Crosswalks, Playground Zones, and residential speed limits.

This week Council will be talking about playground zones and residential speed limits. Improving the safety of road users is paramount - but we need to better understand our priorities and look at the whole picture to find the best way forward.

REELING IN PLAYGROUND ZONES

In September 2017, Council voted unanimously to create 30 km/h zones around playgrounds where children play, extending current school zones to where kids play before and after school and on weekends.

While the changes to playground zones are sensible and backed by research and collision data - the current definition of a playground zone is too broad and resulted in a fair bit of confusion about why certain choices were made.

As I promised during my campaign, I will be voting to scale this back on April 24th and have worked with other councillors and administration to find a solution that can remove some of the zones where there is no playground equipment and where use is not primarily by children. A vote on a motion to this effect should occur tomorrow.

Also we will be continuing the debate on residential speed zones. I think there we need to shift our focus to prioritizing investments in improving crosswalks and we need to have a longer and more thoughtful conversation with the public about residential speed zones. Let me explain why.

SLOWING DOWN THE SLOWDOWN

The public engagement report on residential speed limits that was brought to Council on April 18th suggested that a majority of Edmontonians support slowing down on their local neighbourhood roads with a 30 km/h speed limit supported by 38% of respondents and a 40 km/h speed limit supported by 34% of respondents. While slowing down may reduce pedestrian and vehicle collisions, it also may not. We need to remember that speed should be placed in a hierarchy of safety priorities.

I’m not yet convinced that imposing speed limits of 30 or 40 km/h for absolutely all local roads is the most effective tool to improve pedestrian safety and reduce pedestrian collisions.

There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, implementation of this will be very contentious and difficult. Our road classification system is inconsistent and somewhat vague so either implementation may be poor or considerable time and money may be needed to properly re-classify and/or re-sign our roads.

Secondly, there are other improvements where we should focus our time, effort and money on. There seems to be little data presently showing a huge need for expeditious implementation of slower speed limits on local roads.

FOCUSING ON WHAT MATTERS

Pending requested data from the Office of Traffic Safety my gut feeling is that we have a bigger issue with pedestrian-vehicle collisions at crosswalks than we do with people walking in residential neighbourhoods. Talking with constituents, crosswalks are brought up much more often than anything other traffic safety related issue.

Engineering enhancements to crosswalk and road infrastructure is likely the most efficient use of our money to improve traffic safety. This can mean crosswalk upgrades such as flashing amber lights or pedestrian islands. Many communities throughout Edmonton have asked for crosswalk upgrades only to find themselves waiting years and years before an upgrade is done. All this despite crosswalks being the major area of car and pedestrian interaction and collisions. If we are trying to make communities safer then let’s stay focused and be measurably effective with our policy choices.

A pedestrian safety island in St. Louis | http://bit.ly/2qQxR1Q

Don’t get me wrong - I see merit in arguments for lowering residential speed limits. But we need to be careful and thoughtful in our approach for Edmonton. If we change residential speed limits, we should not be using such a wide brush to paint all residential neighbourhoods in Edmonton. There are many ways to implement changes to speed zones and we must have complete and thoughtful discussions with the communities and public to make sure when we do change them we don’t leave room for any major missteps.

BUILDING A COMPREHENSIVE PLAN

We will be talking about playground zones and speed limits at tomorrow’s (April 24) council meeting. The larger Vision Zero Road Safety Strategy annual report and its work plan is due to Community and Public Services Committee on May 2nd. These are strategies with the same goal - improving road system with regards to safety. Let’s understand them comprehensively and in what order and priority we should place each of these strategies by looking at the whole picture.

Garnering a comprehensive understanding of our traffic safety priorities we will allow us to make informed decisions during the 4 year Capital and Operating budgets, both coming this fall. Let’s set our focus on where we can save the most lives and reduce the most pain, such as at crosswalks, and slow down on the slowdown, for now,  so that we can get it done right.