May 31, 2020

Winnipeg
25° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Slower speeds make safer neighbourhoods

Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/7/2019 (328 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The most dangerous thing most of us will ever do is drive our car. We do it every day without a second thought, yet around the world 1.3 million people are killed in car accidents each year, a number equivalent to the entire population of Calgary.

Canadian roads average 160,000 vehicle accidents annually, resulting in more than 2,000 fatalities and 150,000 injuries. If any other source were killing or injuring 400 Canadians per day, it would be considered a national health crisis.

Perhaps the most sobering statistic of all is that in Canada, almost one out of every five people killed or seriously injured by a car is not even in one — 15 per cent are pedestrians and three per cent are cyclists. In Winnipeg, more than 200 pedestrians and cyclists are struck and injured by vehicles every year, which typically represents almost half the number of people killed in car accidents in the city.

Vision Zero’s approach to road safety is simple: lowering speed limits reduces injuries to pedestrians and cyclists. (Brent Bellamy / Winnipeg Free Press)

Vision Zero’s approach to road safety is simple: lowering speed limits reduces injuries to pedestrians and cyclists. (Brent Bellamy / Winnipeg Free Press)

These staggering road-safety statistics have most major Canadian cities investigating new ways to make streets safer for everyone — drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Many cities are beginning to adopt Vision Zero, a global initiative started in Sweden that promotes a holistic strategy to urban road safety.

An underlying principle of Vision Zero is simply to slow cars down. Studies from across the world are unanimous in concluding that reducing vehicle speeds saves lives. The results vary slightly, but in general, if a pedestrian is struck by a car travelling at 50 km/h, there is about a 50/50 chance of survival, but when the speeds are reduced to 30 km/h, 95 per cent of pedestrians will survive and 30 per cent will not even suffer an injury.

When the speeds are reduced to 30 km/h, 95 per cent of pedestrians will survive and 30 per cent will not even suffer an injury. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files)

When the speeds are reduced to 30 km/h, 95 per cent of pedestrians will survive and 30 per cent will not even suffer an injury. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files)

As speeds are reduced, the probability of an accident also drops significantly because reaction times and stopping distances become much shorter. If a child runs into the street, a car travelling at 50 km/h will typically require 28 metres to stop, while a car traveling at 40 km/h will stop in 20 metres and at 30 km/h, a car can stop in only 13 metres. A study by England’s department of transport found that for every reduction of 1.6 km/h in vehicle speed on a residential street, the likelihood of an accident occurring is reduced by five per cent.

The Vision Zero initiative promotes the use of traffic-calming elements in street design that intuitively slow drivers through changes in the physical environment. Some of these physical changes include narrowing streets and lanes, adding speed bumps and raised crosswalks, building protected bike lanes and extending curbs at intersections to shorten the distance for pedestrians and tighten the turning radius for vehicles.

All these strategies work together to slow drivers and increase safety, but making sweeping changes in street design across an entire city is costly and slow to implement. Because of this, almost every major city in Canada, including Winnipeg, is currently debating a reduction in posted speed limits for residential neighbourhoods as an important first step.

Speed bumps slow drivers through changes in the physical environment. (Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Speed bumps slow drivers through changes in the physical environment. (Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press files)

In Edmonton, where commitment to Vision Zero strategies has resulted in a three-year reduction in injuries of 21 per cent for pedestrians and 29 per cent for cyclists, the city is considering a two-tiered system where speed limits on residential streets in older neighbourhoods will be dropped to 30 km/h and in newer suburbs to 40 km/h.

Montreal, one of the most progressive urban planning cities on the continent, has not only built more than 100 km of protected on-street bike lanes and closed more than 50 streets to cars, making them pedestrian-only, it will also, over the next year, boldly reduce all residential street speed limits to 30 km/h, and to 40 km/h for all main streets.

Vancouver recently announced it will begin a pilot project to reduce speeds on a select number of residential streets to 30 km/h so it can study driver behaviour, enforcement techniques and public acceptance before making a widespread change.

Safer streets invite people to walk and ride their bikes more often. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Safer streets invite people to walk and ride their bikes more often. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Reducing speed limits on residential streets would not only improve safety, it would have far-reaching effects on residents’ quality of life and neighbourhood character. Most people want to live in a community that is safe, quiet and pleasant to be in. Slower residential streets are safer for everyone, including children and seniors, who are disproportionately overrepresented in pedestrian collisions.

Safer streets invite people to walk and ride their bikes more often, improving physical health and increasing social connectivity. Cars moving at 30 km/h make 50 per cent less noise than those at 50 km/h, meaning quieter neighbourhoods, and slower cars use less fuel and emit less exhaust, resulting in better air quality.

More people walking and biking means fewer cars on the road, and the slower speeds on smaller streets reduces their likelihood of being used as shortcuts to major routes, further reducing traffic volumes and increasing safety.

Raised crosswalks in Copenhagen prioritize pedestrians and cyclists as they interact with cars at intersections. (Supplied)

Raised crosswalks in Copenhagen prioritize pedestrians and cyclists as they interact with cars at intersections. (Supplied)

In a city where almost everything we do begins with a car ride, proposals to slow vehicle speeds will always be met with skepticism and resistance, but reducing posted speed limits and implementing traffic-calming physical features on residential streets would likely not significantly affect most commuting times, which are generally on arterial roads and feeder streets. It would, however, be an important first step toward making our city’s neighbourhoods safer and more attractive places for people to live and play.

Great cities are defined by the quality of their neighbourhoods, and great neighbourhoods are defined by the quality of life they can offer the people who live in them. Reducing speed limits is a difficult move politically, but an important one to make our communities safer, stronger and healthier, by transforming our local streets from traffic funnels into arteries of public space that bring new life to Winnipeg’s neighbourhoods.

Brent Bellamy

Brent Bellamy
Columnist

Brent Bellamy is senior design architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.

Read full biography

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.