While Vancouver City Council is creating a 30 kilometer an hour residential area “demonstration project” in Vancouver, Europe once again shows the way that slower streets are not only about increasing safety, but are truly a facet of making neighbourhood streets much more neighbourly.
Slower streets means kids can play stickball in the street on a summer evening, and seniors can amble more comfortably around the area. It means making the residents and walkers, rollers and cyclists just as important as vehicular traffic, which ate up most of the road surface in the 20th century. That vehicular traffic has had a relatively free ride (bad pun) on city streets and infrastructure, and habits are hard to break. Vehicles and their drivers view speed and efficiency in their own journey as paramount, with residential streets necessary collateral needing to be used for drivers’ own interests.
Take a look at the City of Bristol, one of many cities in Great Britain that have embraced slower speeds of 20 miles per hour, equivalent to 32 kilometres per hour. Enacted between 2012 and 2015 a detailed review of the slower speeds found that only minor adjustments were identified, and most of those proposed improvements were to facilitate active travel by walking or bicycle.
And the numbers are astounding~of 3,500 responses, 95 percent of respondents wanted to maintain the lower speed limits in residential areas and school zones. The 20 mile per hour speed limit was an essential component of Bristol’s Vision Zero plan to eradicate serious injury and death in vehicular crashes. You can read more about the survey and the background to the 20 mile per hour implementation at this website: 20 miles per hour~A little bit slower. A whole lot better.
Closer to home Seattle’s Dongho Chang traffic engineer extraordinaire has compared what happened in Seattle when sixty percent of streets were changed to 20 miles per hour in 2016, with arterials posted at 25 miles per hour.
Seattle has seen a 20 percent reduction in the number of total collisions for the years 2017 and 2018 when compared to the two years before the slower speeds were implemented. That works out to 1,000 less collisions in the last two years, with 3,912 crashes compared to 4,907 crashes in the two years prior to slower speeds.
2,400 miles or 60% of Seattle's streets were changed to 20 mph in 11/7/2016. 20% reduction in total number of collisions two years before (2014, 2015) compared with two years after (2017, 2018) data. 4,907 vs 3,912. https://t.co/eEtvfbyijN pic.twitter.com/aJrMSUbuej
— Dongho Chang (@dongho_chang) May 24, 2019
As reported by City Lab Paris is considering a report to reduce the speed on the Parisian Boulevard Perpherique, the 22 mile freeway that girdles the downtown to 50 km/h. But it’s just not speed that will be impacted. To reduce private care use and to make transit a more attractive option, two lanes will be removed with only six lanes available for vehicular traffic. One lane will be reserved for emergency vehicles and those that are zero emission. The other lane will become an arboretum of carbon sucking trees.
This Parisian ring road has over 150,000 people living within 200 meters of it and is responsible for belching out 37 percent of all nitrous oxides in Greater Paris. Through traffic not destined for Paris would be banned from the road and soundproofing installed for nearby residents.
Paris is ahead of the curve in rebirthing a speedy freeway into a slower more urban green boulevard. As Feargus O’Sullivan writes
“Slower traffic is quieter, too—Paris noise observatory Bruitparif reckons that holding vehicles to 50 km/h should reduce average levels by a moderate but still significant two to three decibels. It is also notably safer, with slower speeds giving drivers more reaction time and lessening the force of collision impact. Past experience in Paris bears this out. In 2014, the Périphérique’s speed limit was reduced from 80 km/h to 70. This ten kilometer drop saw accidents fall by 15.5 percent in a single year.”
So if Bristol, Seattle and Paris can show that slower streets reduce collisions and create more sustainable environments, why can’t we do this in British Columbia?