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City ponders reducing speed limits to 40 km/h

Report recommends waiting for red light cameras, other measures to enforce lower speeds

Changes to provincial legislation have made it much easier for cities to lower speed limits on residential streets, but Greater Sudbury should wait before lowering speeds, says a report headed to the operations committee Monday.

Currently, the Ontario Highway Traffic Act sets 50 km/h as the limit in residential areas, known as the statutory speed limit. Before the act was changed, posting a lower limit required extensive signage along the roadway.

“In addition, each roadway would need to have a bylaw passed prescribing the rate of speed,” the report says. “These requirements made posting large sections of a community with a reduced speed limit a substantial financial undertaking and resulted in speed limits of less than 50 km/h being isolated to small areas such as school zones.”

The last time a 40 km/h speed limit was considered in Sudbury was in 2014, when a study concluded that 9,600 signs would have to be replaced at a cost of $2.5 million, plus an extra $125,000 in annual maintenance costs.

“With the amendments to the HTA, a municipality is now only required to post a new type of speed limit sign ... at all the entrance/exit points to the area they have designated,” the report says. “These changes greatly reduce the number of required signs and associated costs to reduce the speed limit in a large area. Staff are referring to these new signs as gateway speed limit signs.”

While changes to the act allow cities to lower the speed limit on any road in the city, the report says gateway speed limits should be restricted to less busy local and collector residential roads. And in areas where a reduced 40 km/h limit is already in place – school zones – it should be reduced further to 30 km/h to “reinforce to motorists that they are entering a school zone and extra caution is needed as they are more likely to encounter young children within the road.”

Under the proposal, the cost of switching to the lower limit would be $320,000, with an added $8,170 in maintenance costs each year. 

However, studies conducted in areas where the limit is already 40 km/h have found drivers travel at the same speeds regardless of what the posted limits are.

A study of 121,660 vehicles in a 40 km/h zone found the average speed was 47 km/h, compared to 48 km/h found in studies involving more than one million vehicles travelling on roads where the limit is 50 km/h.

“As can be seen from the data, the posted speed limit of a roadway does not limit the speed of drivers,” the report says.

In school zones where the speed limit has been dropped from 50 to 40 km/h, the study found no reduction in how fast people drive – from an average of 42 to 44 km/h.

What would make a difference, the report said, is more police enforcement, as word gets around that you could get a ticket if you speed in certain areas. But that would require long-term police presence in several areas of the city to be effective in the long term.

“Without constant and rigorous enforcement of the speed limit, drivers tend to return to operating their vehicle at the speed they feel most comfortable, regardless of the posted speed limit,” the report says. “Also, police enforcement in one area of the city will not affect the operating speeds in other areas.”

And Greater Sudbury Police say that in terms of enforcement, their focus is on busier roads where more frequent and serious collisions occur.

Instead, the report recommends waiting for a few initiatives the city is planning to take effect before lowering speed limits. That includes the traffic calming program, which alters the roadway to force drivers to slow down. The measures include things like speed bumps, traffic islands and other physical changes that don't require police enforcement

Other programs – such as one where residents can get a radar gun to point at local drivers “to help raise awareness about speeding on neighbourhood streets.”

But the big measure that would help with enforcement without draining police resources is red light cameras. Agreements needed to implement the cameras should be complete by the end of 2019, the report said, and an update to council should come before spring 2020, and any changes should be delayed until the cameras are ready. 

“Should council choose to advance the 40 km/h residential speed limit through the gateway speed limit program prior to the consideration of additional measures to impact vehicle operating speeds, staff recommend the program be implemented evenly across all 12 wards over a five-year period and that staff work with each ward councillor to prioritize areas within each ward,” the report says.

Read the full analysis here.