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Floor it, speed up, drive ever-faster on campus!

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This is one complaint I certainly didn’t expect to get in February — a reader unhappy with a story I wrote last summer about enforcement of the 30 km/h speed limits on much of the University of Manitoba campus.

This reader, who says he is a U of M student, wants the speed limit raised to 40 km/h in the areas in which it’s 30, citing what he says are traffic flow standards which say that if a high proportion of motorists are speeding, you raise the speed limit to accommodate them.

Sure, take the time to go back and read that again.

The speed limit varies around campus; it’s 70 when you come in from Pembina Highway towards the soccer complex and stadium, it’s 50 from University Crescent.

But within much of the campus, where the narrow roadway twists and turns frequently, where tens of thousands of people are walking around, where there are numerous crosswalks and parking lots and access points, the limit is 30.

And this guy wants that raised to 40.

He also makes the point at the end, that he requests we not publish wrong and misleading information about the U of M — let’s get real, eh? Dozens of jobs in the UM communications empire depend on complaining about the WFP.

Anyway, here’s what he had to say. I emailed him back, asking what his area of study is and what expertise he offers, and haven’t had a response. It’s pretty long, so grab a coffee first:

"I am writing this as a U of M student and someone who travels to and on campus on a daily basis in regards to the following article.

I want to express my disagreement with the speed limit on campus.  This e-mail is my request for the university to consider raising the speed limit to 40 km/h with my reasons outlined below.

At many locations, 30 km/h is way too slow and is unreasonable as evident by the high number of people that ignore the limit.  When proper speed limit setting occurs, the limit should be as close as possible to the 85th percentile speed of free flowing traffic.  This method is widely referenced across North American and has been proven effective at minimizing collisions and maximizing safety.  The article states that, "more than half of them nailed on radar this summer drive at least 11 km/h over the posted speed limit."  Although this stat appears to be used to create shock at how much speeding there is, it actually shocks me how much the speed limit is grossly out of compliance with engineering standard and is doing nothing more than creating disrespect for the speed limit and criminalizing people who are not driving in an unsafe or unusual manner.  Further explanations about speed limit setting can be found on the city of Winnipeg website which states:

  • more collisions occur when the speeds of vehicles are varied with extremely high or low speeds encountered [1];
  • setting speed limits lower than that considered reasonable to the majority of drivers encourages disrespect of speed limits in general;
  • posted speed limits which are set higher or lower than that dictated by roadway and traffic conditions are ignored by the majority of motorists; and that
  • when speed limits are raised or lowered, there is very little impact on motorists’ actual speeds.

1"U.S. DOT Publication No. FHWA-RD-98-154", 1998

It is apparent that the limit is inadequate at the U of M and with what is known about engineering, raising the limit will have little impact on the higher speeds already being traveled, but will reduce the issues of wide speed variance and reduce the false sense of security associated with an inadequately low limit.  It will also force enforcement to target the minority of offenders which are the higher risk drivers rather than drivers currently travelling the safe speed for the road.  

The University of Regina and University of Saskatchewan already have 40 km/h limits which seems perfectly appropriate for their campuses and ours.  The inner circle and part of Dafoe road seem to be the only places where 30 km/h is appropriate which is probably why those areas were never mentioned in the article.  People obey the limit there because it makes sense.

Other roads such as Sifton, Dysart and especially Saunderson Street should be much higher.  If the whole campus were raised to 40 km/h, this is not to say that people would increase their speeds on Dafoe or in the circle. 

People are obeying the limit there not because they obey the limit there more than the other roads, but because that is the safe speed to do there and that will not change no matter what the limit is.  There are parts of Saunderson where the road is wide open with little to no pedestrian activity where even 50 km/h wouldn’t be unsafe considering how much it resembles a typical street in the city where the limit is 50 km/h.  I can personally speak to the painfulness of trying to maintain 30 km/h on these roads and posing as nothing more than a traffic obstruction and hazard.  I will agree that the 67 km/h mentioned in the article is excessive, but that is just one case and is the kind of offender that enforcement should worry about instead of the guy who, "gunned it to 47."

There are also many issues in the article that I would like to bring to your attention.  One of the problems that sometimes can allow a limit to be set below the 85th percentile is when a high collision rate is observed.  The only collision mentioned in the article is the, "middle-of-the-night truck on Chancellor that didn’t stop for the lights at the start of the 30 zone."  This collision has no relevance to the adequacy of the speed limit on campus.  It involved a very high rate of speed and occupants who fled the scene.  There are almost no other details about the crash available to the public at this date.  Contrary to what the article says, it didn’t happen anywhere near the 30 km/h zone.  Chancellor Matheson is 70 km/h and the cross street at the crash (University Crescent) is 50 km/h.  The fact that there wasn’t another crash worth mentioning over this one is actually very indicative of how few crashes there must be on campus.

The article says that, "it might be a deterrent to tell you U of M has photo radar."  This line seems to be a scare tactic because everyone knows they don’t and although it implies that photo radar could be used without directly saying it, photo radar cannot be used at the U of M for two reasons.  Under the Highway Traffic Act (C.C.S.M. H060) and Regulation 220/2002 under The Act, photo enforcement can only be used in school zones signed, "by approved traffic control devices placed at the beginning of the zone facing each direction of traffic entering the zone."  The U of M is not signed as a school zone with any type of school zone (WC1) signage.  Also, under part 1 of the Highway Traffic Act, a school is defined as:

"school" means
(a) a public school or a private school as defined in The Education Administration Act, or
(b) an educational institution established under the Indian Act (Canada) or under any other Act of the Parliament of Canada,
but does not include a post-secondary educational institution; (« école »)

The U of M cannot be enforced by photo enforcement because it is not signed as a school and legally is not a school under the Highway Traffic Act which is falsely stated in the first line of the article.  

The fact that there are two daycare centres is mentioned as further justification for the limit.  City of Winnipeg Traffic Policy A17 (Part 2) states that, "School Area signs will not be installed for mini schools or day cares.  These cases involve very young children who should not be crossing the street unless accompanied by an adult."  When the city doesn’t consider day care centres as areas that warrant any kind of warning signs, there should not be any justification for setting a speed limit too low because of them.  If there is some reason why day care kids at the U of M are more at risk because of the road, than those in the rest of the city, this is a serious issue that must be addressed and has nothing to do with speed limits or traffic.  This also goes for the Mini-U and children in the gyms and pool.

For the above reasons, please properly raise the speed limit on campus.  I also request that in future, when the U of M is in the paper, that the information presented not be wrong or misleading."

Did you make it to the end?

In that case, sigh.....

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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