EDITORIAL: Speed limits need a rethink

The debate around the current 50 km/h default speed limit in British Columbia will be front and centre at next month’s UBCM

The debate around the current 50 km/h default speed limit in British Columbia, and by extension, much of North America, will be front and centre at next month’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.

While UBCM won’t release its final list of resolutions until the week before the event, City of Victoria councillors are confident their unanimous suggestion to lower the default speed limit to 40 km/h is an idea worth their counterparts’ time.

The “us versus them mentality” that tends to flare up between drivers and alternative transportation advocates is a misguided and nonconstructive approach, particularly when one examines the majority of Capital Region community plans that call for greater emphasis on cycling and pedestrian-friendly greenways.

But will lowering the default speed limit on residential streets by 10 km/hr really serve that end?

B.C. Coroner Barb McLintock, who also sits on the Capital Regional District’s traffic safety commission, notes there hasn’t been a pedestrian or cyclist fatality on a residential road in the Capital Region for five years, although she admits injury statistics are more difficult to calculate.

But safety is only one piece of a complex puzzle that hasn’t been rethought since the 1950s, when speed limits were set primarily to fan the embers of urban sprawl.

The CRD traffic commission, comprised of police, public health, school and government officials, plans to issue a public stance on lowering the default speed limit in September just before the UBCM convention.

Yet even if the speed limit resolution fails or the province chooses to ignore it, Victoria councillors will likely still push on with a 40 km/h pilot study in James Bay, something the local neighbourhood association has been requesting for nearly two decades.

And as Victoria Coun. Shellie Gudgeon points out, speed limits on main transportation arteries like Blanshard Street could even be raised to accommodate vehicles.

A 40 km/h default speed limit won’t create a cohesive approach to shared road space overnight, but it is an effective conversation starter to rethink 70 years of unencumbered car-centric infrastructure development.

Local groups like the Saanich-based Community Advocates for Reduced Speed are doing well to spur on debate across the Capital Region, whose municipalities should join Victoria in advocating for a lower default speed limit across B.C.