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Drop in Calgary neighbourhood speeds shown two years into limit change

Modest speed decreases have been documented in Calgary neighbourhoods following two years of data collected since the city voted to lower default residential speed limits.

A briefing note on the June 28 Community Development Committee agenda provides preliminary results showing that vehicle speeds have dropped between 0.8 and 2.5 km/h on both collector roadways and residential roadways in Calgary.

“This may sound small, but it is a significant reduction in terms of the expected frequency and severity of collisions – it is a promising leading indicator of safer outcomes on neighbourhood roadways,” read the briefing note.

Calgary voted to change the default residential speed limit from 50 km/h to 40 km/h back in 2021, with it going into effect May 31, 2021. The change applied to 3,200 kilometres of residential roadways and 340 km of collector roads.  The other 1,300 kilometres of collector roads remained at 50 km/h.

A preliminary review of collision data won’t be available until the Safer Mobility Plan comes out later this year. Still, Tony Churchill, coordinator, mobility safety with the City of Calgary, said for every percentage change in speed, there’s a correlative two per cent impact to total collisions, three percent change in injuries and four per cent change in fatalities.

“When we translate that into what we would expect in injuries and fatalities, it can get into something significant that we’re going to start to see a change,” he told LWC.

Churchill said they’re seeing what they expected to see.

“What we’re seeing so far is indicating that the speeds are changing in line with what we expected when we did our analysis, or just changing the default speed limit with some supporting signage, without having any of the physical changes made,” he said.

Public response to the speed limit changes

A Leger survey done shortly after the speed limit change showed that 8 in 10 respondents had heard about speed limit changes in Calgary. Of the 503 respondents, 24 per cent said they’d seen either a significant (5 per cent) or some safety improvement (19 per cent) since the speed change was made.

More than 20 per cent also saw it as safer for cyclists and pedestrians. Further, 60 per cent of respondents said they support the decision to reduce speed limits on some roads.

Churchill said that anecdotally he’s heard mixed reviews; though, he pointed out that many people still say the city isn’t doing enough to lower speeds. That’s particularly true for those people who would like to see speeds reduced on collector roads.

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said her office isn’t hearing complaints about drive times or inconvenience.

“What we’re actually hearing, in particular from those roads that were left at 50, that those residents are wanting those roads to go to 40,” she said.

“That’s the number one request we get in our office.

“It’s almost like all the fears that came out in that initial conversation about the negative effects that would happen have absolutely evaporated.”

Penner said that’s strong supporting evidence for a potential move overall to 40 km/h in 2024.

The councillor also noted the briefing note showed that even the proposed budget came in much less than expected. While the overall budget was set at $2.3 million, with $1.9 million assigned for design, supply and installation, the total installation cost was $782,000.

While data on collisions is yet to come, Penner said that data would only tell one part of the overall narrative.

“We know that the perception of safety is equally as important,” she said.

Always room for improvement: Churchill

Over time, as more people comply with lowered residential limits, Churchill said that they may continue to see average speeds decline further. He said a city like Airdrie, where they have had 30 km/h on residential roads for some time, the compliance is much better.

“It’s not a quick change; changing behaviour takes a long time,” he said.

“We’re starting to see a movement to improve compliance, and we may continue to see that as people get used to it.”

Calgarians may not see the real change to neighbourhood speeds until street design changes are approved. When a posted limit is 50, a road must adhere to provincially-determined design standards.  With the change to 40 km/h, it opens the door to neighbourhood designs that go beyond just changing the posted limit.

He said they know just changing speed limits without changing anything else will have a small impact – one they’re starting to see.

Design is where the rubber hits the proverbial road.

“I think that that’s going to be a fundamental change to the roadway and how people experience it and what feels to be an appropriate speed,” he said.

“I think that’s going to be the most important change.”

The timeline for that work is unclear but Churchill said it would be delivered with the City of Calgary’s updated Complete Streets program.