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Council votes to have staff change traffic bylaw to make more streets 30km/h
On Thursday, Victoria council adopted a recommendation directing staff to prepare amendments to the Streets and Traffic Bylaw to reduce the speed limits on local neighbourhood streets to 30km/h.
Council heard from the director of engineering and public works in June that collisions between vehicles and “vulnerable road users”—pedestrians and cyclists—correlated with an 85% probability of death at 50km/h, which is the default speed limit for the city’s streets unless otherwise posted. The probability of death drops to 30% at 40km/h and 10% at 30km/h or less.
The new limit would not apply to roadways not designated as local neighbourhood streets: the main arteries, secondary arteries (e.g. Fort, Government), collector streets (e.g. Fernwood from Fort to Hillside, Foul Bay from Fairfield to Oak Bay boundary), downtown core streets, and any streets with limits already below 30km/h. Non-local, unaffected streets are listed here as Schedule A. The lower-limit streets are listed here as Schedule B. The streets that would be lowered to 30km/h are the Schedule B ones currently at 40km/h.
At Councillor Ben Isitt’s urging, council also directed staff to report back within a year on the progress of the speed limit changes and to provide recommendations for reducing the speed limits on city streets that are not designated as local roads, such as Toronto Street.
Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe voted against the motion along with Councillor Geoff Young, who said, “In my view, this whole effort is really an effort by the council to say, ‘Look how green we are. Look how woke we are.’” An intermediate step of lowering the speed limit to 40km/h seemed more reasonable, he said, and had “much greater possibility of being achieved.”
Councillor Stephen Andrew, who is running for mayor in the fall, suggested that he would have voted against the motion too if not for the optics. “I'm going to support it because this will get framed as Councillor Andrew doesn't support public safety,” he said. “But I say to the public, and this is really where my comments are directed, ‘Don't be fooled by this, because it is not going to make that much of a difference. People are still going to speed.’”
Andrew said his James Bay constituents have let him know that speeding on residential streets is a “huge issue” and he understands that “a car approaching a pedestrian at 40km is going to have a different outcome than it is at 30.”
But for the city to achieve Vision Zero (its goal of no traffic fatalities or serious injuries) it would need to rely on a combination of engineering, enforcement, and education—and Andrew argued that enforcement just isn't happening.
“They cannot enforce speed limits in James Bay right now,” he said. “They do not have the resources.”
“For the people who do speed in residential neighbourhoods,” Councillor Jeremy Loveday said, “announcing that there isn't the ability to enforce probably isn't helpful.”
Councillor Sarah Potts expressed doubt that a significant number of Victorians would become scofflaws.
“Some people are always going to speed, that's for sure,” she said. “But that's not that's not what I believe that the majority would do. It's not what the majority do now. And I think that when we keep talking about this and then keep rolling this out, and people understand, ‘Whoa, actually if I was going 40 and now I go 30, I might not kill somebody,’ I think that's huge. And I think people would really listen to that.”
Saanich council has also brought forward a “Vision Zero” report on ways to prevent traffic-related deaths, and in March its council voted to lower speed limits to 30 km/h on streets without a continuous yellow median. This move came after the province was reluctant to approve a 2021 joint pilot project proposal from Saanich, Oak Bay, Esquimalt, Sidney, and View Royal that would have lowered all of their limits in concert.
The province had modified the Motor Vehicle Act in 2019 to allow local-level pilot projects testing new policies or technologies. The Greater Victoria municipalities expected to change speeds in 2021 through this framework, but the province argued that the municipalities had the power to make this particular change through their own bylaws and did not need a pilot to do so. Victoria had also tried to launch 30km/h pilot, but, like Saanich, has opted to go this bylaw route instead.
Lowering residential speed limits is preferred by a majority of BC residents, according to a recent survey, although on the Island that majority was lower (58%) than in other regions. In that survey, more women than men, and more younger people than older people, said they supported lowering the speed limits. The Island had the highest percentage of people saying they “definitely” supported lowering, but a comparatively small percentage saying they “probably” did.
Street safety has once again been a public focus this month after several serious collisions involving pedestrians; Capital Daily looked last week at the 15 most dangerous intersections in the region.