Published on Sun Jun 14 2015
A group of downtown councillors is set to consider a sweeping proposal to slow traffic on residential roads, though city transportation experts are advising against it.
If it’s approved, the speed limit on all local streets in East York and the old city of Toronto would be reduced from 40 to 30 km/h, affecting some 387 km of road.
Councillor Josh Matlow (open Josh Matlow’s policard) first proposed the 30 km/h limit last August, a month after 7-year-old Georgia Walsh was struck and killed by a van in Leaside. He argues the lower limit would make roads less dangerous, and cites a 2012 Toronto board of health report that stated pedestrians have an 85 per cent chance of death if hit by a vehicle going 50 km/h, but the risk decreases to only five per cent at 30 km/h.
“When I hear about a kid being hit, there’s an indescribable pain that you feel,” Matlow said. “And if there are clear recommendations on substantive steps that we can take to make our neighbourhoods safer, then I feel a responsibility to act.”
But in a report released this week, city transportation staff warned the blanket speed reduction would be ineffective. Steve Buckley, head of transportation services, told the Star that drivers tend to ignore lower speed limits unless they’re implemented in conjunction with other measures such as speed bumps and increased police enforcement.
Buckley noted that a city policy approved by council just last month set out specific criteria that streets should meet to be designated 30 km/h. He admitted there was “some frustration” in his department that councillors now want to ignore it and lower speed limits across the board.
“Just simply changing the speed limit in and of itself is not shown to significantly reduce travel speeds,” he said.
The staff report also cast doubt on whether focusing on local roads is the best way to cut down on serious accidents. Of 44 pedestrian fatalities in old Toronto and East York between 2009 and 2013, 88.6 per cent occurred on busy arterials.
Raktim Mitra, an assistant professor at Ryerson University who specializes in transportation and healthy communities, says lower speed limits aren’t necessarily suitable for every neighbourhood, but they’re “both healthy and advisable” in dense areas like downtown.
“The streets with lower speed limits are safer, and as a result would enable more walking and cycling,” he said. “Where we stand today, the priorities in urban planning are creating healthy, active, vibrant neighbourhoods. And I think this idea of lower speed limits fits very well to that vision.”
The plan also has support from many residents’ groups. Tim Grant, chair of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association, says commuters seeking a shortcut often race through his neighbourhood near Bathurst and College. His organization “strongly” supports the 30 km/h proposal.
“As downtown neighbourhoods are populated with more and more young children, young families, there are a lot more parents who are concerned,” he said.
Toronto and East York Community Council will hear from residents on the issue at a special meeting on June 22. It’s not clear whether a vote will be taken that day — a decision could be delayed at least until the community council’s regular meeting in July — but the dozen councillors on the committee are almost unanimous in their support of the lower speed limit.
Community councils have authority to set speeds on local roads, but implementing the plan would cost $1.1 million, to install 4,450 traffic signs and re-time 310 traffic signals. The money would have to be found in the 2016 budget, which must be approved by the full city council.