the prospect of reducing speed limits has surfaced in Winnipeg
City Council will be making a decision about speed limits in Winnipeg by September 1.
“A safe speed on roads with possible conflicts between cars and pedestrians, cyclists or other vulnerable road users is 30 km/h.” – World Health Organization, “Managing Speed”
Why 30 km/h?
30 km/h is a speed at which different modes of transport can mingle and be more or less safe: if a driver collides with a pedestrian at 50 km/h, they are almost certain to be killed. At 30 km/h, they are likely to have only a minor injury. Slower speeds is a crucial way to reduce risk and increase comfort in areas where children are expected to be playing in the streets, or where speeds are a barrier to people cycling more often.
If we look to countries with high walking and cycling rates, like the Netherlands, where 70% of urban roads are limited to 30 km/h, calm 30 km/h residential streets allow people driving, cycling, and walking to coexist peacefully where separate infrastructure is impractical.
“Where motorised vehicles and vulnerable road users share the same space, such as in residential areas, 30 km/h is the recommended maximum.”– International Transport Forum (OECD), “Speed and Crash Risk”
Truth: North American cities similar to Winnipeg are already adopting lower speed limits
Everyone idealizes the roads in the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany. But there are lots of other cities where residential speeds have been reduced to 30 km/h, or the equivalent 20 mph.
- Within Canada
Myth #2: It will have huge negative impacts on traffic.
Truth: Traffic impacts will be minimal, and potentially even positive
Arterial Streets (e.g. Portage, Main, Regent, St. Mary’s, McPhillips, Kenaston) will not be affected by lower speed limits. Residential streets are those where people typically wouldn’t drive through unless they lived in the neighbourhood, or were visiting someone who did. Reduced residential speeds will add only seconds to a commute because they comprise only small portion of any trip.
Even so, that’s not the whole story: reduced residential speeds will dramatically increase the number of streets where it is safe and pleasant to walk and cycle, which can actually reduce the traffic on arterial roads. We have lots of room to make this change.
Of the 8 largest Canadian cities, Winnipeg has the highest rate of downtown commuters who drive less than 5km to work – 72.2% (StatsCan). This number drops to 24.9% in Toronto. Reduced speed limits give people safe and pleasant cycling and walking routes, providing an alternative to vehicle trips.
Traffic has changed in recent decades
There are more vehicles on the road than there used to be. Traffic volumes and speeds have changed significantly over time, caused by urban sprawl and a rise in dual-income families. Increased traffic on roads poses the biggest threat to people outside of cars, notably children. In places with large amounts of calmed 30 km/h streets — think the Netherlands, Belgium, and Finland — it is still common for even young children to play in the streets and cycle independently. In fact, in the city of Odense, Denmark (population 200,000), official city policy is that “routes to schools should be sufficiently safe for those aged six or older to cycle along if the family chooses” (The Guardian).
In Winnipeg, allowing a 6-year old to cycle to school unattended would likely be perceived as neglectful and reckless, which shows that we don’t actually think our streets are all that safe. Unfortunately we have responded to safety concerns by pulling children from the street rather than making the streets safe. The places that chose to change the street environment are now reaping the benefits of a happier, healthier, and less car-dependent population, in addition to a memorable childhood full of adventure and exploration.
Myth #3: Lower speed limits won’t have an impact on collisions.
Truth: Reduced speed limits reduce injuries and deaths
“Every 1% increase in average speed results in a 2% increase in all injury crashes, a 3% rise in fatal and severe crashes and 4% more fatal crashes” (International Transportation Forum). This is why the OECD International Transport Forum recommends 30 km/h speed limits in urban areas where vehicles share space with vulnerable road users (e.g. people riding bikes, children).
We also know through our Active and Safe Routes to School Program that traffic concerns are a strong deterrent for parents to allow their children to walk and bike/wheel to school. If families aren’t confident in the safety of their streets, most caregivers with the option end up driving children to their destinations. This leads to a vicious cycle in which fewer and fewer children are present in streets; with less kids we no longer take for granted that children should be playing and exploring outside, and we see less justification for measures that would make them safer.
