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The faster we lower speeds, the more lives we save

October 8th, 2015 · 1 Comment

The problem is that the function of arterials is still seen only as moving cars and trucks

By Joe Cressy and Albert Koehl

Residents of downtown Toronto will soon start to notice an important change on their streets — a change that is going to make life safer for all our neighbourhoods. In the coming months, the speed limit on every single residential street in downtown Toronto will be lowered to 30 km/h.

The road towards this change hasn’t been quick or easy, but it is long overdue.

In 2012, when Dr. David Mc-Keown, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, recommended lower speed limits on Toronto roads it quickly became clear that the well-researched position, focused on health and safety, only increased support for lower speed limits.

Rob Ford, Toronto’s mayor at the time, infamously responded “nuts, nuts, nuts”, while the chair of the Public Works Committee suggested Dr. McKeown “should stick to his knitting”. It was not a proud moment for public debate in our city.

That same year, Ontario’s Chief Coroner, after studying dozens of pedestrian and cycling deaths, recommended a similar speed reduction. Health and safety recommendations for lower limits continued to grow, aimed at making our roads safer (and therefore more attractive) for pedestrians and cyclists.

Both the Coroner and the Medical Officer of Health noted that a pedestrian’s odds of surviving a collision at just over 50 km/h were slim, while the odds at 30 km/h were overwhelmingly on the side of the pedestrian.

In other words, by lowering the speed limit, we reduce the likelihood of a fatal collision.

In June of this year, the Toronto and East York Community Council voted unanimously to implement lower speed limits on all residential roads in its area, which encompasses much of the pre-amalgamation city.

Last month the city began posting some of the new 30 km/h signs, with complete roll-out scheduled to take place over the next year or so.

Lower speed limits on residential streets is an important action, but it is only a first step.

Toronto’s most dangerous roads are actually arterial streets where speed limits are 50 km/h and 60 km/h. Not surprisingly, it is on these streets where the majority of road deaths occur. The problem is that the function of arterials is still seen only as moving cars and trucks, while the residential feature of such streets, including the housing of significant populations (particularly in apartment towers), is often overlooked.

The momentum for lower speed limits is continuing to grow; most people when faced with the choice for their own neighbourhood will want a speed that focuses on protecting the health of safety of their friends, family, and neighbours. It’s a simple issue: lower speeds save lives.

For this reason, it’s realistic to believe that lower speed limits will eventually become the norm across the city, including on many arterials where 40 km/h speed limits were recommended by the Coroner and Chief Medical Officer.

Unfortunately, the delay in implementing lower speed limits will be measured not only in days…but also in lives. In the years 2013 and 2014, a total of 78 pedestrians and cyclists were killed on Toronto roads. This year, the death toll is again high. Lower speeds would have prevented many of these deaths..

Our city is growing. Over the next 25 years our city’s population will increase by one million people and the Golden Horseshoe region by six million. We don’t have room to accommodate this growth if we try to move everyone by car so we must make options like walking and cycling (along with public transit) more attractive by making our roads safer.

Simply put, the faster the city implements lower speed limits, the more lives will be saved.

Joe Cressy is the councillor for Ward 20. Albert Koehl served as an expert on the Coroner’s 2012 road safety reviews.

Tags: Annex · Liberty · Editorial

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Christopher King // Oct 9, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    Lowering the speed limit is useless. What could have been done is replacing the flashing yellow crosswalk lights with flashing red to start. Stop the silly turn right on red light policy, and eliminate the chaos of pedestrian crossing at major intersections with scramble walk, which would be the only time pedestrians would be allowed to cross, with the other two thirds being left to traffic.