Lowering Residential Speed Limits

Since I joined Council in 2010 residential street issues have been the top concern brought to my office by residents. Residents are deeply concerned about street safety and excessive speed in their communities. I support building safe streets within our communities. We achieve that through stronger enforcement and offering appropriate infrastructure on our roadways.

On Monday, September 10  Council will consider a Notice of Motion that will have a big impact on our residential streets. If passed, Administration would implement a city-wide 30km/h unposted speed limit for neighbourhood streets. Neighbourhood streets are local roadways and sides streets in residential areas. The motion would also direct Administration to introduce traffic calming measures at a number of high priority locations and work with Calgary Police Service (CPS) to develop an awareness campaign for the new limits.

In principle, I am supportive of this motion. The data makes a really compelling argument for why this is the right thing to do:

  • Pedestrians are 90% likely to survive when struck by automobiles travelling at 30km/h, 60% at 40km/h, and less than 20% at 50km/h;
  • The time it takes to stop on dry pavement doubles between 30km/h (13M) and 40km/h (27M);
  • 83% of casualty collisions involving pedestrians aged 12 and under occur on local (26%) and collector (57%) roadways;
  • The societal and personal costs of pedestrian-involved collisions in Calgary total over $120M per year;
  • The average Calgary commute is 8km and 27 minutes. Those trips include less than 1km of travel on neighbourhood streets. By moving from 50km/h to 30km/h that would add less than one minute to a typical commute.

At lower speeds we not only reduce the chance of a collision happening, we mitigate the impacts when a collision does occur. And I think we need to be clear on which roadways this proposal will impact. We are not talking about every street across Calgary. We are talking about very specific roadways within communities. The overall impact on motorists is negligible when you look at the data.

With all of that being said, I do have some conditions for my support for this motion:

  • The motion focuses largely on road design. While I agree that design matters, I think it is a long term aspirational goal. We have thousands of kilometres of roadway that likely need to be retrofitted. We simply do not have the resources to do all of that. If we are going to start addressing specific problem areas, we will need to identify a revenue source;
  • I believe the right solution in the shorter term is enforcement. How can we expect folks to go slower if we are not consistently enforcing the speed limits as they currently stand? We have made some progress with the Residential Traffic Safety Strategy, but there is still more we could be doing;
  • I would want to see revenues from increased enforcement specifically earmarked for residential traffic issues. As an example I would like to see 60% of revenues reinvested into residential enforcement while 40% could be invested into traffic calming measures and infrastructure improvements.
  • The data is clear that 30km/h has tremendous benefits. But the data also shows that 40km/h offers dramatic improvements. I want to test the will of Council and see if a more incremental approach could be considered. As such, I will be bringing forward an amendment to lower the speed limits to 40km/h instead of 30km/h. This is the compromise in my mind. I believe this way we can enjoy the benefits of lower speeds and demonstrate to skeptics of this plan that it truly is a minor impact on motorists.

There are some folks out there that are going to suggest this is the next chapter in the mythical “War on Cars”. Frankly, I don’t buy that for a second. We are looking at adding less than a minute of commute time in an effort to mitigate the destructive potential of a pedestrian collision. Seems like a rather minor trade-off to me. I have also heard that parents need to do a better job of training their children how to interact with community roads. I can’t disagree with that, but should the penalty for a mistake be the possible loss of a loved one? Again, we are talking about a rather minor sacrifice that could make a very significant difference should a collision occur. This is about building safer community streets, and that is something that impacts everyone.