Statistics show that lower speed limit in Calgary may not solve safety issues
While city council sits poised to lower the default speed limit of residential roads in Calgary to 30 km/h, critics are skeptical that it will make a difference in terms of safety.
Kevin Klemmer’s 83-year-old mother Hilda and 21-year-old daughter Lisa were hit when they were crossing the road in a marked crosswalk near their home on May 22.
His mother died and his daughter is still recovering from the incident.
“It was the worst day of my life, to find that out. All of a sudden, the person you are really close with is just gone.”
He says the crosswalk where the pair was hit isn’t equipped with flashing lights and the drivers in the area are a constant problem.
“I don’t know that individual that hit my mom and daughter or exactly what the situation was, but I know when people come around that corner, they go fairly quickly from Southland Drive onto Acadia.”
A notice of motion, introduced by Ward 7 councillor Druh Farrell, has proposed changing the speed limits on residential roads in the City of Calgary to 30 km/h from 50 km/h.
Ward 9 councillor Gian-carlo Carra supports the proposal and says this is exactly what the city charter in Calgary and Edmonton was meant to change.
“The city charter has given the municipalities of Edmonton and Calgary the right to set their own default speed limits. Before that, the default speed limit throughout the province was as per the Alberta Traffic Act, it was 50 km/h which meant that anything that wasn’t 50 km/h had to be signed differently.”
Carra says that residential streets in Calgary are routes that don’t have painted lines on them while higher order roads most often have demarcation lines on them.
He says that one of the main things he feels the proposal addresses is the fact that not all roads are the same in Calgary.
“Right now, all streets are created equal and what we’re saying is they’re not created equal. The residential streets should be one thing and the higher order roads should be another and there’s different interventions we do on each. If we’re not creating that distinction, then we’re not able to take the appropriate steps in the appropriate places.”
Those steps, like changing the speed limit, will, according to Carra, create a more congenial and better neighbourhood life, but it’s just a first step.
“It’s a low hanging fruit and it’s a step towards a generational transformation of how we design our streets and how we interact with our streets.”
Keith Simmons, a representative of Vision Zero, a multi-national road safety project says that while lowering the speed limit will increase livability on the vast majority of Calgary’s roads, it doesn’t necessarily attack the problem areas.
“When we’re taking a look at this lowering to 30 km/h and it doesn’t impact the roads where the potential interface is highest I’m curious whether or not this is going to have the impact that they’re thinking on safety.”
According to data from the Calgary Police Service, 64 people have been killed on city streets but only eight percent of those took place on residential roads while the other 92 percent took place at major intersections.
Of the worst intersections in the city, where there have been seven or more incidents, none of them are within residential zones.
“With this motion knowing the 30 km/h limit won’t be in place where there’s the highest volume and highest risk of collision, I hope there’s an understanding that with that expectation of improving safety that you’re going to have to do the design changes,” Simmons says.
While Carra says the studies he’s seen have put the pedestrian crash statistics closer to 50-50, he knows that there will need to be a lot of design changes in the future.
“We absolutely can’t do it all at once and I think that setting the default city-wide speed limit to 30 allows us to do a number of positive first step changes and it creates a much more congenial environment right where you’re living… It also allows us to put a different lens on a different size of street.”
Between 2012 and 2017, police say there have been 3,403 pedestrian crashes in the City of Calgary.
(With files from Kathy Le)