I’ve had the time to convert to a more well rounded blog post:
Before I attend meetings I will generally prepare notes, sometimes they are quick pencil-and-paper jot notes of points I want to make and cross-off as my colleagues speak to them first; other times they are more comprehensive so that I may use them as a guide when speaking. In this case the notes were of the latter form which I used to address the Civic Works Committee. This blog post forms a more complete account than what I said at committee, as I thought that some parts may have been to detailed, or may not have received a warm reception. These are the notes as I referenced them on May 20, 2015, formatted for a blog post.
Decreasing Speed Limits in School Zones
The issue of lowering the speed limits in school zones has, when it was raised in the past, fallen flat. I am uncertain as to why that is for sure, though I have some ideas and I want us to see how this issue fits into the bigger picture.
This issue actually divides easily into two-levels, a micro-level and a macro-level. On the micro-level we have the issue of safety for our children, and on the macro-level we have the health of our city. Now bear with me as I expound on these levels.
The micro-level issue of making our children safe on their way to and from school is one of the most common things I have heard on the doorsteps of my ward and at the ward meeting. Speeding on our streets, especially around schools, is at the forefront of my constituents’ minds on this issue. A recently conducted speed study on Viscount Road showed that an area where children were expected to cross every morning was completely unsafe to cross. Based on the 24 hour volume of 3500 cars, 15% of the vehicles were travelling more than 15 kms OVER the speed limit. 525 cars were travelling at speeds which could kill someone. That is one car passing every 3 minutes on Viscount Road was reaching speeds which could kill a person. This type of driving behaviour makes parents think that walking to school is not safe for their kids, so instead they opt to drive them to school, thereby causing an increase of traffic and a decrease in safety.
According to a review of accidents in school zones from our Roadway Lighting & Traffic Control Division Manager there have been 34 collisions within 150 metres of London schools since 2008. There was one fatality, and 32 injuries, and one collision causing property damage. This report only includes collisions, not the near misses which are reported anecdotally on a regular basis. The London Free Press reported on July 15, 2013, that there were 351 collisions in 2012; 200 involved pedestrians, 151 involved cyclists, 91% of them caused injuries.
Provincially the numbers tell the same story. A review by the Chief Coroner of Ontario on pedestrian deaths in 2010 urged the province to allow municipalities to lower the default speed limit to 40 km/h in school zones. According to page 11 of the executive summary 67% of deaths occurred on streets with speeds beyond 50km/h, and only 5% occurred on roads with less than 50km/h. The coroner makes several recommendations – a complete streets approach, – (p13 – that municipalities consider 30 km/h on residential streets and 40km/h on other unless otherwise posted.)
Nationally, the numbers are just as grim. A SafeKids Canada report with regard to child pedestrian injuries the following key facts and stats are reported:
- Child pedestrian injuries are a leading cause of injury related death for Canadian children aged 14 years or younger.
- Pedestrian-related injuries contribute almost 15 per cent of all injury-related deaths of children younger than 14 years.
- On average, 30 children pedestrians younger than 14 years old are killed and 2,412 are injured every year.
- Children aged 10 to 14 years have the highest risk of pedestrian injuries and deaths
Finally, on the international level, the World Health Organization has found that pedestrians hit by a car or truck travelling at around 45 km/h have a 50 per cent chance of being killed; but those struck by a vehicle going 30 km/h or slower have a 90 per cent survival rate. International studies conducted on speed limit reduction in South Africa, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, New Zealand, the United States of America and the United Kingdom have concluded that when speed limits were reduced, road crashes decreased between 8 and 40 percent (Speed Management: A road safety manual of decision-makers and practitioners, Geneva Global Road Safety Partnership, 2008, p.8).
Other cities and provinces have looked into and implemented a decrease in speed limits around schools. British Columbia has a mandatory law of 30km/h in school zones for every school in every municipality. Guelph and Toronto have decreased speed limits and many other smaller communities in Ontario have also implemented lower speeds in school zones.
Schools in London are very interested in supporting this reduction and I have no doubt that they will be encouraging children to get to and from school actively and talk about the benefits of the environment, and the safety, as well as their own health and wellness. As you may know I have 2 children at home, who now walk to and from school at ages 6 and 7 and they are very much interested in being active and healthy.
There is a tendency to think that because we do not hear about a problem then there must not be one to solve. I can tell you that just recently a child was hit by a car near a Thames Valley school. Unless a fatality occurs, these incidences do not hit the news. I can also tell you, that to the parents of a child who has been hit, one injury, however slight, is one injury too many. I want the Civic Works committee and our council to implement many strategies which shift the culture in favour of pedestrians. We are looking at strategies across many areas – we want a walk-able community.
That leads me into the macro-level – which I promise will be shorter.
We’ve talked about wanting to create walk-able communities. We know that walk-ability is a huge factor in strengthening neighbourhoods and community ties, as well as making our city more accessible. Spending millions of dollars each year widening our roads is an unsustainable practice. Through policy changes, we have the ability to affect and promote change on an entire generation and generations to come. This change will not only remove an unsustainable practice it will allow healthy habits such as walking – such as walking to school – to thrive.
Decreasing speed limits alone will not create the change, I know this, but it is one part of the overall picture. This partnered with the October In Motion challenge by the Child & Youth Network, the Safe and Active Routes to school by Public Health, the Walking school buses that are gaining popularity in each individual school will assist with the change I, and parents alike, hope to see.
We have the ability to change the mindset of how people move about their city for an entire generation. Imagine a group of children who will grow up using transit (perhaps rapid transit), walk and cycle, and choose not to use a vehicle when they don’t have to. It is through this kind of change that we can see decreased costs in road widening and positive long term effects.
I believe that decreasing the speeds in school zones has the potential to increase the sense of safety for parents and children and be the start of a SHIFT in how the next generation gets around the city. It is just one of the tools in our tool box to effect positive long-term change.