On Friday, January 17, 2014, City staff posted its recommendations on the City website in response to the Cimino/Belli motion to lower the speed limits on residential streets. Staff recommend that the Operations Committee reject the proposal to lower the speed limit to 40 km/hr. Click here: Staff Report
There are two issues with their report. One, it was posted only one business day prior to the Operations Committee meeting scheduled for January 20, 2014. This is not enough time for citizens and stakeholders to review the information and for groups to discuss in order to provide feedback. Unfortunately, this short notice is within the procedural by-law guidelines that agendas are to be posted 3 calendar days prior to a meeting. There needs to be a change in how the City allows community consultation around critical issues like important by-laws. These types of reports need to be posted a minimum of one week prior to the meeting where they will be discussed.
Two, the opinions of the Infrastructure Services department again show that it is living in the dark ages. They are still focused primarily on keeping the status quo, on maximizing the traffic flow of cars, and on spending money only on motorized vehicular traffic issues. They are consistently arguing against implementing measures that would protect our most vulnerable road users – pedestrians and cyclists.
We’re very quick to approve plans to widen existing roadways so cars can get through the city faster and faster. We have no problems in approving multi-million dollar projects that not only encourage higher speeds, but that also take away existing safety measures for pedestrians and cyclists. The 2013 Status Report – 2013 Capital Projects also on the agenda for the January 20 meeting details the “major accomplishments” the City has done this year. Where are the stats on added paved shoulders to make cycling safer on arteries? Where are the stats on kms of cycling infrastructure added to busy streets? They state 4,988 square meters of sidewalks were either added or replaced (no separation of info); exactly how many kilometers of new sidewalks on streets that currently don’t have them were put in place? It’s time to face the fact that staff have no intention of making our city any friendlier for cyclists or pedestrians. Their focus is on the car, and only the car.
We need Council to step up and direct staff to eliminate the obstructions that are being put in place when we consider practices to make our streets safer.
As background, the motion reads:
“…THEREFORE BE RESOLVED that the City of Greater Sudbury direct staff to investigate options to amend the Traffic and Parking By-Law 2010-1 to reduce speed limits on residential streets to 40 kilometres per hour unless otherwise posted, rather than the current 50 kilometres per hour and that those options be presented to the Operations Committee at its January 2014 meeting.”
Statutory (default) speed
In their report, City staff provide some background information on the 50 km/hr statutory speed that is in section 128 (1) of the Highway Traffic Act. The actual wording is:
“128. (1) No person shall drive a motor vehicle at a rate of speed greater than, (a) 50 kilometres per hour on a highway within a local municipality or within a built-up area;”
However, it is not illegal for a municipality to change the speed limits on its streets. Section 128. (2) states: “The council of a municipality may, for motor vehicles driven on a highway or portion of a highway under its jurisdiction, by by-law prescribe a rate of speed different from the rate set out in subsection (1) that is not greater than 100 kilometres per hour and may prescribe different rates of speed for different times of day. 2006, c. 32, Sched. D, s. 4 (3).”
The issue is that the roads where the changes are made must be signed. Section 128. (11) states: “No by-law passed under this section or regulation made under clause (7) (c) becomes effective until the highway or portion of it affected by the by-law or regulation, as the case may be, is signed in accordance with this Act and the regulations. 2005, c. 26, Sched. A, s. 17 (5).”
Click here for the Ontario Highway Traffic Act: HTA Online
As noted in the staff report, the City has previously chosen not to sign any streets that fall under the statutory speed limit: “Based on the Highway Traffic Act and OTM requirements, it is the City’s practice to install 50 km/h maximum speed limit signs only when there is a change from a higher or lower maximum speed limit.”
So the issue is that new maximum speed limit signs would be required on every affected roadway in order to be able to enforce the limit under the Highway Traffic Act. The issue is not that we can’t do it. It’s that we don’t want to spend the money to do it.
The Highway Traffic Act is currently being reviewed, and there may soon be changes that will allow a municipality to lower the statutory speed, as recommended by the Coroner’s Report on Pedestrian Deaths. In the meantime, the City could petition the Ministry of Transportation to reduce the statutory speed limit in Sudbury. And it could begin the transition of some high-risk residential streets as an interim measure.
It is discouraging that City staff are not seriously looking at how to implement the direction that was given to them. Instead, they are pulling out old reports and making quick calculations to discourage proceeding. There has been no attempt to seriously look at options other than to state that the status quo should stay in place.
Speed and driver behaviour
Included in the report is a discussion around speed and driver behaviour. Staff make reference to the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation Review and Analysis of Posted Speed Limits and Speed Limit Setting Practices in British Columbia, which was an independent review commissioned by the B.C. Ministry of Transportation in 2003, and which reflects attitudes and information valid a decade ago. Click here for report: B.C. Report
More, the laws and driving behaviours of motorists are significantly different in B.C. than they are in Sudbury. In B.C., pedestrians have the primary right of way. In Ontario, motorists do. In B.C., drivers behave very differently – they stop to let people cross streets and drive more courteously. And the debate in B.C. about lowering speed limits is far from over. There is still much debate in Victoria, Vancouver, and in other Canadian like Edmonton, Montreal, and Ottawa where speed limits have already been reduced in many residential neighbourhoods.
Staff quote from the B.C. report in order to back up their conclusions. There is no attempt to look at other reports or pilot projects from other cities that have had successes in lowering the speed limits in their cities.
