Speed limits, cars and bikes

Torstar News Service fileToronto has made a lot of effort to keep cyclists safe, including cordoning off cycling lanes from traffic. Reducing speed limits may be one of the biggest jumps the city could make.
It’s time we stopped treating our neighbourhoods like speed bumps.
We’ve heard a lot of bunk about the “war on cars.” People are frustrated by congestion and long commute times. Motorists recoil at any suggestion that they should slow down, share the road or be impeded in any way.
As a result, we tend to value traffic flow over anything that might stand in its way — things like people.
Now, the provincial government is considering reducing the standard 50 km/h speed limit to 40 km/h by amending the Highway Traffic Act.
Coun. Jaye Robinson, chair of public works, told me her committee is already slated to reconsider speed limits in the first quarter of this year. She wants a case-by-case look at the issue, balancing safety with the need for traffic flow.
But any reduction in the speed limit is bound to be met with wailing and blaring of horns from motorists.
In 2012, Toronto’s chief medical officer Dr. David McKeown presented a report to the health board recommending that residential speed limits be reduced.
The report showed the health benefits of a walkable, cycling-friendly city. It showed the cost savings associated with reduced collisions (measured in millions), and it provided evidence that reducing speed limits from 50 km/h to 30 km/h meant a 40 per cent decrease in the probability of a fatal pedestrian collision.
Talk-radio personality Rob Ford called the idea “nuts.” Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, then chair of public works, accused McKeown of wasting taxpayers’ money on the report. The following year was one of the worst for traffic fatalities ever recorded.
During the last election, Robinson found many residents concerned about pedestrian safety. Last summer saw the death of seven-year-old Georgia Walsh, hit by a van in a 40 km/h zone.
Robinson said parents are driving their kids to school, just blocks away, because they are too afraid to let them walk. Let’s consider that: more car trips are being made because people are afraid of cars. If more people are driving because they are afraid to walk or cycle, this car-first mentality is actually contributing to congestion. Drivers are their own worst enemies, it seems.
The best way to solve congestion is to take cars off the road. That means enticing those who can to walk, bike or take transit. People are often happy to make the switch, if they feel safe enough. More importantly, the health benefits associated with cities that encourage walking and cycling that McKeown reported are real and measurable. Let’s measure a lifetime of good health against making good time en route to the office. A 10 km/h decrease in speed is a small sacrifice.

Glyn Bowerman is a Toronto-based journalist and theatre artist. He is also a regular contributor to Spacing Magazine. Follow him on twitter @Banquos_Banquet
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