Special Report: Walkable Streets

Bristol Moves Ahead With 32 km/h Speed Limit

Bristol is moving quickly to establish a safer speed limit over much of the city, while Hamilton insists on a five-year pilot in the North End before considering any other reductions.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 10, 2014

The City of Bristol, a municipality of around 430,000 in southwest England, has officially started to establish a 32 km/h (20 mph) speed limit across several large areas. The new limits will be implemented in six phases between now and March 2015.

According to George Ferguson, the mayor of Bristol, "The pilot areas in Bedminster and East Bristol have shown that reduced speed limits can and do improve pedestrian and cycle safety, reduce the negative impact of anti-social speeding to our communities and support people to become more active, through increased cycling and walking."

The City introduced two pilot projects in May and October 2010, published the results of their study [PDF] in March 2012, and voted to roll out the lower speed limit more widely in July 2012. The first phase of the full rollout starts on January 20, 2014.

They've launched a website to explain and promote the plan, noting that residents of the two pilot areas overwhelmingly (89%) supported the lower speed limit after it was introduced.

The 32 km/h speed limit is not chosen at random. According to a 1997 British Department of Transport report titled Killing Speed and Saving Lives, a pedestrian hit by a motor vehicle has a 5 percent chance of dying if the vehicle is moving at 32 km/h. At 48 km/h (30 mph) the risk of death jumps to 45 percent, and at 64 km/h (50 mph) the risk of death jumps to a staggering 85 percent.

Five Year Pilot in Hamilton

The City of Hamilton recently established a 30 km/h speed limit on most North End streets, with the exception of James Street North and Burlington Street. This summer, City workers installed 30 km/h speed limit signs, painted zebra crossings and installed curb bumpouts to slow traffic.

North End curb bumpouts (RTH file photo)
North End curb bumpouts (RTH file photo)

This is an encouraging development for Hamilton, but for one nagging problem: when our Council approved the North End traffic plan, one condition was to impose a five-year moratorium on allowing any other neighbourhoods to ask for a 30 km/h speed limit as well.

Assuming Council is ever prepared to let other neighbourhoods establish evidence-based safe speed limits, it will be at least five years before Councillors even consider such a request.

Two years was enough for Bristol to determine that a lower speed limit improves safety and quality of life enough to warrant a major rollout over the city. Why does Hamilton need to wait five?

Move Quickly to Adopt Widely

If neighbourhood traffic calming is a good idea - and it has been proven successful in every city that has tried it - we should be moving as quickly as is prudent to give other neighbourhoods the tools to make their streets safer as well.

It is wonderful that the North End has defined itself as a "family-friendly" neighbourhood. It's a powerful statement about the importance of making our city a place where people are welcome, including children.

But every city neighbourhood should have an equal opportunity to define itself as a family-friendly place to live. Do do less is to denigrate the city's vision, which includes being "the best place in Canada to raise a child".

Council needs to do the right thing, lift the ridiculous five-year moratorium and allow other neighbourhoods to move quickly toward a similar 30 km/h speed limit if and when the evidence indicates that the North End speed limit is working.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Northend (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 15:53:31

Nobody, save for 1 person, disagrees with or want the removal of 30kph. Everyone accepts it.

If it wasn't for the cabal-minded antics of a few (we don't want people driving to see their waterfront), this would have gone much more smoothly.

There are many issues with the hard infrastructure 'improvements' that are part of the North End Traffic management plan, yet

The 30kph speed limits on our residential streets are not one of them. I would press it as an election issue for any ward you would also like to see this.

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By durandette (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 16:03:12

But Bristol is a bit smaller then Hamilton so something that works there won't work here, we're DIIIIIFFFERRRENT.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted January 19, 2014 at 11:53:08 in reply to Comment 96659

you're right Bristol is a bit smaller than Hamilton. By about 90%. Most of their population lives in apartments, condos and such the concept of single family homes though not unknown is extremely rare and very expensive. Car ownership though rising is still a tiny fraction of what it is in Hamilton and North America. When the entire city only takes up 40 square miles how far can it be to commute to work? Combine that with the warmer weather and transit cycling and walking are king.

Other then that Hamilton and Bristol are a lot alike. Hardly DIIIIIFFFERRRENT at all.

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By Bristolite (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 18:21:52 in reply to Comment 96659

Area: 110 km²
4000 people per km²

Urban 227.70 km²
No fair figure for density comparison but definitely not 4k per km²

However, lower speed limits would be nice. 45km or so on arterial and 30km on residential.

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By Fiveway (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 18:10:01 in reply to Comment 96659

Good point. Better commission several years worth of studies.

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By beancounter (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 16:39:28

Bristol is not that different. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia for the city:

" Since 2000 the city council has included a light rail system in its local transport plan, but has so far been unwilling to fund the project. The city was offered European Union funding for the system, but the Department for Transport did not provide the required additional funding."

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 16:50:16

Wikipedia: "Average peak time speeds in Bristol are 16 mph (26 km/h), the lowest of the eight English 'core cities'"

Signage seems to be a formality.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted January 19, 2014 at 12:00:52 in reply to Comment 96664

Cycling really makes sense.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 17:43:16

One city values quality of life, safety and livable neighbourhoods. The other values speeding cars.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted January 13, 2014 at 07:51:53 in reply to Comment 96668

Would that Hamilton had a rail station as historic, connected and frequented (8-9 million passengers annually) as Bristol Temple Mead.

