April 22, 2019

Councillor Pete Fry, Slower Speeds in the ‘Hood, and Why This All Makes Sense

I have been advocating for slower vehicular speeds in neighbourhoods to make communities safer, more comfortable and convenient for vulnerable road users. I also have been writing about  the impact on communities elsewhere that have adopted 30 kilometer per hour as the default speed in municipalities.

The Scottish Parliament is considering a bill to  lower speed limits to 20 miles per hour (equivalent to 30 km/h) in all cities, towns and villages. That is a reduction from the currently accepted 30 miles per hour (50 km/h). London and several counties in the United Kingdom that have adopted the slower speeds within their city limits have seen vehicular deaths decline by 20 percent, and serious  injury also substantially decline.

City of Vancouver Councillor Pete Fry has introduced a motion asking that Council support a resolution to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to lobby the Province to amend the Motor Vehicle Act “to a default speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour for local streets with municipalities enabled to increase speed limits on local streets in a case-by-case basis by by-laws and posted signage.” Councillor Fry has also requested that staff identify an area of Vancouver to pilot a 30 km/h speed limit, report back on the strategy, and implement the slower speed in that neighbourhood area to ascertain the effectiveness of the policy.

This is not the first 30 kilometers per hour rodeo going to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. The City of New Westminster and Councillor Patrick Johnstone headed up such a request a few years back.  What really needs to happen is for this initiative to leave the purview of the municipalities and be seriously considered by Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena who can give authorization for the change to the Motor Vehicle Act.

The beauty of a blanket implementation of the residential neighbourhoods is that there will not be a huge capital cost to create signage everywhere indicating how fast you can move on which street. While arterial roads would remain at 50 km/h, the local serving streets  within Vancouver  neighbourhoods could  all be 30 km/h.

This is also City of Vancouver City Council’s opportunity to correct the term “Vision Zero”. During the Vision Party’s majority they did not want the term “Vision Zero” in Vancouver’s reports  (which refers to the Swedish approach adopted in 1997 to achieve zero road deaths) to be used for political reasons.

Instead the strategy was called  “Zero Deaths”. Since Vision Zero is the international program that has achieved so much success, it is time to do the right thing and rename Vancouver’s program correctly.

Great Britain’s Rod King has outlined the compelling rationale for slower streets in his presentation to the Scottish parliament:

  1. From an emissions standpoint, a vehicle going 50 km/h requires 2.25 times the energy to sustain a speed 50 km per hour, compared to 30 km/h. A speed reduction to 30 km/h reduces diesel NOxand PM10 pollution by 8 per cent.

  2. The stopping distance required for a vehicle at 50 km/h is nearly double that of a vehicle at 30 km/h. A speed reduction to 30 km/h doubles the available reaction time for everyone involved, increasing the likelihood of avoiding a crash.

  3. The force of a collision involving a vehicle driving 50 km/h is 2.25 times that of a collision at 30 km/h; 80 per cent of pedestrians will die in a 50 km/h impact. At 30 km/h, 85 per cent of pedestrians will survive an impact


Of course there will be lots of pushback from the vehicular lobby which has for a century valued speed and convenience, viewing pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and injuries as unavoidable outcomes of a car first policy. Vancouver has embraced walking,biking and public transit as the transportation policy supported way to get around,

It just makes sense to ensure that residents can walk and cycle within their own neighbourhood without being subject to vehicular crashes at speeds that are in many cases not survivable. As the baby boom becomes one-quarter of the national population, we also need a way to ensure that seniors are fit, have good walking environments and are close to shops and services. Reinforcing the walking environment by slowing vehicular speeds will do that, and will also create a better quality of life.

In the words of Rod King: “If we want consideration for the amenity and safety of residents and communities to be a national norm, then at some stage we have to enter a national debate about the quality of our streets and whether we have rules built around optimising the speed of vehicles, or about the liveability of people. We need to end our thinking about 30mph from our warm, protected, comfortable windscreen view of the street, and consider it from the height of an 8-year-old on the pavement, or with the mobility of an 80-year-old trying to cross the high street to a shop”.

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  1. The part of this debate which never seems to be raised is the question of how often you can actually drive at 50 kmh in the city. Aside from a few multi-lane main roads like Granville St it’s actually pretty rare. The vast majority of the time in any urban environment you’ll be lucky to travel at more than 30, and between traffic lights, stop signs, transit vehicles, and delivery trucks you’ll usually be going slower than that.

    Lowering the limit isn’t going to inconvenience anyone.

  2. Granville – yikes – the speeds there … 60-80 to the stoplight … and again.
    Side streets at 30km – good. I wish my bicycle had a large speed indicator on the back for the motorats to view; those that are hell bent on passing no matter how close they are to the cyclist, or to the stop sign.

