Lower speed limits: City’s chief medical officer

April 24, 2012 - All News

Toronto’s chief medical officer wants the city to cut speed limits by 10 to 20 kilometres per hour to reduce the severity of injuries to pedestrians and cyclists.
In proposals released Monday, Dr. David McKeown advocated a 30 km/h speed limit on residential streets and “a citywide speed limit of 40 km/h on all other streets.”
Both proposals are sure to be controversial. The standard speed limit is 50 km/h, but some major streets have 60 km/h zones. Though many residential streets have 40 km/h limits, many remain at 50 km/h.
McKeown made the proposals upon the release of a $45,000 report, Road to Health: Improving Walking and Cycling in Toronto, which cited evidence that pedestrians are far less likely to be killed for every 10 km/h reduction below 60 km/h.
“Small increases in traffic speeds results in a disproportionately large increase in pedestrian fatalities,” McKeown wrote.
In 2010, 20 Toronto pedestrians were killed and 2,050 injured. In 2009, 31 were killed and 2,069 injured; in 2008, 27 were killed and 1,920 injured.
“We looked at the rates of motor vehicle collisions with cyclists and pedestrians. And what we find in the city of Toronto is that the rates are about twice as high as they are for Montreal and three times as high as Vancouver. So we feel there is definitely a health need for considering this kind of a strategy,” said Monica Campbell, director of healthy public policy.
McKeown’s advice will nonetheless be a tough sell to a city council sensitive to the interests of drivers and widespread concerns about traffic congestion. Mayor Rob Ford campaigned on a promise to end what he viewed as a “war” on cars.
Denzil Minnan-Wong, a right-leaning suburban councillor and chair of the public works committee, said McKeown’s proposed limits are unreasonably low, that many drivers would simply ignore them, and that the police would not have the resources to ticket all violators.
McKeown, he said, is wasting taxpayers’ money by meddling in an area in which he does not have expertise.
“Doesn’t he have better things to do than interfere in every single department and everybody else’s lives? If he wants to lower speed limits, maybe he should apply for the general manager’s job in the transportation department,” Minnan-Wong said.
The transportation department was involved in producing the report. The department’s acting general manager, Andy Koropeski, was noncommittal but less dismissive than Minnan-Wong.
“It certainly has been demonstrated through research, as (McKeown) has pointed out, that there’s much greater chance of any collision being less severe the lower the speed is,” Koropeski said.
“I think it’s fair to say that we would explore that, and many of the other recommendations, in more detail. It’s certainly not something that we’ll just go and do without more work on it.”
Koropeski said the province would first have to amend its own legislation. The standard limit under the Highway Traffic Act is currently 50 km/h.
The report pointed to studies that showed a “greatly increased probability of death or serious injury when hit by a vehicle travelling 50 km/h compared with 40 km/h.” One found that 85 per cent of people struck at 50 km/h are likely to die, versus only 25 per cent at 40 km/hour.
Maria Augimeri, a left-leaning suburban councillor, said a citywide reduction in speed limits would be superior to the current system of case-by-case reductions, which Minnan-Wong prefers. At present, the local councillor typically must agree to propose a reduction at community council.
“In the suburbs, you have some councillors who are more interested in the rights of the car than the rights of the child. If I have to err, I’d rather err on the side of the child’s health and safety,” Augimeri said.
Montreal reduced its standard residential speed limit from 50 km/h to 40 km/h in 2009 and 2010. York Region has approved speed limit reductions on 11 major arterial roads.
Dylan Reid, former co-chair of the city’s pedestrian committee, argued that residents have already demonstrated that they prefer slower speeds on local streets.
“Most of Toronto’s residential areas are designed to slow cars down, and people want them slow. . . . I think this is frankly just catching up to reality in a lot of ways,” Reid said.
“Where there is a wide road that is suited for a faster speed, it’s easy to simply post that speed where appropriate. But it doesn’t make any sense for the default speed to be 50 km/h.”
— Torstar News Service