In a densifying city that is serious about being sustainable lowering vehicular speed limits within neighbourhoods is a good way to enhance livability for local residents, decrease automobile emissions, plus lower the likelihood of serious injury or death. You would think that in a country with universal health care that lowering vehicular speeds within neighbourhoods would be the right thing to do to foster walking, cycling and interaction among residents.
But we forget that the street fabric and the way that our communities are designed and indeed funded have been for vehicular movement, and that mode of transportation has (pardon the pun) had a free ride. Auto infrastructure has been funded by the general tax base and not by the user. Cars have gobbled up the majority of shared road space, and our 20th century mindset does not know how to slow them down.
As Dan Fumano in the Vancouver Sun reports “Vancouver city council voted unanimously Tuesday to move ahead with a pilot project to reduce the speed limit on certain side streets to 30 km/h, down from 50 km/h. Council directed city staff to identify a local street or area in Vancouver for the pilot, and report back with an implementation strategy and proposed road design by later this year.
The motion, entitled “Safer Slower Streets” and initially introduced in April by Green Coun. Pete Fry, also seeks to lobby the provincial government, through the Union of B.C. Municipalities, to change the Motor Vehicle Act to allow municipalities to implement blanket speed zones in residential areas. Fry’s original motion defined “local streets” as those with no centre line.”
At the City Council meeting where the motion was approved residents came forward hoping that their neighbourhood could be considered for the pilot. I have written extensively on the benefits of slower speeds in communities from a safety viewpoint~but there is a livability issue as well. Slower neighbourhood streets make places where seniors can comfortably stroll and talk, and kids can have stick hockey games. A pilot project will give an idea at how slower vehicular speeds are an amenity that can be offered in a densifying city, allowing for public interaction and active discourse on the street.
We already know how to make the 30 km/h speeds stick too. Streets that are bikeways are already signed for 30 km/h, and so are areas around schools. Those work with moral persuasion and judicious enforcement. And a survey conducted by pollster Mario Canseco found that 71 percent of respondents “approve of using fixed speed cameras — cameras that stay in one location and measure speed as a vehicle passes. “
In Canada one-quarter of all Canadians will be seniors by 2030, and keeping seniors fit, engaged and active fits into slower streets that encourage walkability. In a place like Vancouver where there is pressure to create more rental housing and forgo some of the amenities that developers are normally asked for, slowing neighbourhood streets provides a low-cost way to enhance public environments. It is simply the right thing to do, and adds an element of safety on dark wintry rainy months.
Adrienne Tanner in the Globe and Mail went farther. She wants to know why the Government of British Columbia is not being proactive on Councillor Fry’s motion. in her analysis of slower more comfortable residential streets, Ms. Tanner bluntly states
“Vancouver should follow the lead of other cities and embrace the slow-driving movement. Let’s dispense with the pilot project and drop the speeds on all residential streets… Even better, the province could take the initiative and save everyone the trouble of pushing for something that so obviously should be done.”
Creating slower, safer, more sustainable cities is simply the right thing to do.