British Columbia

On some B.C. streets, 30 might soon be the new 50 for default speed limits

The B.C. government’s pilot program allowing electric scooters in six municipalities could be a warm-up to a much larger transportation pilot later this year. 

Saanich has joined Victoria in asking for citywide 30 km/h defaults on side streets in pilot program

Neighbourhood slow zone road sign on Woodland Drive in Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The B.C. government's pilot program allowing electric scooters in six municipalities could be a warm-up to a much larger transportation pilot later this year. 

On Monday Saanich council voted unanimously to modify its request to the province for an anticipated pilot project that would allow reductions to the default speed limit on most streets.

Under the Motor Vehicle Act, the default speed limit is currently 50 km/h, unless there are signs indicating a different speed. 

Saanich is now asking for a 30 km/h default on all streets without a continuous centre line, after originally asking for 40 km/h. 

"There's better safety outcomes, there's fewer accidents and less severe accidents, and those benefits are even more significant when you go down from 40 to 30," said Saanich Councillor Rebecca Mersereau.

Victoria is also asking for a 30 km/h pilot project for side streets, while other Greater Victoria municipalities are looking at a 40 km/h proposal. 

Mersereau said a reduced speed limit would have plenty of benefits in Saanich, particularly in many of the older suburban neighbourhoods that were built without sidewalks. 

"In the absence of having millions of dollars to fix that infrastructure deficit, it made sense for us to be more ambitious ... and try to address that challenge."

Stopping commuter shortcuts

Similar citywide proposals to reduce the speed limit aren't being actively considered in Metro Vancouver, but many municipalities have been reducing speed limits in certain areas in recent months. 

This includes Burnaby lengthening the time that school zone speed limits are in place to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day (previously it was 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.), and North Vancouver creating a new 30 km/h zone around Ridgeway elementary. 

In Vancouver, a 30 km/h zone has recently been put in place in the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood, and Councillor Pete Fry says the feedback has been positive.

"By and large most folks driving down residential side streets … are likely travelling at closer to 30 km/h in the first place," he said.

"[But] it's driven the commuter interest out of the neighbourhood, and really what you're seeing more of is people who live or work in that vicinity, and they're driving appropriately slowly because it's important to them to not grievously injure their neighbours." 

Fry says he is hopeful the province will recognize the interest in lowering default speed limits across B.C. if it moves forward with pilot projects later this year. 

"I hope [they] are recognizing that we are kind of at a paradigm shift of how we treat public spaces and public roads," he said.

"I know there's been some resistance to this in the past because it seems like a fundamental change … but we're not impacting the arterial movement of goods and services, and highways and freeways. We're focusing on the majority of the road network, which are residential side streets without a centre line."