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Calgary councillors to debate reducing residential road speed limits, possible plebiscite

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Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell joins Global News Morning Calgary live via Skype with details on what we can expect at city council Monday as councillors debate whether or not to put the decision of lowering residential speed limits to a city-wide vote – Feb 1, 2021

Calgary city council will decide Monday whether to reduce speed limits in residential neighbourhoods or leave the decision up to Calgarians.

City administration is recommending council vote to reduce the unposted speed limit on most residential streets to 40 km/h from 50 km/h, and post signage indicating a 50 km/h speed limit on collector roadways.

Residential streets are described as streets that primarily access homes, while collector roads are usually larger thoroughfares connecting with larger road networks, often with strip malls and bus lines.

“We know this is an issue for Calgarians, there’s very little impact to commute times,” Farrell said. “We know we can save money, we know we can save lives, why wouldn’t we take this opportunity.”

According to a city report, nearly a quarter of all collisions in Calgary, an average of 9,100 collisions per year, happen on residential streets each year with around 550 resulting in injury or death.

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Read more: Calgary committee recommends lower residential speed limits

Although the long-term goal for the city is to reduce residential speed limits to 30 km/h, the city report said the initial reduction to 40 km/h represents an important first step towards reducing the frequency and severity of those collisions.

“We know we can improve safety and improve those outcomes, and as a result, not just save lives but save money,” Farrell said.

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, a local emergency room physician, supports a reduction in residential speed limits.

Bhardwaj said pedestrians struck by a vehicle going 40 km/h have a 60 per cent chance of survival, which increases to 90 per cent when the vehicle is travelling 30 km/h.

“It’s not just a matter of living or dying, it’s a matter of all the damage that gets done,” Bhardwaj said. “So if you get hit by a car at any significant speed, there’s a chance of broken bones, there’s a chance of concussion, there’s a chance of shattered organs. And all of those things are obviously a huge factor in shattering people’s lives as well.”

Read more: Calgary city council to consider putting residential speed limit changes to plebiscite

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Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas acknowledges speed and safety in residential neighbourhoods is an issue in the city but wants to see the city take a different approach to improving safety.

“I’ve been hearing from my constituents that they want to see a focus on case-by-case changes and improvements, rather than just changing the speed limits city-wide and then saying the job is done,” Farkas said. “In some cases, a change in speed limit is appropriate, in some places improvements to sightlines are needed, some areas (may need) flashing beacons, it’s not a one size fits all solution.”

Farkas said he supports the question of residential speed limit reductions to Calgarians as a ballot question during the upcoming municipal election in October.

Last November, city council voted 8-6 to explore the feasibility of holding a plebiscite on the issue.

However, city administration is now recommending against a plebiscite, citing several risks including confusion, polarization and technical complexities with the issue.

In the council report, the administration said a city-wide vote on speed limit reductions may result in a “reduced willingness of future councils to make public health and safety decisions without undertaking a vote on a question.”

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Read more: City administration recommends dropping residential speed limits in Calgary to 40 km/h

Farrell agrees with the administration’s recommendation to reject a plebiscite.

“I think council members are elected to make decisions based on a whole bunch of information that you can’t put on a ballot,” Farrell said.

Councillors will be asked at Monday’s strategic meeting of council to explore the idea of also adding questions to the municipal election ballot about re-introducing fluoride to the city’s water supply and the city’s fiscal framework with the province.

“We need to have the political guts and the political will to make tough decisions, and we do that all the time,” Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley said. “None of these really meet the threshold of my willingness to spend the mass amounts of money that it takes to bring back something that’s non-binding.”

Meanwhile, Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart announced a notice of motion that would set an implementation date for reduced residential speed limits by May 31, 2021.

The motion also calls for a report on progress to be delivered to city council by no later than the second quarter of 2022.

Edmonton, Airdrie, and Banff have already dialled back speed limits in residential neighbourhoods.

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–with files from Global News’ Adam Toy

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