Toronto residents would be able to request slower speed limits throughout their neighbourhoods, mayoral candidate Olivia Chow is pledging as part of a pedestrian safety pitch also aimed at tackling the 100 most dangerous intersections.
The pledge comes two years after the city's chief medical officer, David McKeown, was shot down for suggesting slower speed limits on most city streets as a safety measure and will raise hackles from suburban councillors who were furious with the doctor at the time. It also raises questions about who should be in charge of setting speeds in a neighbourhood – the people who live there or the ones who drive through it. At her announcement Friday, Ms. Chow said locals would make the decision instead of a city-wide "top-down" approach.
The pledge – part of her "Target Zero" goal to reduce the number of pedestrians killed – was made at a Mimico intersection designated one of the worst in the city.
"It's no point assigning fault," she said, when it was pointed out that a steady stream of pedestrians were breaking the law during her press event. "Remember, if they get hit, especially if … the car is travelling quite fast, people get killed. [We're] talking about 40 people getting killed a year. Anything we can do to lower that number we must do."
Research shows that the fatality rate for pedestrians hit by vehicles drops steeply as speeds go down. A 2013 paper by the U.S. Department of Transportation showed a "nearly 100-per-cent" fatality rate when the vehicle is going more than 50 miles per hour (80 kilometres per hour). That fatality rate drops to 80 per cent when the vehicle is going 40, and 40 per cent when the vehicle is going 30. At 20 miles per hour, the fatality rate is "about 5 per cent."
Ms. Chow's plan allows for a 10-kilometre-per-hour drop on the residential streets of an area, if a majority of the neighbourhood residents agree and the request passes community council. As it stands now, residents can request reductions on specific streets but not whole neighbourhoods.
"If you can get a series of neighbourhoods, say on the Danforth, which have implemented this speed reduction, then you won't just be talking about neighbourhoods," said Michael Black, a founding member of Walk Toronto, an advocacy group formed last year. "You'll be talking about whole areas of the city which will be like large slow-zones and they can acquire reputations for traffic calming."
The plan, however, doesn't allow for speed-limit changes on the roads most dangerous to pedestrians, arterial roads that data show have the greatest number of pedestrian fatalities. Instead of dropping the limits there, the plan would involve a multiyear campaign to increase safety at intersections.
Safety measures at intersections could involve tactics as simple as longer crossing times for pedestrians. More complicated traffic-calming measures could include squaring off a rounded curb, slowing vehicles as they make the turn.
"We're hoping … [speed reductions on smaller roads] would be the first step," Mr. Black said. "Within time we're hoping to extend this and perhaps use it as a jump-off point to reduce arterial speeds, and that's where the real benefits would come."