Some points that are made include:
“The normally careful and competent actions of a reasonable person should be considered legal.” Sudbury drivers are notoriously aggressive, especially on roads that our City engineers have deliberately designed to accommodate high rates of speed. Not everyone is careful or competent in Sudbury. Far from it.
“A speed limit should be set so that the majority of motorists observe it voluntarily and enforcement can be directed to the minority of offenders.” The reality is that if we were to rely on voluntary compliance in this city, people would always be driving well over the speed limits. Oh wait – they do this already. Interestingly, the Director of Roads has been heard to state that our police don’t enforce speeding infractions unless people are speeding by more than 10 km an hour. That means that we have a defacto statutory speed limit of 60 km/hr in our city.
At 30 km/hr, the odds of a fatality in a collision between a pedestrian with a car is approx. 5%. At 40 km/hr, it’s approx. 20%. At 50 km/hr, it’s close to 60%. At 60 km/hr and over, it’s over 95%.
Drivers are more than twice as likely to kill a pedestrian if they are travelling at 50 km/h
than if they are travelling at 40 km/h. Does it not make sense then that we reduce the speed limits in areas where there are likely to be high volumes of pedestrians and cyclists?
Staff also state that the Coroner’s report on pedestrian deaths recommends infrastructure changes and enforcement: “although supportive of changes to lower the speed limit for local municipalities, there was a strong view that in the absence of enforcement, drivers will drive the speed at which they are comfortable, irrespective of the posted speed, unless speed reduction is accompanied by engineering changes to the road to encourage adoption of slower speeds.”
Our City engineers have spent years designing our roads for excessive speeds. We have inherited problems that cannot be addressed by required comprehensive engineering changes because we have so many residential streets that are designed that way. And even where we try to implement traffic calming measures, the City doesn’t get it right. Attlee Avenue is a case in point.
Staff are right that drivers will continue to speed unless there are penalities. So let’s put other measures in place along with lowering the speed limit. We have to start somewhere to start effectuating a change in the behaviours of our speeders.
The effectiveness of 40 km/hr speed limits
In discussing the effectiveness of 40 km/hr speed limits, staff state that spot speed studies have shown that Sudbury drivers don’t currently honour our existing 40 km/hr speed limits.
This is a reason for therefore not lowering the speed limits? That speeders don’t follow the law? Then let’s look at enforcement options. Let’s do some educational campaigns.
It will be worth it even if we save one life.
Staff only present three options for committee members to evaluate.
All residential streets
City staff tell us that it would be cost-prohibitive ($2.5 M) to implement 40 km/hr on all residential roadways, because we would be required to install new speed limit signs on all of these roads.
There is no clear information as to what these costs actually reflect. In fact, staff state “It is difficult to determine the exact number of speed limit signs that would be required.” Yet they come up with a requirement of 9,600 signs. Are these projections of $2.5 M based on having to install on new poles – or on existing poles? Are there other options that other cities have used?
We’re asked to believe their projections of cost with very little supporting data to ensure it’s accurate.
Recommendations in the Ontario Traffic Manual are not legally binding. “The purpose of the Ontario Traffic Manual (OTM) is to provide information and guidance for transportation practitioners and to promote uniformity of treatment in the design, application and operation of traffic control devices and systems across Ontario.” (Ontario Traffic Manual)
What if they spread the signs out further and then retrofit over time to the OTM recommendations of signs every 300 meters. Do we really need signs at every major intersection if that intersection is within a larger 40 km/hr speed “zone”? Have other cities implemented different options that we could use?
They also state that the new by-law would affect only a minority of pedestrian collisions, since 75% of pedestrian fatalities occur on arterials roads. Should we therefore ignore the fact that 25% of pedestrian fatalities occur on residential streets? Is this statistic really acceptable? Even one fatality is too much.
Staff reject a default of 40 km/hr in new subdivisions because it would create a “double standard”.
The City has double standards everywhere. New subdivisions have “urban” standards that currently do not exist on many of our older streets, many of which have ditches, no curbs, and no sidewalks.
We have no plan in place to retrofit those double standards.
Starting with new subdivisions would at least minimize the costs of having to retrofit in the future.
Adjacent to schools and public playgrounds
Within existing budgets, staff state that they could lower the speed limits in areas adjacent to local schools, where school zone speed limits are not yet in place. But that it would take 4 years to do so. They state that they could then expand a speed reduction to cover areas around playgrounds. This could be done by the year 2025.
It would take over 10 years to put these safety zones in place and would cost $300,000 to do the playground areas. That’s 0.7% of the current roads budget. So let’s change the 10 year projection, change our priorities for the 2014 capital roads budget and allocate the funds that are required to do it this coming year.
There is not enough information in this report for the Operations Committee to make a good decision. Staff have quickly sourced out information that backs up their recommendations and have not taken the time to make a comprehensive investigation of options.
Other cities have processes in place where a petition of residents can trigger the lowering of speed limits in their neighbourhood (Ottawa for one). Have we looked at options of targeting specific problem areas?
What about dealing with the most congested areas first, like the City core? What would be the cost of dealing with New Sudbury? With the South End?
We can put money in reserves for Maley Drive at the tune of $1M per year. That benefits only trucks and cars. But we can’t reserve money to protect our pedestrians and cyclists?
It’s time that we shift our priorities and begin looking at how we can creatively implement solutions, and not just reject important changes out of hand because we don’t “think” we can afford them.