Downtown speed limit drives debate at city hall

THE idea of lowering the speed limit on some downtown residential streets has triggered debate at city hall.

At Wednesday’s public works committee meeting, Coun. Janice Lukes said a slower speed limit, either 40 km/h or 30 km/h, should be tested on residential streets in the city core, though she did not specify an exact zone.

“In the downtown, the streets are still designed the same (as in residential areas) but there’s much more congestion, there’s much more development, there’s many more people. And, if you look at where the collisions are occurring and the crashes with injuries for pedestrians, it’s downtown,” said Lukes.

In an interview, the councillor stressed that she is not recommending the change for busy regional roads like Portage Avenue or Main Street. She noted other Canadian cities, including Toronto, have reduced speed limits for many downtown residential roads.

“Cities all over the world are slowing traffic in their downtowns and there’s got to be a reason for that and it’s to get more people downtown … The thing about slowing traffic, which is really important, is not only does it reduce death and injury, it improves quality of life,” she said.

The head of the Exchange District BIZ said his organization is open to the idea but the context of each street must be considered before any change.

“To talk about the downtown in… broad terms is problematic because people will start getting visions of Portage Avenue or Main Street being reduced speeds,” said David Pensato, executive director of the BIZ.

Pensato said the BIZ recently suggested the city consider a “shared street” pilot project in the Exchange District. The would test the concept of reduced-speed routes that commingle pedestrians, cyclists and cars. He said some sections of Alexander Avenue, Albert Street or Adelaide Street could be suited to such a trial.

About 4,000 residents live in or within a few blocks of the Exchange District, and Pensato said some are pushing for slower speeds on their streets.

“I would definitely say the residents in the East Exchange almost entirely say that they would like to see a slower speed on Waterfront Drive… as that becomes a bit of a cut-through for people trying to avoid Main Street,” he said.

On Wednesday, Lukes asked the public works committee to add a downtown zone to a one-year pilot project that’s set to slow down residential streets from the standard 50 km/h speed limit in four neighbourhoods, including Worthington, Richmond West, Tyndall Park South and Bourkevale.

Public works gave final approval to the plan that will involve the speed limit being reduced to 30 km/h in two neighbourhoods and dropped to 40 km/h in two others, adding a requirement that the 40 km/h limit be set for Worthington and Richmond West.

Coun. Jeff Browaty was the only committee member to oppose the vote, arguing the 30 km/h limit is simply too slow.

“I think we’re trying to fix something that’s not broken here. I think we’re going to create a lot of problems for certain areas,” said Browaty.

On Thursday, he said he doesn’t support pursuing the idea on downtown residential streets for the same reason.

David Patman, the city’s manager of transportation planning, told the public works committee that a downtown speed reduction could be tested in a future project but would be difficult to add in to the neighbourhood reduced speed trial at this point.

Coun. Matt Allard, chairperson of the public works committee, said he plans to work with Lukes on options for a future test of reduced speed limits on downtown residential streets.

“I think it’s important to look at the downtown or part of the downtown … because it’s a missing link (in the current reduced speed pilot project),” said Allard.