How were speed lim­its set in At­lantic Canada?

The News (New Glasgow) - - SALTWIRE WHEELS - SAM MAC­DON­ALD

Driv­ers be­hind the wheel of Coach At­lantic Mar­itime Bus aren't ner­vous as they cruise along at 110 kilo­me­tres per hour on Nova Sco­tia's 100-se­ries high­ways. It's the slower roads that make them un­com­fort­able. “Go­ing east to PEI from Au­lac (New Brunswick), the high­way be­comes a se­condary road. There’s not a lot of pass­ing ar­eas, and that’s where you have to be care­ful of cars zip­ping in and out,” says Mike Cas­sidy, pres­i­dent of Coach At­lantic Mar­itime Bus, which reg­u­larly makes trips be­tween Nova Sco­tia, New Brunswick, and Prince Ed­ward Is­land. “Se­condary roads are nar­rower; you don’t have that ex­tra lane. And when some­one’s in a hurry to get some­where on a se­condary road where there are not a lot of solid lines and pass­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties they can put other mo­torists in harm’s way.” The max­i­mum speed limit in Nova Sco­tia and New Brunswick is 110 km/h – the high­est in At­lantic Canada. New­found­land and Labrador tops out at 100 km/h and in PEI, there's a 90 km/h max. Why the dif­fer­ences? Krista Dal­ton, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager for New­found­land and Labrador, says speed limit in that prov­ince are based on high­way de­signs and is set by the High­way Traf­fic Act. The De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion and Works de­ter­mines speeds for pro­vin­cial roads while a mu­nic­i­pal­ity can set speed lim­its within its bound­aries, pro­vided it doesn’t ex­ceed 100 km/h. Mean­while, the max­i­mum limit in PEI drops to 80 km/h on se­condary and lo­cal roads. “De­pend­ing on the mu­nic­i­pal­ity and pop­u­la­tion, we have speed lim­its of 70, 60 and 50 km/h,” said Stephen Yeo, chief en­gi­neer for the Prince Ed­ward Is­land De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion. Se­condary and lo­cal road lim­its are based on the shape and ge­om­e­try of the road, along with prox­im­ity to drive­ways and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. “As you have more busi­nesses, drive­ways, and in­ter­sec­tions close to­gether, we ad­just speed lim­its to re­flect what driv­ers would ex­pect, turn­ing on and off the high­way,” Yeo said. There are no con­trolled ac­cess high­ways on the is­land, so the lower speed limit en­sures traf­fic can safely en­ter and exit high­ways. “You’ll see a lot of ar­te­rial high­ways and drive­ways and se­condary roads right off the main high­ways,” Yeo said. “We have a lot of turn­ing lanes into se­condary roads and drive­ways, so we do have a lot of ve­hi­cles turn­ing on and off them.” As for Nova Sco­tia, lim­its were kicked up to 110 km/h in 1997 on three 100-se­ries high­ways ini­tially: High­way 104 from Masstown to Salt Springs, High­way 102 from Miller Lake to Mill­brook, and High­way 104 from the Vic­to­ria Street In­ter­change at Amherst to Thom­son Sta­tion. At the time, speed sam­ples were col­lected on high­ways where twin­ning was con­sid­ered. It was de­ter­mined the av­er­age speed on those roads was around 110 km/h. An­other ra­tio­nale for the in­crease in Nova Sco­tia was the prior suc­cess of in­creas­ing speed lim­its on cer­tain high­ways in New Brunswick.


Nova Sco­tia’s cur­rent pro­to­col re­mains the same as the 1990s. Mike Croft, an en­gi­neer with Nova Sco­tia Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Re­newal (TIR), says pro­vin­cial poli­cies set speeds on 100-se­ries high­ways and in school zones. But, Croft said, the pro­to­col to de­ter­mine speed on other roads is sub­ject to more vari­a­tion, “be­cause the phys­i­cal fea­tures of a road play a role in de­ter­min­ing what the speed limit would be.” The most im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion is the pre­vail­ing speed. “We do some­thing called 85th per­centile speeds, some­thing that is used through­out North Amer­ica,” Croft said. “We mea­sure a sam­pling of traf­fic un­der free-flow con­di­tions. We mea­sure to de­ter­mine the speed that 85 per cent of the traf­fic drives below, and fif­teen per cent drives above." The 85th per­centile forms the ideal speed limit. “If you set the speed limit too ar­ti­fi­cially low, you ba­si­cally find that most mo­torists won’t obey the speed limit," he said. Other phys­i­cal fea­tures con­sid­ered are the shape of a road, the dis­tance driv­ers can see ahead and the num­ber of pedes­tri­ans. “We also look at de­vel­op­ment den­sity,” Croft said, which in­cludes drive­ways, res­i­dences, and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ments. Col­li­sion rates fac­tor heav­ily into speed lim­its. En­gi­neers also an­a­lyze traf­fic vol­umes; the num­ber of turns ve­hi­cles make; the num­ber of vul­ner­a­ble road users; the amount of avail­able park­ing; and the num­ber of traf­fic sig­nals. Most of Croft’s work in Nova Sco­tia in­volves ru­ral roads. “We own and main­tain our ru­ral roads, so de­vel­op­ment den­sity and vul­ner­a­ble road users aren’t as com­mon an is­sue to us, as they are in sig­nif­i­cantly denser ur­ban ar­eas,” Croft said. “You’d not use the same kind of de­vel­op­ment out on Trunk 7 near Sher­brooke that you’d use in an ur­ban­ized area like Hal­i­fax.” Does a higher speed limit en­cour­age more speed­ing? A valid ques­tion, says Cpl. Jen­nifer Clarke, me­dia re­la­tions of­fi­cer with the Nova Sco­tia RCMP. But, she says, it’s dif­fi­cult to pin­point the roads on which speed­ing of­fenses are most egre­gious be­cause the num­ber of po­lice writ­ing tick­ets in each area varies. “There’s no way to give a num­ber or ma­nip­u­late the data to truly re­flect an area where more of­fenses hap­pen,” Clarke said.


Be­fore Nova Sco­tia con­verted to the met­ric sys­tem in the 1970s, the high­est speed zone was 65 mph (105 km/h). Ac­cord­ing to the on­line pro­vin­cial archive, the orig­i­nal rec­om­men­da­tion in the 1970s was that the speed limit on 100 se­ries high­ways be set to 110 km/h. What dis­suaded the prov­ince from mak­ing the speed limit that high was the fact that the prov­ince was in the midst of the 1970s en­ergy cri­sis. Since then, fuel be­came cheaper, more abun­dant, and was mixed to burn more ef­fi­ciently in ve­hi­cles built to be more ef­fi­cient and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly. Since peo­ple were al­ready, on av­er­age, driv­ing close to that speed on those roads, that it made sense to raise the speed limit.

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