Traffic-safety advocates hope for change as council looks set to lower neighbourhood speed limits

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When someone driving a car collides with a pedestrian, the car’s speed plays a role in the outcome — whether the pedestrian walks away, gets seriously injured or dies. Chances of surviving being hit at 30 km/h are much better than being hit at 50 km/h.

Last fall, a city study recommended lowering the residential default to 40 km/h and putting up new 50 km/h signs on collector roads, which are streets that connect neighbourhoods to larger arterial roadways. Any streets that already have posted speed limits above 50 won’t be affected.

The long-term goal would be to make residential speed limits 30 km/h and lower collector speeds to 40 km/h, but city officials said for now, the more gradual approach will be “credible” for drivers and should produce high compliance.

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A final decision on the move was expected last November. Instead, Coun. Peter Demong said he wanted information about adding the issue to the 2021 municipal election ballot. His proposal passed in a narrow 8-6 vote.

But city officials say putting the question directly to voters this October is too risky.

A report headed to council Monday says the speed limit issue is complex and technical, and voters would have to do extra research to be able to make an informed choice. On top of that, online misinformation or campaigning from political action committees could further muddy the waters.

The report suggests four possible questions for a non-binding plebiscite vote, but says each have potential pitfalls, and “voters are likely to be confused about the impact of their vote.”

Coun. Druh Farrell said when it comes to speed limits, it’s time for council to “fish or cut bait.”

“I would rather not see a delay, because the longer we delay, the more people will be injured,” she said.

City road safety director Tony Churchill has said the speed changes could prevent around 300 collisions each year, saving $8.1 million annually from the societal cost of those crashes.

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