Fingers crossed, Edmonton is on the path to lower residential speeds

Edmonton City Council appears poised to approve some sort of plan for lower residential speeds. This week, after almost 10 months of study, transportation officials brought their residential speed limits proposal to a public hearing of the Community and Public Services Committee. There are two options. The first is the so-called Core Zone proposal, a 30 km/h speed limit for the most central parts of the city. Option two would see speeds reduced to 40 km/h in all residential areas city-wide. There is also a plan to introduce 40 km/h in highly-congested pedestrian areas like Whyte Ave. and Jasper Ave. The administration say lowering residential speeds would make Edmonton safer for everyone who uses our streets.

This is not the first time councillors have discussed the idea. Last May, they voted 10-3 to move forward with proposal #2, and 7-6 for proposal #1. This week’s public hearing was the first step in a long and complicated process leading to a final decision and approval of the bylaw changes needed to implement a major speed change. However, that process also means there will be multiple votes and and opportunities for some politicians to change their minds.

There were 24 speakers at the hearing on Wednesday, including a presentation from Jane and myself. (See our presentation at the end of this post along with some of the media coverage.) There were also other residents, community league representatives, health experts and bike and pedestrian advocates. Most pushed for lowering speeds to 30 km/h in all residential areas. Three people spoke in opposition to slower speeds. They questioned why the city was forcing such draconian limits on their right to drive. They also demanded proof that the change would make the streets safer.

The next step in this debate will occur on March 9, when the full City Council will weigh in. The question is, will the politicians stick to their resolve or buckle under pressure from those who feel the city is launching a ‘war on cars.’

I am optimistic. My years covering city hall tells me a 10-3 vote is a pretty hefty indication. Sure, Ward 9 Councillor Tim Cartmell has already reversed himself, now condemning the change. Ward 12 Councillor Moe Banga also seems to be leaning away from his initial support. That is not unexpected. Some city politicians approve an idea initially and then, once they see how much negative reaction there is, change their minds at the last minute. But the rest of the councillors seems pretty solid in their support. They have all spoken about their how much pressure they are under from ward residents demanding something be done about those who speed down residential streets.

Exactly what council will approve next month is still unclear. My guess is 40 km/h will get the nod. It’s less radical the 30 km/h that many people advocate, but still gives many of the safety benefits. The Core Zone proposal with its 30 km/h limit, makes a lot of sense too. But I am not sure the votes are there. I am hoping the proposal to create 40 km/h zones along Jasper Ave. and Whyte Ave. (where are son was killed by a distracted driver 6 years ago) will get approved as well.

If that is the compromise, it’s a pretty good one from my point of view. It will make streets safer for everyone. And the impact on driving times will be minimal, about a minute extra on average, according to the city’s Trip Time Calculator. I live in a community which has had 40 km/h speed limit for years. Most motorists have learned to adapt and drivers will learn to accept slower speeds in their residential areas as well.

Here is the presentation Jane and I made to Community and Public Services Committee on February 26, 2020:

Good morning, Mayor and Councillors.

Jane and I have been before your committee many times since our son David was struck and killed by a distracted driver 6 years ago.

Most of our messages have been critical of the city’s efforts to make our roads safer and a bureaucracy we believe has failed to properly advocate for pedestrians, cyclists and others not protected by a ton of steel and six airbags.

But we are delighted to be before you today to wholeheartedly support the idea of lowering speeds limits in residential areas. We congratulate the administration for its handling of this proposal.

The communications, the web page, the video and the travel time calculator all show a well thought-out plan to sell this idea to council and Edmontonians. This is a welcome change from what we have seen from the Office of Traffic Safety in the past and we want to give credit where credit is due.

Simply put, lower speeds for residential areas is a “no brainer.” We live in a community where the maximum speed is 40 km/h, school and playground zones are 30. The slower speeds give drivers that extra time to look around and spot pedestrians and others. It gives those walking and biking the comfort that the drivers can see and avoid them. In short, it makes everyone in the neighbourhood feel safer.

I cannot say for sure that our David would be alive today if the intersection at Whyte Ave and 101st Street had been a 40 km/h zone, as is proposed. But we know most collisions occur when vehicles are turning, when a driver’s attention is split between watching where they are heading and monitoring other vehicles coming from different directions. Maybe the driver who killed our son would have been in less of a rush to turn and she would have seen David in the intersection.

But if slower speeds did not save our son, they will save someone else. And don’t be fooled by those who tell you that one life spared is not enough reason to slow hundreds of thousands of motorists and add a minute or two to their commute. It is, if it’s someone you love.

As to which of the options you choose, we are comfortable with 40 km/h, and 30 in playground zones. Others may call on you to do more. We don’t disagree.

But let’s get this done. Council and the city have been talking about this for years. There have been piles of reports and hours of debate. There is an expression in the aviation world. A plane cannot take off until the weight of the paperwork equals the weight of the aircraft. By that metric, it’s time for this idea to fly.

Here is some of the media coverage from the public meeting:

CTV News, CityTV News, CBC News and Edmonton Journal.