Speed limit reduction around school zones does not go far enough
Posted February 15, 2015
This article was also published on the front page of the Guelph Mercury, Feb. 12, 2015
Kudos to the former city council for voting in a 30 km/hour speed limit on collector roads, and 40 km/hr on arterials in elementary school zones. “As a community, we all share a responsibility to ensure the safety of our children, youth and crossing guard” said then Chief Bryan Larkin . Former Councillor Kovach, according to the Guelph Tribune, said she had been trying for 9 years to get something like this done.
Unfortunately, once the reduced speed limit signs were installed this past September 2014, the gap between the intention of doing well and the reality of truly making a difference, could easily be seen. A very good example of this gap is visible on the streets surrounding King George Public School, where only Lemon Street has the speed reduction sign.
Consider the viewpoint of Dr. Daren Lin. Dr. Lin is an emergency physician at Guelph General Hospital. He also has a daughter who attends King George Public School. He has noticed, first hand, a significant problem with the current speed signage.
At King George, students access the school from all directions, and not just the municipal address, which is on Lemon Street. That is where the 30 km/hr sign is located. The school’s main entrance and teacher’s parking lot are off Metcalfe St. Buses drop-off on St. Catherine St. Neither of these streets has a speed reduction sign. According to Dr. Lin, the crossing guards at his child’s school on Metcalfe Street are putting themselves in front of cars going 50km/h or more, with a handheld stop sign.
There are other examples of busy streets adjacent to schools with no change in speed limits. For example, Powell Street at Victoria Public School has no speed reduction signage despite being the location of the bus drop off point. Windsor Street beside Waverly Public School has the same problem.
Being an emergency room physician, Dr. Lin is well aware of the dangers of higher traffic speeds. “Accidents are by far the most common cause of death in Canada in school age children, well ahead of cancer, infections, or other causes,” says Dr. Lin. “According to the World Health Organization, the risk of a pedestrian being killed when hit by a car going 50 km/h is 80%, as opposed to a 10% risk when hit by a vehicle going 30 km/h. From my point of view, this benefit is clearly worth the extra seconds it would take drivers to traverse school zone at the lower speed.”
There is even an economic cost to accidents, Dr. Lin explains further. For a major trauma, hospitalization costs are in the thousands per day to our health care system and it may take days to weeks before discharge. For Guelph parents, it would mean a leave of absence from their jobs in order to stay in Hamilton across McMaster Children’s Hospital to be near their injured child. Businesses would lose their employee for a time. The psychological devastation on both the victim’s family as well as the motorist would be impossible to turn right.
The Ontario government now acknowledges that reducing default speeds on local streets would reduce pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist deaths. The province is organizing public consultations in the spring to consider options around allowing municipalities to set 40km per hour speed limits within their boundaries, where there are currently no speed limits posted.
Whether or not one agrees with this new policy initiative, the very least we can do, right now here in Guelph, is to implement lower speed limits on all roads adjacent to schools where children walk and cycle, and not just on the street that has the school address.
While it may cost more to put out a few more signs, the maintenance cost cannot be any higher than maintaining any other sign in the city. We cannot forget the unintended consequences of accidents or limited mobility for our vulnerable population by continuing with the status quo.
In my mind, it should be a basic human right to be able to walk and bike safely to school without the fear of a preventable death from high speed traffic.