May 15, 2019

Speed Limit Changes Should Avoid a Collision with the Public

It doesn’t make sense to be heavy handed on speed limits at the same time that critical safety infrastructure isn’t being budgeted for.

Of course, everyone wants to avoid fatalities and injuries on our roads. We all know and love people who cross the street each day. But, there are lots of ways to reduce the number and severity of vehicle collisions with pedestrians, not just through lowering speed limits.

We know that the lower the speed a vehicle is travelling, the better chance of a pedestrian’s survival in a collision, but there’s more than one way to get people to slow down when they’re driving.

Communities are consistently asking for crosswalks, traffic lights, speed bumps, better enforcement and support for local, creative solutions to reduce speeding and they’re often told no. Saying to communities that we can’t afford the infrastructure we all know they need, while pushing blunt regulatory rules on them in the name of what’s good for communities is going to lead to a lack of positive outcomes and buy in.

We have to put the bucks with the bylaws by allocating the necessary resources to respond to demand for community safety infrastructure.

We need to draw a clear line between urban design and outcomes. Function follows form when it comes to roadways. If we’re building race tracks, we can’t expect people to creep along slowly on them. It doesn’t make sense. 

People have get where they need to go and a slow commute can be the most frustrating part of the day when we’re short on time. Although driving 10 km/hr slower on a residential or collector road might only add 10 seconds of travel time, the built form that we’ve designed to support speed makes that 40km/hr seem really slow in some areas.

If what we want is walkable neighbourhoods where kids feel safe playing street hockey, riding their bikes, and running down to the local park, we do have to manage the speeds people drive in residential areas. The way to do that is by helping communities to identify areas where folks are going too fast and give them the support and resources to come up with local strategies.

Priorities are about putting the right dollars behind what we value to get the outcomes that Edmontonians are looking for.  It’s about getting the best bang for your buck. To do that, we have to have clear outcomes and be willing to do what’s most effective, not what’s most convenient, comfortable or most politically favourable. That means listening to and actually hearing and responding to the concerns of residents. Not everyone will feel the same way, and that’s why the conversation needs to be grounded in evidence.

Edmonton’s Police Service has cautioned that a blanket reduction in speed limits should wait until research that’s underway in Calgary is completed this fall. There could be some major unintended consequences and obvious challenges with compliance we should know more about first.

If you take a look at the City’s Vision Zero strategy it states that “we will save lives and eliminate serious injuries through the application of a Safe System, evidence-based approach, and the 5 E’s of traffic safety: Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Engagement, and Evaluation.” It says “a Safe System is based on a multidimensional approach that investigates and improves the road traffic system as a whole.”

That doesn’t just read: “lower speed limits”.

Rather than just going for the lowest hanging fruit to try to force a solution to a problem, the Amendment I put forward on May 14th will help align an overall strategy on road safety. I asked for more information, to wait for the results of research, and to hear from the public before making any changes.

A Public Hearing will be scheduled for as early as January, 2020 when reports come back with draft bylaw changes to speed limits followed by a vote to enact them or not. No changes will come until then.