It’s heartening to see Sarah Doucette, Toronto’s Ward 13 Councillor, aiming to reduce traffic carnage on residential streets by taking the simple yet powerful step of reducing the speed limit. Her proposal, which will go to council tomorrow, is to implement 30 km/h as the residential default. If successful, this would entail a slight but significant westward expansion of the unanimous June 2015 decision to implement 30 km/h speed limits in twelve other Toronto wards. Doucette’s endeavour is endorsed by hundreds of letters of support and by many local community organizations. (For details see Section EY15.61 here.)
By January 2016 some 80% of Ward 13 respondents had come out in favour of blanket 30 km/h reductions on the streets where they live. This widespread enthusiasm is partly a reaction to frequent and dangerous rat-runs by commuters keen to avoid the main arteries. Countless polls in the UK likewise show repeatedly that “support for 20 mph [i.e. 32 km/h] is strong and rises after implementation.”
Why are people so happy about the implementation of safe speeds in their neighbourhoods? Partly because it makes for more livable streets without any reduction in travel time. This constancy makes sense when you realize that most time loss occurs while waiting at traffic lights that would be recalibrated to the 30 km / h limit, or else at stop signs that would be present regardless of speed.
Increasing pedestrian and cyclist safety encourages active transit—for instance by giving children the opportunity to get to school under their own steam. This improves their physical and mental health, and it saves time for parents who no longer feel that they have to chauffeur their kids everywhere to prevent them from serious harm. Less chauffeuring means fewer space-consuming vehicles on the road, making motor travel all the more predictable and pleasant.
30 km /h residential zones can be implemented cheaply, equitably and with minimal disruption. Traffic calming infrastructure (e.g. speed bumps, signalized pedestrian crossings and chicanes) takes a lot of time and money to design and build—not to mention the aggravation of turning neighbourhood streets into construction sites. By contrast, 30 km/h signs cost just a few dollars per taxpayer and are minimally disruptive.
Walking and cycling advocates often contend that a 30 km/h limit is pointless without a corresponding rise in enforcement and physical calming. Yet in many places speed reduction has made measurable gains without any such additional measures. Seasoned safe speed advocate Rod King draws attention to the “prevention paradox” in population health—namely the phenomenon of substantial benefits when the entire population is subject to some small improvement, such as slightly safer traffic speeds. As he puts it,
[i]ntroducing 20mph limits typically brings reductions of 1-2mph in average speeds—levels which, at first, might not seem to offer a good enough return. Yet research has found that every 1mph fall in average speeds reduces casualties by 5-6%. As the benefit is at total population level the overall rate of return is huge.
Although it does not preclude other calming measures, the mere presence of signs does result in substantial improvements in public safety.
For more on King’s 20’s Plenty for Us campaign I invite you to watch the videos at these links, and to explore the stories of more than 300 local campaigns on the 20’s Plenty web sites. I hope that those lessons from UK, where 15 million people are already enjoying 20 mph default limits, will help Canadians understand why 30 km/h defaults are such a sensible choice for our own residential streets. And I wish Toronto’s safe speed advocates every success in tomorrow’s decision!
Director, Love 30 Canada
UPDATE: On June 16, 2016 Councillor Doucette announced that “on Tuesday [June 14], Etobicoke York Community Council (EYCC) passed my motion calling for a report from Transportation Services on changing the speed limits on local, residential roads in our ward to 30 km/h.” Read the full announcement, including plans for next steps, here.