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Lower speed limit dangerous?

City report says uneven compliance may bring new hazards to streets

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Reducing the posted speed limit on Winnipeg's residential streets may actually increase the risk of collisions, according to a new report that recommends the city put the brakes on proposed changes.

Council's public works committee asked for a review last fall to see if Winnipeg should reduce the posted limit on two-lane roads in residential neighbourhoods to improve pedestrian safety and reduce the severity of injuries from collisions. Currently, Winnipeg's default speed limit is 50 km/h, unless otherwise posted. Lowering the speed limit on residential streets would require provincial approval.

A city administrative report, released Monday, said many studies conducted throughout North America have shown driver speed is affected by the road and not by speed-limit signs. While other cities such as Montreal and Edmonton have lowered the speed limit on some residential streets, the report said a study in Montreal concluded there was no significant difference in the average speeds after reducing the speed limit from 50 km/h to 40 km/h.

Similarly, the report said the results of a pilot project in Edmonton were inconclusive. Edmonton's pilot project found driver speed was reduced by two to three km/h and did not lead to any statistically significant changes in the total number of collisions or severe collisions.

The report said some drivers will follow the lower speed limit while others will ignore it, disrupting traffic and increasing the potential for collisions between slower and faster drivers.

"Speed limits that are inconsistent with driver expectations breed disrespect and will not be complied with, except with extensive enforcement," the report said. "This places an unnecessary burden on law-enforcement personnel (cost and resources) with limited long-term results."

Daniel McIntyre Coun. Harvey Smith called the report "ludicrous" and said many other jurisdictions are considering a move to reduce speed to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety. Smith initially called for reduced speed limits, saying the city's move to reduce speeds in school zones doesn't go far enough to prevent injuries.

He said he suspects city administration did not want to move ahead with the changes since it will be a lot of work.

"I just laughed when I read it," Smith said. "Saying no matter what speed limit you post, people will disregard it."

Public works chairman Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) said he isn't surprised by the report's recommendation, noting he receives few complaints about residential speeds from his constituents. Vandal said the city is working to reduce the speed limit in elementary-school zones, and most drivers are reasonable and lower their speed in residential neighbourhoods.

Last July, council approved a plan to cut speed limits to 30 km/h in elementary-school zones on non-regional streets. Winnipeg will put $1 million of surplus cash from old street-renewal projects toward installing new 30-km/h speed-limit signs outside elementary schools.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 8, 2013 B1

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