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Calgary city council endorses lowering of residential speed limits

Calgary council has set the wheels in motion to reduce residential speed limits in Calgary – although where the needle will land on your speedometer remains to be seen.

After more than two hours of debate, councillors amended the original proposal spearheaded by Coun. Druh Farrell and signed on to by five other councillors and the mayor. In the end, the main plan to go ahead with some sort of reduction was endorsed 8-6.

Among the changes made were plans to ask administration to make the call on whether 30km/h or 40km/h would be the best speed limit for residential areas, plans to consult with the Calgary Police Service and the Calgary Police Commission, and plans to engage with citizens.

Farrell cited a study from an organization called Play Day that found fear of speeding traffic was parents’ top reason for keeping their children inside.

She said demands from constituents to do something about speeding vehicles in their neighbourhoods cut across ward boundaries.

“We have brand new communities asking for traffic studies and that’s just not OK,” said Farrell.

However the initial plan had several critics who saw different flaws with what was proposed.

Coun. Joe Magliocca told council he’d had four pedestrian deaths in his ward, and all of them were at marked crosswalks.

He asked administration how much it might cost to put new speed limit signs up where needed, and was told it would be in the $5 million range. He then asked how many rapid flashing beacon light systems that money could purchase.

Tony Churchill, leader of traffic safety for the city, said each one costs about $45,000.

“That’s a lot of rapid flashing beacons,” quipped Maglioccca, who also noted it’s taken months to get rapid flashing beacons at trouble spots in his ward. He also said a previous motion he brought forward to put stop sign arms on school buses was defeated.

“What’s the agenda then for this council?” asked Magliocca. “I’m confused. Is it safety? People? Safety for the kids? Or is it just car calming? That’s all this is.”

Coun. Jyoti Gondek said simply dropping speed limits would not solve the road design issues she’s seeing in her communities, including unmarked crosswalks and wide streets that encourage drivers to go faster.

“I’m worried if we’re dropping speed limits only, will be missing some of the big stuff,” she said.

LONG READ: Drop in residential speed limit the first step to change in urban design: Coun. Farrell

RELATED: Calgary community with 30km/h says it comes with mixed results

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart said voting against the motion would be like voting against motherhood and apple pie.

“But if you really truly want to have a genuine conversation with Calgarians to change behavior, that would be best if that was front and centre,” she said. “It can take five, 10, 15 years to change the culture in some practices.”

Coun. Peter Demong said his concern was that councillors were being asked to endorse making the change now, even though they wouldn’t hear all the details from administration until the fourth quarter of next year.

He said getting the pilot for rapid flashing beacons from an idea to reality took years, and he was worried about the pace of this plan.

“In the length of a long lunch, we’re going to change everything in the city fundamentally for a lot of people?” asked Demong, who called the execution of the plan “bass ackwards.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the decision about whether to go to 40 or 30 km/h , and on which roads, will be made early next year.

“By the end of next year we’ll have an implementation plan to look at if council doesn’t change its mind.”

Nenshi said he suspects council will still move ahead on the broad strokes of this motion, while probably making some minor changes as more study is done.