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City icy on speed-limit hikes

Councillors question idea before provincial board

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The idea of raising speed limits on selected stretches of city streets received a generally icy reception at the first of several Highway Traffic Board hearings planned for this fall.

Politicians, activists and citizens all appeared before the provincial body Tuesday to offer their opinions about boosting speed limits on sections of Dugald Road, Grant Avenue, Pembina Highway and Waverley Street.

A broad coalition of River Heights residents, daycare and school representatives and cycling activists all expressed concern about the safety of increasing speed limits, especially alongside residential streets, while a trio of city councillors and Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard questioned why the provincial board chose to poke its nose into city territory.

Couns. Russ Wyatt (Transcona), John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) and Justin Swandel (St. Norbert) said the City of Winnipeg's public works department routinely makes recommendations about speed limits, based on consultations with residents as well as traffic-engineering reports.

Swandel urged the board to actually meet with residents, not just invite them to make three-minute presentations in the middle of a workday. Orlikow opined the matter was best left to the city to decide.

Wyatt offered a harsher appraisal of the board, accusing it of ignoring the city's wishes and being a "Jurrasic-era" relic out of step with the traffic-engineering times.

"Most of the research today is saying there are benefits in dense urban areas to reduce speeds for the purposes of saving lives and reducing injuries," Wyatt said after the hearing. "It seems the Highway Traffic Board is going in the exact opposite direction of the modern world and that doesn't make any sense, especially since it's an arm of the same provincial government which pays for health care."

The Highway Traffic Board operates independently of the province, which played no role in the proposal to boost speed limits, said Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton. "This was their initiative. It's not an initiative of MIT," he said.

Traffic-board chairman Alf Rivers said his organization proposed the idea of increasing the speed limits in order to reduce confusion for drivers who face a number of different speed limits on the same roadway.

At Tuesday's hearing, several Winnipeggers and members of anti-ticket activist group Wise Up Winnipeg applauded that move, while University of Manitoba professor Barry Prentice said it's important to have consistent speed limits on the same stretch of roadway.

Wyatt accused the board of pandering to "a small but loud minority of individuals who are right-wing reactionaries trying to make an issue out of speed limits in the city."

The board made no decision Wednesday. Another hearing is slated for Dec. 4 to solicit opinion about boosting speed limits on Roblin Boulevard, Corydon Avenue and University Crescent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 28, 2012 B1

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