Does reducing speed limits to 30 km/h make Montreal streets safer?

Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce is the most recent borough to reduce speed limits as part of a citywide plan to make Montreal’s streets safer, but some boroughs where the rules are already in effect say residents still complain about speeders.

Montreal boroughs with reduced speed limits search for more ways to get drivers to slow down

A sign on Bernard Avenue shows the reduced speed limit for residential streets in Montreal's Outremont borough. (Sophie Tremblay/CBC)

Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce is the most recent borough to reduce speed limits as part of a citywide plan to make Montreal streets safer, but some boroughs have had these rules in effect for years — and still residents are complaining about speeders.

In 2014, Outremont became one of the first boroughs to lower speed limits on residential streets to 30 km/h, a move that was coupled with traffic-calming measures such as radar signs and speed bumps.

However, residents say it's not enough and are demanding more be done to curb lead-footed drivers. 

"Citizens keep track of the speeds of cars, and a lot of them have actually contacted us and said, 'You know what, in terms of traffic calming, 30 kilometres is something we're happy with, we're happy to have it, but we need to go above and beyond that,'" said Outremont Mayor Philipe Tomlinson.

As 'secure as possible'

Responding to citizens' concerns, Tomlinson said, borough officials are studying each street in search of solutions tailored to the specific features of every block.

To do that, the borough is looking not only at the features of each street, but who lives on it, such as young families, and whether there are nearby schools, parks or businesses.

With so many cyclists, pedestrians and motorists on densely populated streets loaded with kids at play, Tomlinson said the aim is to make the streets as "secure as possible."

The borough does monitor speeds with traffic-counting devices, he said, and it's clear motorists aren't driving under 30 km/h, but most are staying around the speed limit.

"Traffic calming is not only about speed limits," he said. "It's about physical barriers. We have to get the cars to slow down."

Outremont not alone

At least six boroughs have lowered speed limits on residential streets to 30 km/h and most arterial roads to 40 km/h as part of Montreal's plan to reduce speeds throughout the city, creating a patchwork of regulations across boroughs and demerged municipalities.

Among those that have already lowered speeds, Outremont is not the only one hearing concerns from residents.

Westmount Mayor Christina Smith said residents want more traffic-calming meaures beyond reduced speed limits. (Christina Smith/Facebook)

Westmount Mayor Christina Smith says her residents want more traffic-calming measures added beyond the reduced speeds, and in the Plateau–Mont-Royal borough, it's a similar story.

About 80 per cent of that borough's streets have a speed limit of 30 km/h. That includes all residential and school zones on arterial roads, according to Sébastien Parent-Durand, chief of staff for the Plateau borough.

The maximum speed of 40 km/h on arterial roads was set in 2017, he said, while the residential streets have been 30 km/h since 2015. Reduced speeds have been found to decrease injury and fatality rates when pedestrians are struck while improving a driver's field of vision and braking time.

Parent-Durant said lowering speed limits is just one piece in a larger puzzle, as the borough works to increase security. Everything from speed bumps and sidewalk extensions to increased enforcement and improved signalization has helped improve safety in the borough.

Boroughs like Outremont are considering adding more traffic-calming features such as speed bumps to encourage drivers to slow down on streets already posted at 30 km/h. (CBC)

"The speed limit was not the only action we took to get results," he said. "We know our streets are safer today than they were before."

According to collected data, he said, usually motorists are driving about 10 km/h faster than the speed limit. When the speed limit is set at 30 km/h, he said, cars are usually reaching 40-45 km/h.

Police 'don't have the resources': Rotrand

In Côte-des-Neiges–NDG, Snowdon Coun. Marvin Rotrand voted in favour of lowering speed limits to 30 km/h on residential streets, but, he said, his decision came after lengthy negotiations, as he finds the lower limit creates a "false sense of security" and doesn't make a difference.
Snowdon Coun. Marvin Rotrand says there should be a focus on road design and an 'intelligent hierarchy of speeds' to give drivers an incentive to stay off residential side streets. (CBC)
Rotrand first lobbied for lower speed limits in 1991: Snowdon was the first district to post a 40 km/h limit on residential streets. When the year-long pilot project ended, the city decided to leave the signs up, he said.

Setting speed limits to 30 km/h is "ideological on the part of my colleagues in Projet Montréal," Rotrand said and, instead, there should be a focus on road design and having an "intelligent hierarchy of speeds so that you give an incentive to drivers to drive on arterial roads."

While CAA-Québec says more enforcement is needed to get drivers to slow down to 30 km/h, Rotrand said police will not enforce a 30 km/h speed limit because "they don't have the resources to do so."

"You can't have a speed limit that is artificial," he said, predicting residents of his borough will also be asking for additional traffic-calming measures that work in tandem with the lower speed limits.

"Changing the signs isn't expensive, but it doesn't give a whole lot of bang for the buck."


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