July 3, 2014 8:06 pm

WHO cautions cities to slow down


For many, going 40 km/h is just too slow. Most Torontonians are used to the general 50 km/h speed limit on our city streets. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 50 km/h is too fast, and too dangerous.

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In a recent report on speed, the WHO cites that a reduction in speed could increase safety, reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities, and reduce congestion and energy use. According to the report, almost 50 per cent of pedestrian fatalities occur when a car is travelling anywhere between 45 and 50 km/h. But at a speed of 30 km/h, over 90 per cent of those hit by a car travelling at that speed survive. Based on the findings, the WHO is recommending cities reduce their general speed limit to increase safety.

But in a city like Toronto, is this feasible? Can the city put on the brakes and bring speed limits down from 50 km/h to 30?

According to Dylan Reid, the co-founder of Walk Toronto, there is a demand for a reduced speed limit and more safe, pedestrian friendly roadways.

“Reducing speed limits to 30 km/h has proved to save lives and reduces injuries and it makes people feel more comfortable in the street,” Reid says.

For the city of Toronto to adopt a 30 km/h general speed limit, Reid says it would be tricky.

“At the moment the city doesn’t really have an easy process and the only tool it has is speed bumps. What cities are doing around the world is they are coming up with comprehensive city wide plans and they are doing much more than speed bumps. They are doing other things like narrowing the entrances, changing the way the road has been laid out, adding trees – things that persuade people to drive more slowly.”

The issue of reducing speed limits on Toronto City streets has been a topic of discussion in the past. In 2012, Toronto’s Chief Medical officer, Dr. David McKeown advocated for a 30km/h speed limit on residential streets and a city wide speed limit of 40 km/h. McKeown said in a report titled, Road to Health: Improving Walking and Cycling in Toronto, that by cutting speed limits by 10 to 20 km/h the severity of injuries to pedestrians and cyclists was highly reduced.

The issue continues to be discussed today, with city council at odds as to whether or not to implement the recommendations. Councillor Paula Fletcher has expressed a real need for a reduction in speed limits.

“On Gerrard Street right now is 50 km/h. I think that would be great to have that at 40. There’s streetcars, there’s a lot going on there. 50 is actually pretty fast in the older part of the city. Every part of the city is different and I think it’s up to residents to say what their neighbourhood should look like. And if people want to get together and reduce speed limits on neighbourhood streets, local streets, larger streets, like Gerrard or Carlaw, in my ward I think that is great,” Fletcher told Global News.

On the other side of the street, Councillor Denis Minnan-Wong feels the idea just doesn’t make sense. “I don’t think we should have 30 km/h speed limits across the city of Toronto. That simply doesn’t make sense. You know Eglinton Ave., 6 lane roads, 9 at night, no traffic, going 30km/h, what kind of insanity is that,” Minnan-Wong said.

But Reid says the idea is good and one for the city to take seriously.

“What we are asking them is to create a process by which any residential community in Toronto can ask to become a 30 km/h slow zone, so that all the residential streets in that community will be down to 30 km/h and that would be accompanied by changes in infrastructure that will persuade people to drive more slowly that will create a comfort zone.”

With a municipal election just a few months away, groups like Walk Toronto, who are advocates for pedestrian safety, say they plan on pushing the various candidates to agree to a plan for future reduced speed limits to help decrease the number of fatalities and injuries down the road.

© 2014 Shaw Media

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