Canadian children are among the most sedentary in the world. This means our children are at high risk of preventable physical and mental health problems. Essentially, taking children out of the street environment, we have changed the threat. Instead of being menaced by vehicles, they are being menaced by chronic disease. In order to reverse the trend of children being driven everywhere, and allow for the kind of free play that they need for their development, we need child-friendly streets, which includes lower speeds and other traffic calming measures.
“Fear of traffic can affect peoples’ quality of life and the needs of vulnerable road users must be fully taken into account in order to further encourage these modes of travel and improve their safety.” – UK Department for Transport, “Setting local speed limits”
Myth #4: Speed limit changes and infrastructure will cost too much
Truth: Lower speed limits and traffic calming infrastructure are affordable
Lowering the speed limit is only part of the puzzle. Changing driving behaviours also requires measures to reduce traffic volumes and speeds based on road design.
Even now, there are pockets of residential streets that are more conducive to slower speeds due to characteristics like narrow roadways and a mature tree canopy, which act to calm traffic.
Traffic calming doesn’t need to be prohibitively expensive; there are quick-build methods of traffic calming that can be rolled out cheaply (e.g. staggered parking, simple poles, and curb bumpouts). 30 km/h residential speed limits aren’t a new concept, which means that we can take ideas that have worked elsewhere. Janette Sadik-Khan, who is credited with New York City’s major cycling and pedestrianization revitalization, put it best: there’s no patent on pavement. Good ideas can and should be stolen! We just need to decide to take action on enabling safe, healthy transportation.
If we do not address the urgent need to shift people to healthier forms of transportation, we will continue to be burdened with the many social, health, and economic problems resulting from unsafe streets and vehicle dependence. We can’t afford the consequences of the status quo. Safe speeds will lower health care costs, save billions on infrastructure, and lead to a happier, healthier population.
“We envision a city where all children and youth have the opportunity to walk, bike or roll to school safely and, at times, independently… The streets in Winnipeg are unsafe for children to travel to school or to their friends’ houses or other activities because of high speeds (and) high volumes of cars on those roads.” – Denae Penner, Green Action Centre Active and Safe Routes to School, Winnipeg Free Press
Lower Speed Limits Means Fewer Deaths – International Transport Forum, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
Europe’s most liveable city? The secret of Odense’s post-industrial revolution – The Guardian
Love 30 Canada – https://love30.ca/
Hi, Sean – I hope you are doing well!
Based on your last post, it sounds like what you’re saying is that you know your crash stats aren’t related to residential streets but that you just want the speed limits lowered so parents FEEL safer about letting their 6-year-olds ride their bikes unattended on the road. Do I have that right?
By the way, the Dutch kids don’t bike safely to school because of randomly-set roadway speed limits. This video may give you more insight into how it works there, and as you’ll see it has little to do with just lowering limits so kids can bike among the cars:
Road cyclists can easily reach speeds of over 40kph with a tail wind, or when riding with a group and switching front riders. Even riding solo, a 40kph speed is not uncommon during a hard interval. It would be frustrating to be restricted to 30kph. Riding on residential streets is a way to avoid clogging traffic up on main routes. If residential streets are 30kph than experienced cyclists (30kph+ riders) will be forced onto main routes which is far more dangerous. 30kph is too low for everyone.
As a commuting cyclist forget about lowering the speed limit. That is a waste of tax money. More bike paths, bike lanes, and actually plow the bike lanes to the curb so they are clear in the winter! Please advocate for more police presence along riverside bike trails as I’ve had some risky encounters along them. Better cycling infrastructure will naturally pull drivers off the road onto bikes. People respond better to positive reinforcement to start cycling than punishment for driving.
