Calgary’s girding for a lively conversation beginning in June, as the public engagement plan and potential scenarios for a change to the city’s speed limits rolls forward.
Last week, the City of Edmonton also moved forward with plans for their administration to bring forward a proposed bylaw that would see a blanket 40 km/h speed limit in residential areas and a posted 30 km/h in some neighbourhoods in that city’s core area.
Both cities are looking at potential bylaws for early 2020.
Tony Churchill, Manager, Traffic Safety, with the City of Calgary, said next month the city will lay out their engagement plan with citizens, businesses and communities.
“And what some of those scenarios that we’re looking at are, just so we can talk about some of the values trade-offs, and some kind of high-level costs and benefits of the different scenarios,” he said.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean those scenarios are options that we’re going to be presenting (in a bylaw, to council) and that it’s going to necessarily be one of those. There may be hybrids that we could also move towards through that second part of the analysis.”
They’re looking at both 30 kilometres and 40 kilometres as the default speed limits, but also scenarios where the collector routes – busier neighbourhood roads – could also see a change.
Churchill acknowledged they’re well aware of some of the challenges of a tiered system of limits, like Edmonton is proposing, and he said there’s a strong case for uniformity and consistent expectations for a residential speed limit across the city.
But Alberta writer Tim Querengesser, Edmonton’s resident walkability expert, said with their push for the 30 km/h in some downtown neighbourhoods, the hope is to couple design changes with a reduction in speed limits.
“So, neighborhood renewal comes along, and you redo your streets. And we’ve gotten away from this idea that we just do like-for-like, so we don’t just kind of come in and replace what’s there. Now we’re going to re-engineer the streets to make them safer, and more livable, and all the things that we talked about,” he said.
Right now, the law states the residential speed limit has to be 50 km/h in residential areas, unless otherwise posted, so streets have to be designed for this speed.
It’s an issue Calgary councillor Druh Farrell brought up last year when the city first began its look at a blanket residential speed reduction. She said we can’t even consider design changes until the speed limit changes.
“Right now, if we have a new community, for example, and we want to slow the speeds and the posted speed is 50, you can’t design for lower than 50,” Farrell said at the time.
“What lowering the speed limit does is allow us to design for a lower speed.”
Querengesser said “the thing that really pisses drivers off” is that they see a wider road and people want to rein them in when it comes to speed. With the current design, both Calgary and Edmonton are built to be car dependent cities in this regard, he said
“It just feels ridiculously slow, right? Way too wide. It’s way too straight. It’s designed to be a freeway or a highway,” he said.
The sticking point in the conversation is people concerned that the reduction in speed is going to affect their commute times. Churchill said this is something they’ve anticipated so they expect to roll out a platform that will allow citizens to choose a route, point to point, and the different speed scenarios will be applied. Calgarians will then be able to see the effect of speed limit reductions in their area.
One thing they’ve realized is that it’s not just as easy as changing a bylaw and there’s a significant collateral effect with any change like this, from the amount of work in changing signs, to the potential impact on signal timing around neighbourhoods with an alteration in traffic patterns.
He added that it’s not just pedestrian and cyclist injuries they’re hoping to curb, but in-vehicle injuries that occur in cars in collisions at higher speeds.
“I think that the other thing is that it’s very emotional, and in some cases controversial, the discussion. We’ve seen that a lot in the media and that’s been happening a lot in the comments from citizens,” Churchill said.
“And at the end of the day, I think everybody wants to be living in a safer city, and they want to be able to get home safely. And they just have different ideas about whose responsibility that is or how we can do that. So, it’s not going to be an easy conversation.”
Querengesser said he thinks Calgary’s doing a bit better than Edmonton in their push for safer streets for both pedestrians and cyclists. But, until attitudes are changed, we’ll see the same pushback on the change time and time again.
“Whenever we change these things, we somehow signal to these people that the world is a zero-sum game, and we’re going to take something away from you,” he said.
“We’re not taking anything away from you, and we’re adding to your life. So we’re adding safety to perhaps your children or yourself on the street, we’re adding livability, we’re adding, like comfort, we’re adding all sorts of good things.”