[In case you missed this piece, as I did, when it appeared in the print version of Metro Winnipeg on Feb 3/15.]
Slow down Winnipeg: Lowering the speed limit to 40 km/h is a no-brainer
If this is an average week in Winnipeg at least a half-dozen pedestrians and a couple of cyclists will end up in hospital after being hit by a car or truck.
Yet despite the fact hundreds of residents are being injured or killed every year, the city has refused to take the most basic step toward improving road safety: reducing the default speed limit.
Ignoring the issue not only creates a real danger for pedestrians, but it leaves Winnipeg in the dust on an emerging public policy trend toward slowing traffic down.
New York, London and Paris all lowered their speed limits last year to between 32 km/h and 40 km/h. Edinburgh just approved lowering its limit to 32 km/h and San Francisco — already at 40 km/h — is looking at doing the same.
Within Canada, campaigns are underway to lower speed limits in some Calgary neighbourhoods, Victoria recently cut the speed to 40 km/h on several streets, and the Ontario government announced last week it will hold public consultations on reducing the default speed limit to 40 km/h across the entire province.
Politicians like Ottawa’s mayor Jim Watson and Thunder Bay’s mayor Keith Hobbs have already backed the proposal and said they want lower limits in their communities.
“You see some cars going 60 and 70 km/h down a residential street and you cringe at what could happen — a child hit or killed, a pet, a senior citizen,” Watson told Metro Ottawa.
But when 40 km/h speed limits were raised at Winnipeg city council in 2013, the administration dismissed the idea and councillors pretty much shrugged and moved on.
To be fair, council did approve 30 km/h school speed zones around the same time, but those might be more confusing than effective. In addition to providing only part-time protection (7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, September to June), they also create a patchwork of speed limits in residential areas.
For example, along Kingsway in River Heights the speed limit changes four times in seven blocks as the road passes two elementary schools. While “keep ’em on their toes” is one way to deal with speeders, it might not be the best option for creating long-term behavioural changes.
A consistent 40 km/h speed limit on all residential streets — secondary roads, not major thoroughfares — would only delay drivers by a few seconds, but it would significantly improve safety and quality of life in Winnipeg’s residential neighbourhoods.
Let’s hope our civic leaders speed up and get on board the slow-down movement.
*Colin Fast is a communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg. He drives at 40 km/h through his neighbourhood and doesn’t care how much you honk. Find him on Twitter@policyfrog.*