Thanks for sharing! We are absolutely in support of more separated infrastructure and winter maintenance, but with the caveat that placing separated paths on every street is impossible and not necessarily even desirable. This is why we look to international experience with multimodal and reduced-speed streets as a safe and cost-effective way to boost cycling, and why we defer to the WHO and OECD for best practices. We don’t consider reduced-speed local streets as separate from cycling infrastructure, but rather a means to expand the reach of the cycling network so that people of all ages and abilities can safely and comfortably ride bikes where they need to go. The perspective of an 8-year old who wishes to ride their bike to school legally (i.e. on the roadway) is different from that of an experienced adult cyclist who is also a licensed driver, and our infrastructure needs to accommodate the most vulnerable.
I also think that collector streets best fit the type of road cycling you describe, rather than local or “residential” streets. Otherwise, a road cyclist would encounter stop signs at every block. To be clear, Safe Speeds Winnipeg advocates for 30 km/h on local roads and 40 km/h for collector roads. Since these details are crucial to understanding what is being proposed, we just posted a FAQ page to clear up some misconceptions about what it means to lower default speed limits- I think that might interest you, as I believe we share the same concerns!
Ridiculous! Even the Highway Traffic Board of Manitoba doesn’t believe it’s a good idea – see the extract: “Requests to lower speed limits are an often occurrence. However, unrealistically low speed limits
may cause an increase in collisions. Many studies conducted throughout North America have shown
that driver’s speed is mainly affected by the context of the road and not by speed limit signs. Also,
some drivers will obey the lower speed limit while others will feel it is unreasonable and therefore
ignore it. This creates a disruption in vehicular traffic and increases the potential for collisions
between slower and faster drivers. Research has shown that when the majority of motorists travel at
the same speed, the likelihood of a collision is minimized. When motorists do not travel at similar
speeds, other road users, including pedestrians, will have difficulty judging the speed of approaching
vehicles and hence chances of a collision are increased. Artificially low speed limits breed disrespect
and will not be complied with except with extensive enforcement.”
We absolutely agree that changing the context of the road is the most effective way of lowering vehicle speeds! This is a key component of a safe systems approach to transportation, and the basis for Vision Zero initiatives worldwide. I hope the blog was clear with “Myth #4” that a speed limit change for residential streets should be accompanied with traffic calming measures. We’ve had our eyes on both Edmonton and Calgary as they come up with innovative ways to roll these out cheaply and efficiently.
Unfortunately I don’t think lowering speed limits will help for safety, could help for pollution. No matter what the posted speed, it is whether people obey, and if there is enforcement. People speed now and are not ticketed in residential areas.
You’re right that just changing a sign does not have an enormous impact on driver behaviour. This is why traffic calming is so important, and why we need everyone to better understand the benefits of lower speed limits in residential areas. Enforcement is a part of that, yes, but that will always be an uphill battle when in many cases streets have been built or altered over time to support rapid vehicle movement at the expense of other uses. Ideally the street would have elements that will naturally influence drivers to drive at the desired lower speed, and we hope that Winnipeg will draw lessons from cities where these have been successfully retrofit!
This is a pointless change, the statistics show that the VAST MAJORITY of the accidents your petition hopes to prevent have been on the major streets that you claim won’t be affected.
Thanks for posting! We support reduced residential speeds because they increase the comfort and safety of vulnerable road users – children, seniors, people on bikes, etc. – while having a negligible impact on travel time for people in cars. The nice thing is that reduced residential speeds are not a new concept, and there are precedents that show the positive effects. For example, Dutch kids can cycle to school safely in massive numbers at an age before Canadian children are typically allowed to walk, in part due to their high number of urban roads limited to 30 km/h that allow people of all ages and abilities to cycle anywhere. Their cyclist injury rate is a fraction of ours, despite much higher numbers of people riding. Additionally, for as much as the Netherlands is a cycling country, they were also ranked #1 in the Waze driver satisfaction survey for a number of years in a row. Giving people alternatives to driving short distances benefits everyone, including those who need to drive.
People drive slow enough as it is you push the limit to 40 they’ll drive 20 you push it to 30 they’ll drive 10 stop citing things that have nothing to do with the issue as stated in earlier comments