Speed kills. The chances of a person surviving being hit by a car going 50km/h is less than one in five. At 70km/h, it is almost guaranteed that the pedestrian will be killed Picture: 123RF/Stefano Armaroli
Speed kills. The chances of a person surviving being hit by a car going 50km/h is less than one in five. At 70km/h, it is almost guaranteed that the pedestrian will be killed Picture: 123RF/Stefano Armaroli

Cities across Canada are slowing down cars: 40km/h is the new 50. The idea of lower speed limits will at first seem onerous to many drivers; an undue intrusion on the freedom of the road. We have all been conditioned to prioritise cars and speed.

Our cities have been built for cars, to move them as quickly as possible from A to B, the faster the better. So it is no surprise that 40km/h sounds slow and 30 feels snail-like. A speed limit of 50km/h has forever been considered normal on residential streets, with higher speeds on larger roads.

But speed kills. The chances of a person surviving being hit by a car going 50km/h is less than one in five. At 70km/h, it is almost guaranteed that the pedestrian will be killed. But at 30km/h nine in 10 pedestrians survive. National data for 2018 released by Transport Canada shows yet another year when drivers and their vehicles killed more than 300 people on foot. In Toronto, drivers killed 38 pedestrians in 2019 — many of them older people — the result of drivers hitting more than 1,400 pedestrians. Since 2005 at least 110 pedestrians a year, and as many as 215, suffered serious injuries.

The policy changes are taking place under the banner of “Vision Zero”. The idea, originating in Scandinavia in the late 1990s, is that no pedestrian should ever be killed by a car. Two decades later, the results are remarkable. Zero pedestrians died in Helsinki and Oslo in 2019.

The policy measures that achieved that feat are varied, but all centre on battling the primacy of the car. Lowering speed limits is key. Other changes include safer street design, road tolls, more expensive parking and replacing much of the street parking with wider pavements and bike lanes. 

“Car traffic will always be part of the city,” said Oslo’s mayor, “but the drivers should act as guests.”

Compared with Scandinavia, Canadian cities are taking only baby steps. But they are, finally, on the right road. /Toronto, July 16

The Globe And Mail 

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