Hopes for a safer, more pedestrian-friendly Winnipeg drew about five dozen people to the Old Grace Housing Co-op on Thursday night to hear local advocacy group Safe Speeds Winnipeg make its case for lower speed limits.
Clayton Rudy, presenter and Safe Speeds Winnipeg member, said the organization was founded after "so many incidents where people have been injured or killed" on Winnipeg’s roads.
"And that sparked a grassroots group to form to discuss the problem and explore some of the solutions."
Safe Speed Winnipeg’s key goal is convincing the city to reduce the default speed for Winnipeg roads from 50 kilometres an hour to 30 km/h unless otherwise posted. Back lane speed limits would be cut from 30 km/h to 15 km/h under the proposed policy.
"Because there are thousands and thousands of kilometres of roads in the city, rather than going block-by-block through the whole city to see what needs to be lowered, the position of Safe Speeds Winnipeg is that the default should be lowered and then the city can raise the speed limits, or keep them as is in the case of higher-speed roads," said Rudy, a private-sector transportation engineer whose presentation to the town hall focused on the science of pedestrian safety.
"But it’s far more efficient and effective, to improve safety on the streets, to have a low default and then raise where it’s appropriate to do so."
Safe Speeds Winnipeg was among a number of groups that pushed Winnipeg’s public works committee to lower speed limits this past summer, after the provincial government allowed Manitoba municipalities to set speed limits on their own. Rudy said that effort didn’t succeed, although the public service has been assigned to study the matter.
"Because of the amount of people and the frequency with which they’re injured or killed on the roads, it’s an urgent decision to make, and there’s no real need to wait for more reports and more studies to make that decision that the default should be lowered," Rudy said in an interview before the town hall.
Fellow presenter and Safe Speeds Winnipeg member Sylvia Buchholz believes the city’s willingness to at least reconsider speed limits is promising.
"It’s a hard topic, right? People feel so passionate about it, but judging just by the tragedies that we’re reading in the news more and more, I think this is gaining public support," she told the Free Press ahead of the event.
In her presentation, Buchholz highlighted that her group’s proposal wouldn’t mean speeds would be limited to 30 km/h across the entire city, saying the policy would mostly affect residential areas.
Cutting speed limits sounds like a good idea to attendee Allison Penner, a Wolseley resident who attended the meeting with her partner and nearly two-year-old son. She thinks improved infrastructure such as crosswalks and speed bumps would also help calm traffic in her neighbourhood.
"Our kid is getting a little bit older, he’s going to be starting school in a couple years," Penner said. "And we live right on Westminster, so we see how the traffic kind of just whips through, and it feels really unsafe."
Fellow meeting attendee Donald Swanson said he’s almost been hit by cars while crossing Portage Avenue, and also expressed concern about traffic on Sherburn Street where he lives.
"On Sherburn Street, there’s a lot of kids, and they’re always playing in the front and people are whipping up and down," he said.
Coun. Scott Gillingham represents Winnipeg’s St. James ward, where two teenagers were injured Wednesday morning after being struck by a car at Ness Avenue and Woodlawn Street. He said he couldn’t attend the Thursday town hall but was open to the idea of reducing speed limits in residential neighbourhoods.
"I don’t know if I support 30, but I’m certainly open to looking at something lower than 50 km/h on residential streets," he said.
MLA Lisa Naylor attended the event in her Wolseley constituency, and said pedestrian safety was an issue she heard about frequently while door-knocking during the recent provincial election campaign.
"The presentation tonight was really well done," Naylor said. "I think they’re talking about a change across the entire city. I don’t feel like I have enough information to have an opinion on that, but I certainly think we would benefit by some lower speed limits in some areas of this neighbourhood, for sure."
Solomon Israel is a full-time reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and for two years, the lead writer for Free Press cannabis news site, The Leaf News. He continues to provide coverage of the cannabis beat while covering business in the city and province.