Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Grant speed limit is result of spurious reasoning

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DEAR EDITOR,

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The real scandal on Grant Avenue in the vicinity of Nathaniel Street is not the accuracy or otherwise of the police radar speed measurements.

The real scandal is that the legal speed limit has been set far too low, leading to annoying and inappropriate enforcement.

Years ago, that particular Grant speed limit was set much higher. City councillors then proposed that it be lowered to 50 kilometres per hour.

Traffic studies showed, however, that the speed limit should be at least 60 km/h. Nevertheless, the committee members decided on the 50-km/h limit "in the hope that drivers would then go 60."

This unfounded conjecture was explicitly articulated at the time by the area councillor, and the other councillors then succumbed to his flawed reasoning. I don't know whether this was recorded in their minutes at the time.

I, as the city's then-director of streets and transportation, was there, and I have a distinct recollection today.

For reasons unknown to me, the provincial highway traffic board (whose ultimate approval was needed then if not now) went along with this spurious reasoning.

In some American states, local governments are required by statute to conduct proper and valid engineering and traffic speed studies before modifying speed limits on local roads.

If the outcomes of such studies are not respected, the senior government may overrule the inappropriate limit or even withhold transportation-related financial grants to the junior (urban) government.

Central to such studies is measurement of the speeds at which motorists are typically travelling. The most appropriate limit is usually a speed close to the "85th percentile" -- the speed at (or below) which 85 per cent of the motorists are driving.

The highly reasonable related presumption is that 85 per cent of motorists are inclined to behave in a reasonable and prudent manner and therefore enforcement directed at more than 15 per cent of motorists is likely to be impractical and unpopular.

Unfortunately, the automatic equipment now being used by police has made it practical to target a large number of responsible motorists, whose indignation is thus understandable.

The city should conduct proper traffic studies (taking into account not only the 85th percentile speed but also geometric design, crash data and the functional classification of the roadway) on Grant between Stafford and Kenaston, and then should scrupulously abide by the outcome.

TED CLARKE

Winnipeg

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2011 A11

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