    There have been two university studies in Australia that call for the end of the use of the word “cyclist”; that this is a negative term that term dehumanizes people; that 33 % of respondents viewed cyclists as less than human.

    They suggest “people who ride bikes”. This is a bit unwieldy. I’d suggest “wheel people”. This would include others who are vulnerable: babies in strollers, wheelchairs.

    Terms are important. Commuterats works. Just like lab rats that scurry through mazes for rewards, so do motorats. Rat running already has currency. It’s not a big linguistic leap.

  3. Given that the overwhelming majority of accidents involving injury occur on arterials, this speed limit reduction might make its proponents feel good, but it’ll do little to nothing to change the rate of injuries or fatalities.

    1. Not so. Just because it’s not a panacea for any and all crashes – or even a straight majority of them – should it be discounted. This will save a lot of lives and reduce severe injuries. Fewer killed and crippled is a good thing.

      1. What data are you basing that on? I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen a major accident in the enws that wasn’t on a freeway or arterial. Is there hidden carnage going on in the leafy streets of Point Grey?

        This handily ignores that removing the viaduct and Granville loops will put more pedestrians at risk than any worthwhile Canadian initiative targetted at neighbourhood streets.

        1. Bob

          Removing the viaducts allows for the creation of more complete streets, with wide sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and dedicated transit stops, not just on Pacific but on the full road network below the current viaducts. Great news for active transportation users.

          Removing the Granville loops eliminates the death trap that is Pacific westbound between Seymour and Howe. The new local street grid north of Pacific will be calmed, and will connect to the car light stretch under the bridge, leading towards False Creek. More great news.

          What do you base your claim of increased risk on?

          1. The proposed demolition of the viaducts is not required in order for the creation of more complete streets, with wide sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and dedicated transit stops on the road network below the viaducts. Those improvements can be made right now .

          2. I think you mean approved demolition, not proposed demolition.

            There are concrete piers across the ground where those complete streets will be built. And in the case of the Georgia Ramp, there is a viaduct leading to Main St. I suppose we could have a complete staircase there, just not a complete street.

            Don’t forget that without taking the viaducts down and opening up more land, there is not a funding source to pay for all these improvements.

          3. Death trap for who? Every street, including the loop has a stop sign and crosswalk. The death trap will be the three right turns drivers will be forced to make, and the resultant increased pedestrian-vehicle interactions, once the loop is removed to access Pacific. I can’t even think of how much worse the eventual viaduct solution will be. But of course, this is all about creating more lots for the developers who fund our civic politicians and that’s what matters, whatever you might believe about “complete streets”.

          4. Bob:

            Try cycling westbound on Pacific from Seymour to Howe. No crosswalks or bike crossings. There are crosswalks for people walking, but a stop sign in only one direction, not for accessing the loops. And the stop sign is routinely ignored. Slip lanes are highway infrastructure, not appropriate for urban settings. That is why they were removed from Burrard. Too many crashes.

          5. There is no approved demolition, no demolition contract, no agreement between the public and private sectors, and no way to reach a deal given the enormous financial, environmental and political risks facing the city should they proceed against their own public policy limiting carbon emissions.

            It’s the Big Mess not the Big Move.

        2. ICBC data that I see almost every day. Pity the poor sap who relies on the Vancouver Sun for “data”. Those are a small sample of only the most horrific crashes, not the daily carnage that ruins lives every single day all over town.

        3. Jolson wrote “There is no approved demolition (for the viaducts)”

          On Oct 29, 2015, Council carried a motion, reading in part as follows:

          A. THAT Council approve the removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts, and approve the Northeast False Creek Conceptual Plan (generally as presented in Appendix A of the Policy Report dated October 6, 2015, entitled “Removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts”), to guide area planning without the viaducts for the remaining areas of the False Creek North Official Development Plan and two City blocks east of Quebec Street.

          Everything after (A) was about related planning work for the rezoning, putting legal agreements in place with property owners, and so on.

          Hard to imagine they could be removed without demolishing them. Looks approved to me.

    2. Perhaps it will start a long overdue trend toward initiating safer transportation options before someone gets killed, as seems to be our usual approach.

  4. The time has come indeed! And now, let’s hope that the City will find the means and will to enforce it.

  5. There’s a fascinating quote in the 2018 book: LAB RATS
    Julia has a masters in engineering; wrote software for two decades; did NLP training, and studied hypnosis.
    The interviewer asked if she could hypnotize him right there at the coffee shop table.
    “Of course,” she says. “People go into trance states all the time. Every time you drive a car, you’re in a trance state.”

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