Roadblocks remain to lower speed limits on city streets

After a decade of lobbying the province to help slow traffic on residential streets to 40 km/h, the City of Ottawa finally has the green light to make it happen. The high cost of implementing the change, however, could prove to be a roadblock.

Province has eased process for lowering limits, but cost is slowing changeover

Until recently the only way for residents to lower the default speed limit on residential streets in their neighbourhood from 50 km/h to 40 km/h was to petition the city, often a long and arduous process. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

After a decade of lobbying the province to help slow traffic on residential streets to 40 km/h, the City of Ottawa finally has the green light to make it happen.

The high cost of implementing the change, however, could prove to be a roadblock.

A provincial law that took effect this spring gives cities the power to lower speeds for entire neighbourhoods by posting so-called "gateway" signs where motorists enter and exit communities.

Previously, signs for speed limits lower than the default of 50 km/h had to be posted every 300 metres, on every street.

That placed an enormous burden on residents, who were required to petition for lower speed limits on their streets. Community association volunteers in Hintonburg, for example, spent more than a year canvassing nearly 1,300 homes to collect enough signatures for the signs.

Developers typically paid for the lower speed limit signs in new communities.

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper says lowering speed limits isn't the only way to combat speeding. Smart road design is another tool, he says. (Marc-André Cossette/CC)

Eliminating petitions

A proposed bylaw to be discussed Wednesday by the city's transportation committee would do away with the petition requirement.

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper said that should come as a relief to other community groups in his ward, which watched the situation in Hintonburg with trepidation.

But it's not exactly full speed ahead: the city has earmarked just $50,000 annually for the gateway signs. That's only enough for each councillor to select a single neighbourhood a year for the reduced speed limit.

The city estimates dropping speeds to 40 km/h, or 30 km/h in neighbourhoods with particularly narrow streets, will cost a grand total of $1.58 million. At the current rate, it would take 31 years to post gateway signs in every community.

"But that could probably be accelerated fairly quickly if council were on board," Leiper said. Accelerating annual funding will be up to the newly elected council, he said.

Leiper noted speed limits go only so far to slowing drivers. Just as important, he said, are changes to he design of a street so drivers are forced to slow down, such as installing flexible sticks in the middle of the road.