Saskatoon committee taking further look at lowering residential speed limits

Saskatoon committee taking further look at lowering residential speed limits
Committee backs speed limit reviews in narrow vote
City councillor Cynthia Block during a city council meeting at City Hall in Saskatoon on November 20, 2017. Liam Richards / SASwp

Speed zones for seniors and eliminating high school speed zones will be considered as Saskatoon city hall moves forward with exploring lower speed limits on residential streets.

City council’s transportation committee narrowly backed the possibility of a lower speed limit by supporting a strategy to consider the matter. The issue moves on to a vote by council on Oct. 22.

Several committee members pointed out that city hall is not considering a 30-kilometre-per-hour speed limit for residential streets, as has been reported by some news outlets.

The report approved by the committee on Tuesday did not include a recommendation for a specific lower speed limit, although it did note that some cities are considering limits as low as 30 km/h for residential streets.

“I can’t actually see a time when I would be in support of a 30 km/h speed limit in a residential area,” Coun. Cynthia Block said.

Block, Coun. Bev Dubois and Mayor Charlie Clark voted in favour of pursuing the possibility of a lower speed limit, while Coun. Randy Donauer and Coun. Zach Jeffries voted against it.

“I don’t see a big public call for a change to our speed limits,” Donauer said. “My experience is that everybody wants people to go slower on their street, but they don’t want to slow down in the rest of the city. And that’s a problem for us.”

The committee also supported examining the possibility of playground speed zones and examining the issue of speeding in areas with high concentrations of seniors.

The seniors inquiry began with Dubois, who originally called for the possibility of a seniors’ zone in the Nutana Suburban Centre, which she represents. Dubois agreed to amend the request to make it less specific, although the potential for seniors’ zones still exists depending on the outcome of the study.

The committee heard high school speed zones will also be reconsidered as part of the whole discussion. If the city were to decide to lower the speed limits on residential roads, it would not apply to so-called arterial streets or connectors.

That could pose a problem; one of the city’s main east-west streets, Taylor Street, currently has three high schools with 30 km/h school zones within about one kilometre.

“I do have to say, it’s always been perplexing to me why high schools are included,” Block said. The city’s director of transportation, Jay Magus, said it’s not considered best practice to include high schools in school zones.

Block said some residential areas, like the Varsity View neighbourhood she represents, do seem designed for speeds slower than 50 km/h. Block wondered about a blend of speed limits.

Magus said among Canadian cities only Toronto has a blend of speed limits. City hall staff will not recommend such an approach, Magus added.

Dubois panned the idea of a mix of different speed limits, suggesting any change needs to be city-wide and only after extensive consultation. She said residents are confused by the changing speed limits along the new roads that connect to the Chief Mistawasis Bridge that opened last week.

Magus said some cities have been impeded by the desire to change speed limits on residential roads because of provincial restrictions. In Saskatchewan, cities can adjust speed limits without changes to provincial legislation.

Prince Albert and Warman have lowered their residential speed limits to 40 km/h, the committee heard.

Mayor Charlie Clark, who tried to have a 40 km/h speed limit for residential streets considered when he was a councillor, said there is a disconnect between the posted speed limit and what residents consider safe.

City council’s transportation committee has given the go-ahead to city staff to continue exploring the possibility of lowering residential speed limits in Saskatoon.

The committee voted 3-2 in favour of setting up a framework for reviewing the base speed limits on neighbourhood streets, while leaving collector and arterial roads along.

The framework would still give city council final say on any decisions regarding lowering speed limits.

Councillors who voted in favour of the review — Cynthia Block, Bev Dubois and Mayor Charlie Clark — emphasized that their vote wasn’t necessarily an endorsement of a blanket 30 kilometre per hour speed limit, which was advocated in the city report.

“I would find it hard to imagine a day that I would think 30 km/h on most residential streets would be reasonable,” Ward 6 Coun. Cynthia Block said.

“However, it does appear the trend across many North American cities is to re-prioritize the public realm to better serve pedestrians.”

Manager of Transportation Engineering Jay Magus told committee both Calgary and Edmonton are exploring the possibility of lowering posted speeds, while cities such as Okotoks Alta. and Warman have already lowered theirs to 40 km/h.

The report was borne out of results of over 40 traffic reviews where residents expressed concerns that drivers were speeding on their street.

However, in most cases city data showed 85 per cent or more of drivers were driving below, at or just five kilometres over the 50 km/h posted speed.

The report suggested the continued perception of speeding could mean 50 km/h was too fast on residential roads.

It suggests a structure for reviewing speeds in neighbourhoods, while leaving arterial roads like Taylor Street alone.

Ward 5 Coun. Randy Donauer voted against looking at speed limits, along with Ward 10’s Zach Jeffries.

“Most residents want the traffic to go slower on their street but when you turn around and ask them if they want the speed limit to be lower in the neighbourhood they say no,” Donauer said.

He added he’s received several calls from residents telling him not to lean towards lowering speed limits.

Committee also voted 4-1 in favour of having administration review school zones and the possibility of implementing playground zones.

Magus told councillors his staff have discovered having 30 km/h school zones around high schools may not be “best practice” after reviewing other cities and their policies.

“Without a lot of evidence to the contrary, I think our young people are able to cross the street by themselves,” she said.

Donauer voted against the school zone study, saying he thinks Saskatoon has reached a “nice balance” on the issue.

A proposal by Coun. Dubois to consider traffic calming measures in areas with high senior citizen populations was endorsed unanimously.