Special Report: Walkable Streets

Safe Speeds for Turtles But Not For People

Maybe the needs of 1,500 turtles will be taken more seriously than those of 25,000 student and staff residents when deciding whether to make Cootes Drive safer.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published September 03, 2014

According to a CBC Hamilton article, the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) are asking the City of Hamilton to reduce the speed limit on Cootes Drive to protect turtles crossing the street from being crushed.

There are four rare turtle species living around Cootes Paradise, and they're getting crushed by passing cars, said Tys Theysmeyer, RBG's head of natural lands.

He wants the city to reduce the speed limit from 80 to 60 kilometres per hour, erect more fencing and improve the Dundas wastewater plant, among other efforts.

The City wouldn't reduce the speed limit to protect vulnerable humans trying to cross Cootes Drive. In fact, they caved in and increased the speed limit again near McMaster University after motorists simply ignored the lower speed limit.

But maybe the needs of 1,500 turtles - like the needs of developers - will be taken more seriously than those of 25,000 student and staff residents when deciding whether to make our streets safer.

A related article in today's Spectator quotes Theysmeyer:

While a speed limit reduction is only part of the solution, "we think it would make a significant difference," Theysmeyer said after the meeting. "Slowing down at least gives you (the motorist) a chance to realize you're about to squash a [human]."

I replaced "turtle" with "human" to demonstrate how ridiculous this situation is. After all, slowing automobile speeds reduces the number and severity of injuries to humans as well as to turtles.

At least Council is considering this request to lower the speed limit to save turtles, unlike the continuous requests over four decades by lower city neighbourhood associations to lower the speed limit to save humans.

Maybe the Durand Neighbourhood Association should get into the business of raising turtles and letting them loose in the neighbourhood.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By Eric (registered) | Posted September 03, 2014 at 12:05:44

The difference is that humans know to get out of the way of a car. Maybe they should build a turtle underpass.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted September 03, 2014 at 21:46:56

Quite informative are the graphs on page 24 of this UK government publication.

At 20 MPH (=32 km/hr), the risk of death to a person hit by a car driver is very low. This risk of death hits 50% around 45 MPH (72 km/hr) and approaches 100% at 60 MPH (100 km/hr).

In terms of human evolution, think of this as the "George of the Jungle" effect. In a sprint, a human being can run about 30 km/hr max. So the human body evolved to withstand running into something at that speed. Watch out for that tree!

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2014-09-03 21:49:42

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By Outraged at idiocy (anonymous) | Posted September 05, 2014 at 11:09:35

Such comparisons are ridiculous and unworthy of this site. First, this issue came to light because the RBG asked. Is the author angry the RBG is not sufficiently concerned about Mac students and should be advocating for them? Second turtles do not nor should they be, expected to understand our ridiculously car-centric life and need help since we built roads amid their home. when the city paves over your house and builds a road between rooms so you need to cross the road to get from the bedroom to the kitchen, maybe you can equate the issue better. Third, there are species that are threatened with actual extinction, helping turtles is the least we can do after almost decimating their population and speed limits don't go far enough. this is about actual species existence on the planet! Finally, a lack of reaction by the city on one issue should not make the turtles the villain or under any conceivable idea that animals get a better break than people. They never have and given our society never will. This sad attempt at making it sound like animals are getting better consideration than people should take a better look on how we treat animals and how many die on roads, shot for fun, abused, used, driven to extinction all by people and human-centric policies. Take the safety issue to whom it belongs the school and the city and stop trying to drive a wedge simply because species survival makes the city consider slower speeds on one strip of road.

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By oldcoote (registered) | Posted September 05, 2014 at 12:06:49

I too find this article a little disingenuous.

I'm not against lowering the speed along Cootes Drive to 60km. I'm not sure that would prevent any turtles from being struck however. As for protecting pedestrians, the city has done a lot. Installing a 'crosswalk' light is a positive, as is the reduced speed to 50km/r. 40km/h was simply to slow coming off an 80km/h stretch. Perhaps reducing the speed to 60km/r will make this more doable.

Finally, the students themselves need to take some responsibility here. They are forever jaywalking or crossing against the light, often completely oblivious to car traffic. It's a real issue.

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