Edmonton mayor welcomes discussion on 40 km/h residential speed limits

Mayor Don Iveson says he welcomes more discussion on lower speed limits in residential areas.

Don Iveson says lower speeds would make pedestrians feel safer

Advocates for lower speed limits in residential areas want the speed limit reduced to at least 40 km/h. (CBC)

Mayor Don Iveson says he welcomes more discussion on lower speed limits in residential areas.

Edmonton city council voted this week to reopen the debate on lower speed limits. Advocates have proposed reducing speed limits in residential areas from 50 km/h to 40 km/h to help make pedestrians safer.

"It's worth looking at," Iveson said Thursday during his monthly phone-in on CBC's Edmonton AM. "There's no doubt that the traffic safety evidence is that people feel safer on the street if that speed limit is lower."

Sonia Sobon lives in the Newton area, one of the neighbourhoods selected for a pilot project to reduce speeders. She said many drivers use the neighbourhood as a shortcut to avoid major freeways such as Yellowhead Trail.

"People don't feel safe," she said. "I've watched it over the last number of years — the life being sucked out of what was once a very healthy, thriving community avenue."

Sobon said with so many drivers using shortcuts, the area sees far more traffic than it should.

Ward 1 Coun. Andrew Knack said he's heard overwhelming support for lowering the speed limit from his constituents, citing statistics from the World Health Organization that say pedestrian deaths are significantly reduced when speed is reduced.

But Knack said he realizes there may be other opinions.

"Maybe there's a lot of people who don't want to see it," he said. "But we should have the opportunity for people to have a say in that before any changes are considered."

Potential speed bumps

Iveson said the issue of lowering speeds has been raised before, but there were obstacles. He said slower speeds could affect transit, because bus schedules would have to be reworked. The speed limits would also need to be enforced – and one of the biggest issues would be the cost of all the extra signs.

Currently, any community that wants a lower speed limit has to have two-thirds of residents to sign off on the change. Knack said that isn't feasible, because the city would have to pay for all the signs in each neighbourhood, and different speeds in different communities would frustrate drivers.

"Drivers hate inconsistency," he said.

Knack said either the city should implement the lower speed limit in residential areas city-wide, or not at all.

"To do it community by community doesn't make sense," he said.

Iveson said the city has asked the province to create a variance in the default speed limit. That would mean the City of Edmonton could post default speed limit signs on the outskirts of the city, and if in the future the city wanted to make all residential areas 40 km/h it could do so.

But Iveson said that isn't close to happening yet.

In the meantime, some communities, such as the King Edward Park neighbourhood, have already implemented 40 km/h speed limits. Others, such as the Newton neighbourhood, have placed speed bumps and steel plates on the roads.

"Speed humps are sort of a temporary fix," Knack said.

For Sobon, those temporary solutions are sometimes not enough — especially in her community.

"People are basically barricaded in their homes," she said. "People don't feel safe."

With files from Nola Keeler