And similarly calm residential streets. Do councillors and neighbourhood associations hold so little sway?

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By Thank you (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 17:55:08

Dear Ryan,

Just wanted to say thank you for all the work you do to keep people informed and try to improve Hamilton.

I can only imagine how much work it takes to stay on top of all that's happening.

You're articles are much appreciated. Please keep them coming.


One of many grateful RTH post readers.

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By Moron (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2014 at 14:47:26 in reply to Comment 96671

insult spam deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2014-01-12 14:28:53

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By Hate bullies (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2014 at 18:05:03 in reply to Comment 96725

insult spam deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2014-01-12 14:29:05

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 18:02:57

So council won't let any other neighbourhoods ask for 30 km/h speed limits for 5 years? That's ok. I'm fine with a 32 km/h limit.

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By j (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 20:23:28

the moratorium is so weird and probably illegal. Council can't fetter its own discretion. If a councillor brings a motion for a 30 kph area it would be totally undemocratic not to entertain it because of this.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 23:23:31

Although 30 km/hr speed limits are a step forward, a far better way to improve safety in residential neighbourhoods is through the use of the Dutch concept known as "Duurzaam Veilig" which translates as "Sustainable Safety."

Among other things, this requires that residential streets NOT be through streets for car drivers, but only for walking, cycling and public transit. Comprehensively eliminating "rat-running" cut-through car drivers not only improves safety, but also helps to achieve the goal of making walking, cycling or public transit the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of going from A to B for urban destinations.

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By ratrunner (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2014 at 07:30:15 in reply to Comment 96698

I "Rat run" in hamilton to avoid the arterial roads, because I find driving slower in 1 lane of traffic less stressful than playing frogger on main and king.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted January 11, 2014 at 13:37:52

I checked the link to the Bristol Post and noticed at the end the comments are much more polite and thoughtful than on our equivalent forum, the Hamilton Spectator.
One starts out like this:

I see your point thatwontfit. In response, some points to consider include...

I didn't see one rude comment on the first page. I thought Canadians were supposed to be too polite!

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted January 12, 2014 at 12:56:19 in reply to Comment 96721

Most Canadians weren't raised with the culture of polite arguing English people have. One of our problems is proximity to the U.S. and FOX news-style ignorance.

It's too bad. There's nothing better than listening to an argument stated politely.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2014 at 16:54:58 in reply to Comment 96721

The riots help let off the steam.

That and the homegrown: Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead, Banksy...

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By sselway (registered) | Posted January 11, 2014 at 22:41:00

Not only Bristol, but Paris and London. Evidently the Department of Transport think there are fewer collisions, and greater safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

"Good news from London: Just a couple of days after the deputy mayor of Paris announced his plans to widely enlarge 30 km/h speed limits, London authorities revealed that the British capital could get a 20mph speed limit introduced on all residential roads and high streets by 2020."

Paris- http://en.30kmh.eu/2013/06/04/great-news...

London- http://www.standard.co.uk/news/transport...

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By Serendipity (registered) | Posted January 12, 2014 at 13:50:44

In the mid to late nineties a "20's Plenty" (20 mph) campaign began in Warrington, England. There were so many communities wishing 20 mph neighbourhoods that local authorities couldn't keep up with the approval procedures. Today, over 12 million people in neighbourhoods throughout England enjoy the myriad of benefits of 20 mph (30k)

In 2006, North End residents used the 20's Plenty success in England as part of their desire to have the same. Checking online one can see there are plenty of towns and cities that are committed to 20's Plenty and have scores of organizations backing them. After our initial presentation 7 years ago, Bob Bratina (then Ward 2 Councillor) was the only City person who signed a Commitment to 30k in the North End. Perhaps he is the person to speak to in regards to overturning Hart Solomon's draconian measure of not allowing any neighbourhood, other than the North End, to have 30k. Please remember, it was Hart who introduced a bylaw in 2007 that forbids speeds lower than 50k in the City, save for school areas and, now, the North End.

If memory serves me right, some towns in England were not willing wait for formal approval of 20mph and were encouraged by officials to make their streets 20mph any which way they could. One town did just that and started to take up the street bricks to force drivers to slow down to 20mph.

No town or city had to wait for a 20's Plenty pilot project to wrap up before having a livable, and wonderful, 30k neighbourhood. No neighbourhood in Hamilton should have to wait for our North End pilot project to end either.

Talk to Mayor Bratina - he supported us in 2006 and am sure he would support further 30k neighbourhoods without the needless wait. As well, there are quite a few doctors at Mac who have been shouting about slower residential speeds for some years now. Back in 2006, Drs. Brian McCarry and Dennis Corr supported our 30k initiative. And, now that Hart Solomon is not here to raise a fuss about livable, breathable, safe neighbourhoods (and how we shouldn't have them), well, anything and everything is possible to get 30k where you live.

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By Stinson (registered) | Posted January 14, 2014 at 23:42:18

Driving in Bristol isn't getting any easier - city remains Britain's most Congested


"The figures will be a major blow to city council’s transport chiefs, who would have hoped new showcase bus routes and cycle tracks created in the past year would have reduced congestion."

And the speed limit is not enforced? Doesn't sound like a success story (yet).

Comment edited by Stinson on 2014-01-14 23:53:00

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