Whoa, people care about speed limits, what year is this?
It seems like this should be a news flash from 1973, but apparently no. It’s 2019 vintage. Imagine that, engineers want city planners to consider pedestrian and cyclist safety when setting speed limits, instead of mostly caring about how fast people want to drive.
Weep, wincing of teeth, etc. You know how they have particle accelerators to do science stuff? We should invent brain accelerators to do human stuff. Because here’s the thing: Just about everyone cares about pedestrian and cyclist safety. But somehow we forget all about it the minute we settle in behind the wheel. It’s not even our fault, much.
As I wrote in a series of columns recently (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) people in North America speed because our roads are too wide and straight for anything other than that. They are designed for efficient movement of cars (no, it doesn’t work; roads are clogged anyway but that’s because too many people drive because road designs don’t facilitate transit and active modes of transportation, we’re in a mess alright). You can’t possibly drive at safe speeds on most of our roads because the infrastructure screams at you to go faster and, being human, you respond to incentives. You hate crawling when you’re behind the wheel of a car, and a road that’s 60 feet wide with a 40km/h speed limit is just asking for it.
In Ottawa, I keep coming up to streets like that. Meadowlands is a prime example. It’s a residential street. It’s got schools and apartment buildings all over it. Loads of kids. And nowhere safe for them to walk to school because the roadway is twice as wide as it should be.
What we need to do is make roads less straight and much narrower. So that speeding feels unsafe to drivers. That’s the only thing that works. Scaring drivers into slowing down. For sure, have high speed limits where it makes sense, like on highways (100 km/h is ridiculously slow when the conditions are good) or big arterial roads like Hunt Club or Riverside, where pedestrians and cyclists shouldn’t go. But on shared streets? Put obstacles everywhere - bulb-outs, roundabouts, trees in the median, patios on the sidewalk, etc, to make drivers feel unsafe at anything over 40 km/h and you’ll see their habits change real quick.