Is it time to reduce our residential speed limits?
Our homes are our refuges from the pressures of a hectic life. So, it should be reasonable to expect that the neighbourhoods in which we live would provide us with calm and protection from those daily stresses. The single most frequent inquiry or complaint I receive as a councillor involves speeding in residential neighbourhoods. Whether the request is for traffic calming measures, increased enforcement, or installation of stop signs, each of these requests comes as a result of the perceived speed of vehicles moving down their street.
Our perception of the speed of traffic influences how we interact with our streets. Too fast? Well, that might keep us from letting our kids or pets play on the front lawn. Or, it might send us down quieter streets as we bike or walk to work or school. It may also keep us from buying or selling a house on a street that seems too busy.
In response, last term, city council adopted Vision Zero policies and implemented the Road Safety Strategy with a goal to reduce road-related injuries and deaths. Most notably, we implemented a 40 km/h limit in school zones, installed red-light cameras at 10 key intersections around the city, and have been redesigning key elements of our road network to improve safety.
Vision Zero was an initiative started in 1997 in Sweden to reduce the injury and death rate on their roads to zero. Sweden’s initiative has clearly been a success, helping it to achieve the lowest rate of traffic-related deaths in the world. However, locally, there are over 1200 serious collisions every year resulting in injury or death on London roads. As a former paramedic, I have seen firsthand the devastating results of collisions, especially between vehicles and cyclists or pedestrians. We need to do better, and we can do better.
The likelihood of a fatal injury occurring as a result of a pedestrian getting hit by a car travelling 50 km/h is 70%. At 40 km/h, the likelihood drops to 28%. And at 30 km/h, the risk plummets to just 10%.
City staff have recently brought a report forward recommending moving forward with public consultations on reducing speed limits in residential neighbourhoods by designating ‘Community Safety Zones’ and using photo radar to enforce those lower speeds. I have received many emails, phone calls and messages very supportive of the idea and I hope you will continue to share your thoughts through the public engagement process.
At a conference I recently attended, Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO of the Wellesley Institute, was making a point about how we use data to drive meaningful change in public policy. He astutely noted, “It’s not enough to just identify where the gaps exist, we need to know why the gaps persist”. Over 1200 injuries happen on London roads each year yet these collisions have often occurred while driving within the speed limit. Perhaps our current limits are one reason as to why the problem persists.