other things.

Per­haps res­i­den­tial speed lim­its aren’t the be all and end all.

Com­mu­ni­ties like Oko­toks and Banff have low­ered their res­i­den­tial speed lim­its to 40 km/ h and there is no great out­cry that the change was in­suf­fi­cient. In 2010, a hand­ful of Ed­mon­ton com­mu­ni­ties ex­per­i­mented with a 40 km/ h speed limit, and three of them were im­pressed enough with the re­sults that they made the change per­ma­nent.

Im­ple­ment­ing 40 km/h doesn’t have to be the fi­nal word, ei­ther. Since we’re talk­ing about chang­ing the de­fault speed limit, it would be sim­ple enough to make the change again in five years (or when­ever) if enough peo­ple were con­vinced this com­pro­mise com­pro­mised too much.

This idea would also pro­vide some valu­able data and feed­back as to whether one-size-fits-all is the best ap­proach. If 30 km/ h works bet­ter on some streets and 40 km/ h works bet­ter on oth­ers, per­haps a solution could be found to ac­com­mo­date both.

It’s not rea­son­able to ex­pect wide­spread speed en­force­ment through­out Cal­gary’s vast net­work of res­i­den­tial streets, so pub­lic ac­cep­tance is cru­cial. Any ap­proach that can min­i­mize the level of pub­lic cyn­i­cism is there­fore ad­vis­able. Give 40 a chance.

“Af­ter­noons with Rob Breakenridge” airs week­days 12:30-3:30 p.m. on 770 CHQR [email protected] twit­­en­ridge


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