When It Comes to Our Streets
Spring and summer bring Edmontonians out to enjoy the warm weather walking, rollerblading, and cycling. But as anyone who has gone cycling on a busy roadway knows, sharing space with cars can feel dangerous. I avoid walking on Jasper Avenue because the fast-moving cars exfoliate my skin with sand. Is sharing the streets alongside vehicles safe at the current speed limits?
On March 11, city council voted 8-5 to reduce the core zone speed limit to 40 km/h on residential streets, with the exception of arteries like 124 Street, 116 Street, and 104 Avenue. However, some citizen advocates and organizations felt that 30 km/h would have been a better choice. So is the reduction to 40 km/h enough?
In order to respond to the question, we must ask: who do the streets serve? The answer is everyone. All of us need to move freely in the city. Our streets are shared spaces between pedestrians, bicycles, wheelchairs, walkers, cars, and strollers.
“The data shows that the people that are walking, riding their bikes, people that have a stroller with them, or are using a wheelchair or a walker, all of them have a 90 per cent chance of surviving a car running into them when the speed is 30 km/h or lower,” said Sarah Hoyles, executive director of Paths for People, a non-profit dedicated to better infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians. This data was reported in a 2004 report from the World Health Organization, which also states that an increase in speed from 30 km/h to 45 km/h reduces the change of surviving an impact from 90 per cent to less than 50 per cent. In 2015 the City of Edmonton adopted their Vision Zero policy—a goal of zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries—and there is no doubt 30 km/h would have gotten us closer to that target.
But what about the argument that a higher speed limit allows us to get where we need to go more quickly? Would automobiles lose time if speed limits were lowered? “In some cases, no and in some cases, yes. But 20 seconds, 30 seconds, maybe a minute,” Hoyles said, noting that most commuters are using the arterial roads where the speeds would not have changed. Hoyles continued, “The time lost are lives gained. And the time that’s lost are truly seconds.”
There is an economic argument to lower speed limits as well, particularly on high streets or areas with shopping and restaurants. People drive our core economy, not motor vehicles. “People that are walking and biking actually make more unplanned stops because they have the ability to do so. They don’t have to find that parking spot. They are able to stop, go in, do some window shopping and make more purchases. So walkability actually builds our economy,” said Hoyles.
The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated how little space we have in the core, when residents of dense communities struggle to leave their homes and still safely practice social distancing. In April, the city opened lanes of Saskatchewan Drive and Victoria Promenade to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. These changes were made for the benefit of all users and all ages to safely use the streets, but it shouldn’t take a pandemic for us to increase the shared use space in our communities. Let’s make the streets safer and more accessible for all by continuing the push for a 30 km/h speed limit.
Chris Sikkenga is an artist, writer and podcaster who enjoys bad movies and any restaurant sandwich named after Elvis.