June 14, 2022

Why Won’t the NDP Government Give Municipalities the Authority for 30 km/h Areas?

A few months ago, a major active transportation advocacy group in British Columbia asked me to review a response they have received from the Province when asked about why the government had not allowed the municipalities the right to post areas for 30 km/h speed limits. This has been asked for in a unanimous motion of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) several years ago.

The response the Provincial government penned was nonsensical. They basically said there was no reason for them to give the permission to municipalities to designate neighbourhood areas as 30 km/h, meaning that towns must painstakingly and at great expense  place a multitude of signage on every block of any residential street to be slowed. They then need to insure that drivers know which streets are slower streets, instead of doing entire zones of slower streets.

It is a crazy response from the Province but shows the  hurried need for speed  of automobile fanciers, not so much the need of neighbourhoods to promote active transportation and sociability on the street. Actually using the street for other things instead of vehicle traffic. And there is data to prove it saves on health care costs and serious injury.

In Edinburgh, lowering road speeds to 30 km/h resulted in a 300 percent increase in biking and a a 25 percent reduction of  cyclist and pedestrian injury rates in the first year of the reduced road speed.

It was so successful that Edinburgh is expanding their 30 km/h areas.

Mario Canseco of Research.co has once again updated his continuing work on polling the public regarding decreasing speed limits in neighbourhoods and surprise! Since last year support has increased by five points, and that support for slower streets goes right across citizens supporting all three of the province’s political parties. You can read Research.co’s data tables here.

As Mr. Canseco points out, speed is the top factor in vehicular crashes in a nine year period. Factor in the Province paying for cyclist and pedestrian involved crashes, and increased use of residential streets during the pandemic, and it just makes sense to slow drivers  in residential areas.

So who wants slower streets? Seven in ten of residents think that Vancouver’s demonstration project of a 30 km/h area is a good idea, with 76 percent of women and 78 percent of British Columbians thinking its a great idea.

When Mr. Canseco’s company specifically asked about reducing neighbourhood street driver speeds while keeping major road speeds at 50 km/h,  two-thirds of residents wanted to see this initiative.

So what is the hold up? It appears that British Columbians want the reduced 30 km/h speed limits: the UBCM and the surveys prove citizens want slower streets in their neighbourhoods.

Someone just has to get the attention of the Province. And slower driver speeds save fuel and lower carbon emissions. Now there are three reasons for the Province to finally act on this outstanding issue.



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  1. Thank you, Sandy, for presenting a very logical case. And it underscores the confusion and lack of coordination within the government’s policy and planning folks – including both the political and bureaucracy. People are siloed and confused, so they block change as a default – regardless of the obvious logic of proposals such as yours.
    Back in the 1990s, there was a multi-stakeholder committee (Resources Inventory Committee) that brought together planners from a dozen BC ministries, 2 federal ministries, industry, ENGOs, First Nations, etc. It was amazingly successful in accomplishing its inventorying and standards coordination goal, but also in getting people out of their silos and collaborating in a positive, confident spirit. The committee had no decision-making authority, and operated in the background with total transparency. It was all about info exchange and networking.
    Might it be time for a similar process to coordinate and propel forward action on climate, transportation, zoning, street speeds, etc.?

  2. Just some comments. 50KPH (30 MPH) was reasonably deemed a safe speed in urban environments. However, our permissive/tolerant legal system wouldn’t enforce speeding infraction unless the speeding was clearly demonstrated to be over 62KMH. So, 62KMH is the de facto speed common place speed. Same goes for 30KMH zones, where 45KMH becomes the de facto enforced speed limit. Accuracy of vehicle speedometers and police radar was heavily contested in courtrooms. Hence the wide margin of overage became common place. Given that technology used speedometers and radar has greatly improved, it may be possible that rigidly enforcing the original 50KMH would achieve the desired result.

  3. From the Ministry’s perspective, there are lots of reasons not to do it and only thin, dubious justification to allow it. They are loathe to give up control of their assets, which include most major roads in most towns outside the Lower Mainland. They fundamentally don’t believe slower streets are safer and don’t want to complicate their mandate by allowing locals to set their own limits on roads the province is responsible for. It’d also put the Ministry on the hook for expensive design changes to support slower posted speeds wherever these were approved. Lastly, although the odds of serious injury and death are relatively low, chances of local complaints are 100%. It’s easier to send thoughts and prayers every few weeks than listen to motorists complain every day.

    1. The streets in question are NOT those under provincial or regional control, but residential side streets that are funded by local property taxes. City councils have control over the speed limit on those streets, but because the Province is being stupid they have to post signs on every single one.
      The problem is simple: most of the people who want slower streets vote NDP anyway. They’re not worried about losing seats.
      The people who whine and complain about bike lanes and think speed limits should be increased vote for the other guys (whatever name they choose for the next election).

      1. In most provincial towns, the Ministry is the only real road authority, so local roads are most certainly the Ministry’s concern and responsibility. But you’re right about how they vote; not that it matters, though. Does the NDP think that opposing slower speeds is going to win them a single northern or interior riding? They could pay for everyone’s gas for 5 years and it wouldn’t matter. There’s no political reason for them not to simply do the right thing and allow local control of speed limits. It’s their own Ministry that puts on the brakes.

        1. The change if done correctly would only allow municipalities to change the speeds on their roads, not provincial ones, similar to section 124 (1) (V), which allows municipalities to allow cycling in crosswalks.

  4. A province wide lower speed limit on residential streets might be a workable and efective “wedge issue” for somebody in the next election.

  5. The thing is that this change is simply administrative and doesn’t require the province to do anything other than make the change to the MVA. It is up to the various municipalities to decide what speed to make residential streets. I see this as nothing less than a win/win. There is no downside.

  6. Streets need to be designed for 30 km/hr. Putting a 30 km/hr sign up without any other changes will still lead to people driving at the speed they feel comfortable (usually ~45 km/hr). If streets are designed for 30-40km/hr with pedestrian loops, raised crosswalks, and other minor obstacles then people will drive slower. If you just put 30 km/hr sign on a straight residential street it likely won’t change a whole lot.

    It reminds me of Island Highway through Lantzville. There is a section with moderate pedestrian traffic, bus stop etc… The section does not have any curb or sidewalk or any infrastructure for pedestrians. Instead of making it safer for pedestrians they put up a 30 km/hr sign and called it done. Now you get some people following the sign, but most people just continuing on at 50 km/hr. It means that as a pedestrian you have no idea what speed drivers are going, and you get angry drivers dangerously overtaking drivers following the speed limit. When ever I drive through that section I put my cruise control to 30 km/hr and 100% of the time someone is tailgating me, it’s dreadfully slow for a long straight “highway”.