It looks like Calgary City hall will be beginning their fall session with a discussion on a blanket lowering of speed limits in residential areas to 30Kph. I guess it is a nice distraction from the growing debacle of a potential Olympic bid.
The usual lines are being tossed out there as pearls are clutched: “We need to protect the children!” or “its only a few more minutes a day to your commute” or my very favorite in vapid justifications for things “if it saves just one life…”. This of course tells one that the effort is being driven by emotion and ideology rather than actually being concerned with the outcome.
There is a large segment of ideologically driven anti-auto folks on city council and particularly in city administration. They canonize pedestrians and cyclists while demonizing motorists at every possible opportunity. We have seen everything from Druh Farrell’s idiotic closures of Memorial Drive for a pedestrian festival (it was finally shut down due to public outcry over the sheer stupidity of it), to the narrowing of streets and building of bike lanes and tracks for a cyclist demand that doesn’t exist in any large numbers. Downtown parking supply is strangled leading to huge parking fees despite a 30% vacancy rate in downtown office buildings. The anti-auto efforts haven’t built a comfortable, pedestrian Nirvana in downtown Calgary. If anything, they have contributed to making the downtown into a ghost town as businesses and consumers have fled to the suburbs where they can still drive and park comfortably.
Next on the block is a potential blanket lowering of limits. I look at this with a jaundiced eye in light of the past actions of city hall. I see this as just another way to chase down and hound those dastardly motorists who stubbornly refuse to embrace an urban hipster’s life of bicycles and public traffic. If we could just harass those motorists enough, they may change their evil ways right?
To begin with, there is no pedestrian crisis in Calgary. Calgary is actually already one of the safest cities on the entire planet with a tiny number of pedestrian injuries and fatalities relative to population. Of course it is always good to seek to reduce that number but to set a zero goal is unrealistic and frankly idiotic. How did that plan to completely end homelessness go? Of course, proponents of these kind of plans aren’t driven by actual outcomes. They are driven by ideology and feel good goals. The only way to get to a zero pedestrian collision level would be to ban all automobiles. Not exactly realistic.
Of those few pedestrian incidents (a couple hundred per year in a city with over a million people and most have no serious injury), most of them happen near the downtown core and on main streets rather than on residential streets. In other words, lowering residential limits will have utterly no effect on those incidents.
All that said, there are many streets where 50kph is simply not a safe speed to travel. Many streets in the beltline are terribly narrow with vehicles parked on both sides and a 30kph limit is more than reasonable there. Many winding residential streets in suburban areas are not appropriate for 50kph limits as well due to the blind corners and narrow points.
Many many streets in residential areas can and do safely sustain travel at 50kph though and have no doubt, these are the ones that the anti-auto gang want to target. That is why they come up with plans to lower limits in a blanket way rather than picking and choosing by street and by real need.
People need to get places and they need to do so in realistic time. We should not and do not have to justify ourselves as to why we want efficient travel. When some clown asks “Hey, whats a few minutes a day?” it has to be remembered that to a commuter that adds up to literal hours of lost life per year. We don’t want to give that up lightly.
Not surprisingly, when the anti-auto set goes on about pedestrian safety they neglect to mention pedestrian responsibility. Many pedestrian collisions are a result of pedestrians jaywalking or crossing while drunk or distracted. That is a facet of this worth addressing but of course pedestrian education and law enforcement upon them doesn’t fit within that narrow anti-auto agenda.
A common and often tragic pedestrian/auto incident is when a person is backed into/over. Speed limits will do utterly nothing to address this issue. Better driver education and pedestrian education is what is needed here. I swear, when people go on foot they suddenly lose all memory of what it means when those white lights come on in the back of a vehicle. I don’t care if you are legally in the right, don’t walk behind the thing at this unless you want to become a statistic. Don’t assume that the driver can see you.
Kids are often brought up. They tug at the heartstrings and it is always most tragic when they are harmed or killed. Kids are far from being in the majority of incidents but due to their size they can often sustain some of the most grievous of injuries. Kids are kids as well. They can be tough to control and can sprint out into a street if you turn your back on them for a second. Sadly, this means we have to watch them ever more closely rather than trying to bubble wrap entire communities.
Nenshi has a very expensive vanity project that he is pursuing right now. If he is to get those billions required for that two week party called the Olympics, he will need new revenue flows. Lowering the speed limits on streets designed for higher speeds coupled with a massive increase in speed cameras will be a great revenue generator. They can then justify it by saying they are saving children or vapidly say “If you don’t like it, don’t speed”. Not all laws are good or reasonable people.
There is room for movement here. Yes, lower to 30 on some streets. Perhaps 40 on others. I say we could raise some to 60 if we look closely at them. When we see the usual suspects signing on with a blanket lowering in order to address a non-existent pedestrian crisis however, we have to get a little skeptical of their motives.