Calgary council should reject plebiscite on lowering speed limit, bureaucrats suggest

City council will decide at its next meeting whether Calgarians can have a say on whether the default speed limit should be lowered.

Council voted 8-6 last November to see if it was feasible to hold a plebiscite on whether the speed limit on most residential streets should be lowered from 50 to 40 km/h.

Coun. Druh Farrell said city administration is recommending council reject the idea of a plebiscite.

“The test questions that administration had put together, the people they tested them with were confused. They found the issue quite confusing,” said Farrell. 

“It doesn’t lend itself to a simple yes or no answer.”

If council accepts administration’s position, then she said they’ll get back to the main question of whether the default speed limit should be lowered.

A safety measure

Farrell favours 30 km/h but is prepared to go along with a recommendation to approve 40 km/h.

She said it will make a big difference.

“We know that there are over 9,000 collisions every year on Calgary’s neighbourhood streets and [more than] 550 result in death or injury. So we know that reducing speed limits will save money and will save lives,” said Farrell.

She added that vehicles are bigger today and many drivers sit higher up than when the 50 km/h speed limit was set decades ago.

One councillor who voted in November to have the speed limit issue put to a plebiscite isn’t planning on changing his mind.

Contentious issue

Coun. Sean Chu is opposed to lowering the speed limit.

He said that given this issue will affect every driver in Calgary, he’ll continue pushing for a plebiscite despite administration’s recommendation against it.

“It’s a very contentious issue,” said Chu.

“I think it’s prudent for any politician to ask the public what they think. And that’s actually, I believe, good governance.”

Several of Chu’s colleagues, like Farrell, disagree. They say they were elected by Calgarians to make decisions on their behalf so a plebiscite is not needed.

Chu’s position is that those council members are not willing to widely consult with voters because they may not like the answer.

“They’re afraid to listen to the public. These are the same people who support the Olympics but were against an Olympic plebiscite.”

In the last plebiscite held in Calgary, voters rejected pursuing a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. The result was 56 per cent opposed.

Recommendations approved by a council committee last fall suggest the speed limit be reduced to 40 km/h in April 2021.

Council’s next vote on the issue will determine if that speed reduction goes ahead.

If it does lower the speed limit, it will join the ranks of other municipalities like Airdrie, Banff and Edmonton, which have approved slower speeds for residential streets.

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