This month, city council is discussing lowering school zone speed limits to 30 km/h. If approved, it would take about five years and $1 million to install hundreds of new speed limit signs throughout the city.
While the goal of the plan is definitely worthwhile — improving road safety for children — there’s a couple of problems with the suggested approach.
First, it’s unnecessarily confusing. The lower limits would only be in effect from September to June, Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. No word yet on what happens during holidays or in-service days, so you’d be advised to keep a copy of the local school calendar pinned to your dashboard.
Second, while there’s a concentration of kids around schools, they’re not the only places where children deal with traffic. Just getting to school usually involves walking or biking outside the school zone boundaries. Kids also use school playgrounds and gyms in the evening, they play at neighbourhood parks, and they run around in front of their own houses.
All of which has me wondering if there’s an alternative that could be a lot simpler, safer, and much quicker to implement.
What if we just lowered the residential speed limit in general?
Now I can already hear howls from drivers if I suggested a 30 km/h limit across the city, so 40 km/h might be a good compromise. And offset that by actually increasing speeds on some regional streets that are currently posted artificially low (Grant Avenue and Kenaston Boulevard, I’m looking at you).
Given the condition of many of our residential streets, 40 km/h is probably the limit for a car’s suspension anyway, but it also significantly increases safety.
According to transportation experts, a pedestrian or cyclist hit at 50 km/h is two to three times more likely to die as one hit at 40 km/h. One could logically assume that injuries and property damage are also greatly reduced at the lower speed.
Edmonton recently experimented with 40 km/h speed limits in several residential neighbourhoods, and saw a 25 per cent drop in severe collisions. Councillors in Ottawa are now talking about a 40 km/h limit, several cities in Australia have adopted them, and in the U.K. there’s a thriving campaign based around the idea of lowering residential limits to 20 mph (about 32 km/h).
By lowering the residential limit to 40 km/h, we’d not only make our streets safer for kids, but for every pedestrian, cyclist and driver for that matter. We’d reduce collisions, save money on insurance premiums, and cut back on gas consumption. We’d prevent driver confusion from having a patchwork of different speed limits, and avoid the visual pollution of adding hundreds of new signs to the streets.
And at what cost? It might take the average driver one or two more minutes to get where they’re going.
That’s a trade-off I’d be more than willing to make.