A new report released by the Toronto's chief medical officer shows how cycling and walking are both good for our health and save it's money. The report, “Road to Health: Improving Walking and Cycling in Toronto,” also demonstrates how reducing motor vehicle speeds reduces the number of people being killed annually, recommending that Toronto lower speed limits to 30 on residential streets and 40 on arterials. The latter will prove to have a hard time getting traction in Toronto, despite the fact that many Toronto residential neighbourhoods already have 30 zones with traffic calming measures (though many also do not). And despite the fact that other cities have proven how successful it can be on making other cities more liveable, literally.
Studies are quite clear that deaths and serious injuries increase dramatically with higher speeds. There is a “greatly increased probability of death or serious injury when hit by a vehicle travelling 50 km/h compared with 40 km/h.” One of the studies found that 85 per cent of people struck at 50 km/h are likely to die, versus only 25 per cent at 40 km/hour.
Toronto politicians aren't ready to push for this and a majority of drivers are bound to think the proposal goes too far, except when it comes to their own neighbourhood. Currently the City requires communities to individually apply for lower speed limits, asking traffic engineers who feel their job is to keep cars going fast for exemptions to the rule. The rule is that they first need to get speed humps and they can only get those if traffic engineers measure that the average speed on the street is above the posted limit. The City has made it exceptionally difficult for neighbourhoods to get safe streets. This proposal would flip out around by saying we should be going slower everywhere except for those roads where we make an exception. From the Star:
Dylan Reid, former co-chair of the city’s pedestrian committee, argued that residents have already demonstrated that they prefer slower speeds on local streets.
“Most of Toronto’s residential areas are designed to slow cars down, and people want them slow. . . . I think this is frankly just catching up to reality in a lot of ways,” Reid said.
“Where there is a wide road that is suited for a faster speed, it’s easy to simply post that speed where appropriate. But it doesn’t make any sense for the default speed to be 50 km/h.”
If I may make a bold claim, Torontonians want lower speed limits where they and their children live but not where the drive. They deserve safe streets, they feel, but elsewhere speed should trump safety. Cycling and walking advocates (and maybe a campaign like 20 is Plenty for Us can take advantage of this dichotomy and start helping local communities to fight city hall for the right to safety where they live. We now have an official report to back it up. Just don't rely on councillors to take the lead since our love for speed is ingrained.
The report has another proposal that has been overlooked but that could prove to be powerful. It recommends the City to set targets for reducing injuries and deaths. Imagine getting a yearly report that showed how we missed our goal to reduce deaths. It would bring media attention to the fact that city inaction has a direct result on more people dying. What politician would want to get behind that story? New York City is doing something similar with their Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan, where the city is now required to produce a report to show what, if anything, they've done to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths. Building political traction can be difficult, but this would help keep politicians' feet to the fire.
Even if the City might not yet be ready to do something rational to save lives by lowering speed limits, the report has a number of strategic measures that it recommends to improve Torontonians' health by getting us walking and cycling more and doing it with less risk of injury or death. And already the press coverage of the controversial recommendation for lower speed limits will help jolt people out of their complacency. At least we now can't deny the trade-off: if you want to go faster you know you're risking greater injury and death.