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Toronto Toronto mayoral candidate Keesmaat promises to lower speed limits, target road safety

Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat vowed to drop speed limits on all residential streets in Toronto to 30 kilometres per hour if elected.

The former chief planner said that the current “patchwork” of rules, where some residential streets are limited to 40 kilometres per hour and others to 30, is confusing to drivers and unsafe for the pedestrians and cyclists they encounter.

“When we reduce the speed limit from 40 to 30 … the percentage of deaths goes down significantly,” she told reporters. “This is something we can do immediately.”

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This idea is rooted in research into fatality risk that has prompted a number of cities to reduce speeds on local roads, including in substantial swaths of London, England. The concept remains controversial in Toronto, though.

When councillors in the old city brought in a 30 kilometre speed limit on hundreds of kilometres of residential streets in 2015, Mayor John Tory made clear he did not back what he called a “blanket” approach. Lower speed limits on local roads have not gained traction among suburban councillors.

Ms. Keesmaat made the speed-limit pledge Friday as part of her road safety platform. The plan also calls for design change to improve safety around schools and at the city’s 100 most dangerous intersections. All three elements are to be done within two years.

On Friday, Mr. Tory's campaign spokeswoman Keerthana Kamalavasan noted additional funds earmarked for road safety this year by city council and pledged that the incumbent would, if re-elected, “continue to roll out this plan with full funding and continue to look for ways to accelerate and enhance the plan.”

Road safety is currently being tackled in Toronto with a plan budgeted at $109-million over five years. Ms. Keesmaat said that her plan calls for some of that money to be redirected to new road safety priorities, and the budget to be augmented by 3 per cent of the city’s transportation overall capital spending, which her team said would be about $15-million per year.

The sorts of design changes she is proposing for roads are part of an approach known as “tactical urbanism,” which seeks to make a quick impact. Examples could include a planter being put on the street near a school to slow traffic, or bollards being installed to create a de facto wider sidewalk that reduces the distance pedestrians need to cross.

Traffic deaths have become an increasingly hot political topic in Toronto over the last few years, leading to a road safety plan in 2016. Ms. Keesmaat criticized the mayor for backing the “tepid” original plan – which was aimed at reducing deaths and serious injuries by only 20 per cent – and voting against an attempt to accelerate it. She did not acknowledge that the plan has since had additional funding added on several occasions.

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In an e-mail, Ms. Kamalavasan, Mr. Tory's campaign spokeswoman, listed safety measures under his watch, including improvements near schools and in areas with many seniors, and noted that “the mayor launched a photo radar program in school zones just this week.”

Ms. Keesmaat alluded to that photo radar program, which, until provincial regulations are rewritten to allow it, cannot ticket drivers. It’s currently being used to collect data.

“This is about designing the city in such a way that we are preventing deaths,” she said. “It is about design, it’s not about collecting data, it’s not about saying ‘slow down,’ it’s about designing the environment in such a way that we are providing a very clearly safe environment for children and for seniors citizens.”

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