Improving street safety in our neighbourhoods
Hello Ward 9! Happy fall. I am writing this article to tell you about a very exciting notice of motion that six of my colleagues and I on Calgary City Council are bringing forward to the September 10 Meeting of Council.
The Notice of Motion is entitled ‘Street Safety and Neighbourhood Speed Limits’. What we are looking to achieve is the culmination of many years of work and advocacy for Great Neighborhoods, and many years of listening to people at their doorsteps. That work, which is now within The City of Calgary’s jurisdiction due to the new City Charter, is to decrease speeding in residential neighbourhoods, on residential roads throughout Calgary, by defaulting the speed limit on residential roads to 30 kilometres per hour.
Why 30 km/h matters
Why 30 kilometers an hour? The science is clear that that is the point where our neighbourhoods and communities gets a lot safer for everyone who works, plays, and lives there. It is stunning to know that collisions involving people who walk cost society $120,000,000 dollars a year. At 30 kilometers an hour you feel a lot less concerned about the impact of neighbourhood traffic on your life and lifestyle, and importantly, in neighbourhood zones, it has a minimal impact on people's commute times.
Can 40 km/h work instead of 30 km/h?
There have been some people who have asked me whether 40 kilometres per hour is a decent compromise. To be honest, while it sounds like a common sense place to start, the science does not support it. In fact, what we know is that when collisions happen at 40 kilometres, survivability starts to decrease substantially. The fact of the matter is that 30 kilomteres per hour has the best balance of safety and travel times.
What do you mean by residential roads?
Often we think about residential roads as all streets in the neighbourhood. For the purposes of this Notice of Motion and the direction we’re looking to provide to City Administration, that is not accurate. In this case a ‘residential road’ would be roads that do not have lane markings on them. Different roads in Calgary have different ‘road classifications’, and not ever road found in a neighbourhood and community is a residential one – it could be a ‘Collector’, ‘Skeletal’, or ‘Arterial’ one.
If you think about it, non-lined streets with no lane markings represent a small fraction of our commutes - about one minute – and the benefit for our collective and individual qualities of life is clear and obvious when we think about what safer, more walkable, and congenial neighbourhoods means to us.
But the benefits to our quality of life do not end there. Lowering the speed limit in our neighbourhoods and communities also saves lives.
Is 50 km/h really THAT dangerous?
It is known and proven that at 30 kilometers an hour, one in 10 people will die from a collision with a vehicle. At 50 kilometers per hour, Calgary’s current default limit, that number skyrockets to nine in 10. The chances of accidents dramatically as our speed increases because our ability to see what’s around us and react quickly to unexpected circumstances as we drive decreases as the speed goes up.
Additionally, Council will be continuing the work that was started by the Step Forward pedestrian strategy which recognizes that lower neighbourhood speeds are key to making communities and neighbourhoods safer and more desirable.
Our neighbourhoods future matters
I am super excited that there’s a lot of support on Council for this. I am also very excited for the debate, both publicly in the lead up to September 10.
I have heard from many residents and businesses on this issue and I want you to know that I have given it full thought as there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to some of the specific questions we may have about the roads we use every day.
A 30 km/h limit can't solve it all
I recognize that changing the speed limit alone will not reduce speeds, but I also know that complimentary design changes are key to ensuring that Calgarians will follow the limit and that our communities and neighbourhoods become safer.
While changing the limit is a first step, I am dedicated to ensuring that these practices allow us to change Calgary’s design standards and build streets correctly the first time, saving money and time.
This Notice of Motion does not only call for lowering the residential speed limit to 30 kilometres. For us to make sure that this is successful for all of us, there are other challenges and obstacles we need to address.
I fully acknowledge that setting a speed limit is one thing, and environmentally designing our road system to drive slower is a much different and more important thing. The old school transportation engineering approach, which built a lot of Calgary, worked on the flawed theory that you made streets safer by encouraging driving faster. What we now understand is that when you make it safer to drive faster people drive faster, and speed kills.
For example, if you have a 50 kilometre speed limit posted on a road, the old-school design speed for that road might be 70 kilometres an hour. We also know that people while drive at the speed the road design allows, regardless of what the actual posted speed limit is.
Using fine revenues to end speeding
I have heard that some people think this is a cash grab. I want to be clear that this Notice of Motion asks City Administration to explore funding these road design improvements through speeding fines and that this revenue from those that are breaking the law as it currently stands does not solely go to enforcement or general revenue. Instead, I believe that this revenue should go to fixing the root cause of the problem of speeding.
Taking charge by fixing what's broken
This Notice of Motion is embarking on a generational shift to fix the wrong-headed approach in the past through also asking that roads are designed to reflect the speed limit that is intended – making streets safer for ourselves, our families, and our neighbours.
Enforcement is part of the solution
I am glad that the Calgary Police Service also believes that the cost to society is too high and that the number of collisions ending in harm to a Calgarian must be brought down.
The third item that this Notice of Motion is looking to achieve is an educational and promotional campaign that will work with the Calgary Police.
This is a major transformation for Calgary that will have a positive generational impact and it starts with establishing the expectation that 30 kilometres an hour is the right speed for residential streets. This Notice of Motion begins the process and City Administration will need to review budget impacts, understand effects on transit in our city, and provide Council with a map of exactly what roads are in or out.
Building Great Neighbourhoods
I am not expecting this work to be done overnight. It will take time to get the on-the-ground expertise of residents, identify and prioritize hotspots, and update our policies and traffic calming will take years to spread throughout the city. But I have heard you loud and clear - you have asked me to work towards decreasing speeding in your communities and neighbourhoods – and through extensive research, international best practices, and clear science, I am proud to support this practical and plausible way forward.
I hope you can support this too, and I hope to hear from you.