Waterloo City Council endorsed lowering speed limits on all residential streets to 30km/hr by a vote of 5-3. Whenever there is a split vote such as this, it is indicative of a difficult decision having been made by Council. I have made the case for dropping to 30km/hr in this space before and wanted to again share why, what went into my decision making process and what this will mean for residents. My intention here is not to persuade anyone in one direction or the other, simply to share that I deliberated greatly over this and I came to my conclusion based on considerable public consultation of my own, a respect for the conversations that I have had with residents about traffic safety broadly speaking and a thorough review of the prevailing research, experts and data on the topic.
WHAT STREETS ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
Note that when we are talking about residential streets, we are not referencing streets like: Columbia, Erbsville or Fischer-Hallman. The motion I put forward also asks staff for a revised implementation plan that is context sensitive to some streets that may need to be signed at 40km/hr due to things like fully back-lotted homes with limited pedestrians (think Sundew between Columbia and Twinleaf), roads that act as major collectors (think Laurelwood Drive) and perhaps others where 40 is a more logical limit. In any event all school zones were to be 30km/hr regardless of the decision.
When you think of your typical commute or errand run, we are talking about the first and last little bit. The part of your journey where you are driving in front of parks, schools and neighbourhoods. I did a Twitter thread on what it would mean and generally speaking it was around an additional 30 seconds. In short the impact to drivers is minimal, but the potential impact to the safety of our friends, neighbours, children and seniors is considerable.
WHAT DID THE PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT SAY?
The public engagement on this was mixed. Roughly ¾ of respondents wanted to see the limits lowered from 50. If anything, that was the overwhelming part, which aligns with what I hear on traffic safety concerns every day. Generally that people are driving too fast and we need to start by lowering the limit. When asked between 40 and 30, it was about 40% who wanted 40km and about 35% who wanted 30km. I weighed that in my final decision process, as I’m sure the rest of Council did as well.
Additionally a variety of external partners (Police, Fire, Transit, Schools, Student Transportation Services Waterloo Region) were consulted. Again, the responses were mixed. All were in favour of a lower limit, some wanted to see 30, others felt 40 was fine. The external partners I weighed more heavily were those from the individual schools and from STSWR who passionately made the case for 30km across our neighbourhoods. STSWR has partnered with the parent council’s at schools across the Region, including in Ward 2 to improve traffic safety around the schools. Particularly noting that STSWR was going to get 30km/hr in school zones anyways, they still passionately commented that it’s not enough to just make the hundred meters or so in front of the school safe, the entire trip needs to be safe in order to encourage kids to walk or cycle and improve safety. That resonated with me greatly.
WHAT DOES THE DATA SAY?
Pilot projects locally within the City supported that lowering the limit, lowered the average speed. This is also true in Kitchener’s pilot projects.
That local data verifies emerging data from around the world, which highlights drops in casualties, reductions in serious injuries and overall drops in vehicular accidents.
The data suggests that even without any other traffic calming interventions, changing the signage can have an impact in reducing speeds as high as 10km or more pending the context of the street.
Some are suggesting that a speed limit reduction could create more incidents of road rage. I think this merits consideration. Although the emerging data from around the world as well as the local data have not suggested that (as noted; incidents of fatalities, injuries and accidents have all dropped), it does bear monitoring and is why I suggested that some streets should only be lowered to 40km/hr based on their context.
WHAT ARE OTHERS DOING? ARE WE LEADERS OR FOLLOWERS?
In February 2020 the Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety adopted the Stockholm Declaration, declaring all residential streets should be 30km/hr. Later that year in August the General Assembly of the UN endorses the Declaration.
Since then we’ve seen a plethora of jurisdictions around the world adopt 30km/hr (or 20mph): Over 20M people live in such zones in the UK, the entirety of Wales, much of continental Europe, many places in New Zealand, numerous neighbourhoods in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, all of Banff and most recently a significant expansion for much of Ottawa. Other jurisdictions across Canada are discussing and implementing 30km/hr zones and this is our chance to lead.
WHAT ABOUT THE COST?
Given the above and the appetite for lower limits, I saw the question before us, in some ways as; spend the money today, regret it and slowly start following the crowd to 30 in an incremental fashion, or show some leadership and drive the changes we want to see on the streets where our children, seniors and vulnerable road users walk and play. In short, why spend the money twice?
For further clarity, the cost is roughly the same to change to 40km/hr or 30km/hr and it was clear to me that maintaining the 50km/hr status quo was not appropriate. There was no option to lower the limit by any amount without a cost.
IT WON’T WORK WITHOUT ENFORCEMENT
As with many, I’d love to see more enforcement on our neighbourhood streets, in the absence of that we now have a strong deterrent. New Provincial stunt driving charges are applicable when someone is going 40km/hr+ above the limit (when the limit is under 80). In the rare occasions when we have enforcement and a reckless driver is going 75km/hr in front of St. Nicholas or on Gatestone in front of Laurelwood Park or on Sundew in front of Sundew Park or on St. Moritz, etc I want that person charged with stunt driving. More importantly, I want that driver to think twice about doing it in the first place.
IT WON’T WORK WITHOUT REDESIGNING THE STREETS
Crucially, I believe this will be the catalyst for the changes we want to see in our street design. Historically, these streets were designed at 50km/hr+. We can see how that has worked out. When we are building new streets, we need them to be engineered to a standard that discourages speeding in a greater way than we currently are. Signing at 30km/hr means designing at 30km/hr. This is also true for major retrofits and I also hope will be the catalyst for seasonal or temporary interventions to slow down traffic on streets that are not due for a rebuild any time soon. This part will take time, but again we need to get this right the first time and I believe by signing at 30, it is the fiscally responsible thing to do.
I am sharing my views on this topic in good faith to share with those who support the decision what can be expected and what the next steps are and to encourage respectful conversation with those that disagree. To that end, I would be more than happy to chat with any who would like to take an even deeper dive into the decision – 519-575-0093.
This isn’t the silver bullet to traffic safety in our neighbourhoods. There will still be problems, there will still be the need for further investment in street design, there will still be more action to take. This is simply a tool in our toolbox, one that I believe has proven to be effective, one that can have long lasting impacts and one that I’m happy to support.
Thank you and take care,