By Ryan McGreal
Published November 15, 2010
By chance, last week I was in Toronto's historic Beaches waterfront neighbourhood, just east of the downtown core. They seem to have no problem maintaining a residential speed limit of 30 km/h.
30 km/h sign on a residential street in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood
A 30 km/h speed limit isn't just a "nice to have" urban amenity. According to a 1997 study by the UK Department of Transport, vehicle speed is a decisive factor in the fatality rate of collisions between automobiles and pedestrians.
At 32 km/h, the fatality rate is just five percent. At 48 km/h, it jumps to 45 percent. At 64 km/h (the fast edge of the so-called "Green Wave" on downtown Hamilton's timed streetlights), the death rate reaches a devastating 85 percent.
Fatality Rate by Vehicle Speed (Source: Killing Speed and Saving Lives, UK Department of Transport, 1997)
Of course, it's not enough just to set a lower speed limit and expect motorists to comply. Lower speed limits must be coupled with real changes in street configuration to send drivers a clear psychological message to slow down: narrower lanes, two-way traffic flows, curbside parking, overhanging street trees, and so on. (Traffic calming is more effective than frequent stop signs at reining in aggressive motorists.)