Here’s a plan that would drive motorists in Waterloo Region, or Canada, crazy: Lower the speed limit to 30 km/h for all urban road users.
Actually, you might wonder if something like that is in the wind anyway, what with the visions of traffic circles that have dominated the thinking of regional traffic circles.
Accidents are more severe at speed. We know that. So does John Whitelegg, a professor of transportation studies from John Moores University in Liverpool, and professor of sustainable development at University of York's Stockholm Environment Institute. He spoke Tuesday on the Co-Benefits of Cycling at the afternoon plenary session of Velo-city Global 2010, at the Oksnehallen in downtown Copenhagen.
Inside, exhibits from various infrastructure-related displays and the lecture area, in a huge former cattle barn and auction building (with its white-washed walls and vaulted ceilings, it reminded me oddly of the Kitchener Farmer’s Market). On stage, Whitelegg entertained and intrigued as he, and his five doppelgangers on the big screens in front of a crowd of nearly 1,000, finished off the first day of this global cycling conference.
He told the crowd that at 64 km/h, only five per cent of pedestrians/cyclists will survive being hit by a motor vehicle. At 48 km/h, that survivability rate jumps to 45 per cent. At 32 km/h, a staggering 95 per cent of peds and cyclists will survive.
You drop the speed, more people live. You drop the speed, more leave hospital after treatment. More walk out by themselves. Lower physio costs, less insurance liability. Across the board, the cost of transportation drops.
And isn’t that the same argument that regional traffic planners are using for roundabouts? The cost of day-to-day transportation is greater with traffic-light-controlled intersections. There are more accidents in roundabouts, but because roundabouts force traffic to adopt lower speeds, the type of injuries are less severe. The fatality rate is nearly negligible.
So here’s my theory: traffic planners are already looking at 30 km/h for urban motoring. Sure, the limit’s 50 km/h now “unless otherwise posted.” Just consider how many neighbourhoods have applied and received the new 40 km/h traffic-calming limits. Sounds like the thin edge of the wedge to me.
Any day now, there will be a proposal before council to make all urban roads safe for all road users, and the key to that safety will be lower speed limits. Get your earplugs ready for the whining.
Whitelegg had lots more to say. Here’s a sampling:
What would a city look like if a senior citizen wasn’t afraid to go out in it.
There’s no good in building a three-kilometre bike path with a sign at one end that says this is where the path begins and a sign at the other end saying this is where it ends, cyclists please dismount.
Cyclists save money for governments. Healthier (less demand on health care). Transportation infrastructure has a smaller footprint.
A typical male motorist spends 1,600 hours a year or the road or gathering resources to allow himself to be on the road, and travels only 12,000 kilometres, which is an average speed of eight kilometers per hour. You can ride faster on a bicycle.
Try tell that to a guy with a hot Acura.