HRM’s active transportation advisory committee met to discuss how speed limits in the urban core of Halifax can be reduced to 30km/h, even though it’s the province that has jurisdiction over changing speed limits.
Paul Young, who is a member of the active transportation committee, made a presentation at its virtual meeting on Thursday. That presentation was based on a report called Slow the Blazes Down: A Major Behavioural Change.
“This is not just changing speed limit signs,” Young said. “It’s a major behavioural change, it really is.”
“It has the potential to change how people think about how they get around, and what they do to get around.”
The report noted benefits of reducing urban speed limits to 30km/h, including:
- Reduction in death and injury with corresponding reduction in health/emergency services
- Increase in perceived safety potentially leading to changes in behaviour towards increased active transportation, increased social cohesion, and reduced climate impact [emphasis in original]
- Help to improve health and well-being with reduced noise, stress, and pollution
- Safeguard the environment for future generations
Young said there are other cities around the world, including in Canada, which have already reduced urban speed limits. Calgary lowered its urban speed limits on residential streets to 40km/h in May 2021. Edmonton followed with the same changes in August 2023.
In May 2015, Toronto and East York lowered default speed limits to 30km/h on all local roads and some collector roads. Five years ago, Montreal reduced speed limits on local and arterial roads to 30km/h.
Internationally, Wales lowered speed limits on residential roads to 32km/h this September, while Amsterdam will reduce speed limits to 30km/h on most of its roads this December.
‘Confident we can do the same thing here’
Young cited some international findings on the effects of lowering speed limits. In 2018, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that reducing speed limits consistently shows a reduction in the number of deaths and injuries, noting a reduction in speed means drivers have more time to react.
The “Stockholm Declaration” that was adopted by government ministers at the 2020 Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety hosted by the Swedish government and the World Health Organization (WHO) mandated a maximum road speed limit of 30km/hr.
“It’s kind of important to hear how much research there is and how strong a case there is,” Young said.
Other data from Young’s presentation included:
- The risk of being killed is almost five times higher in collisions between a car and a pedestrian at 50km/h compared to the same type of collisions at 30km/h
- Research by the Transport Research Laboratory has shown that for urban roads with low average speeds there is an average 6% reduction in collisions with each 1mph reduction in average speed
- Research has shown that there is a connection between road safety and poverty, noting that “child pedestrian deaths in deprived neighbourhoods are over four times those in affluent neighbourhoods.”
Young also cited a report from Wales, which will be the first country to have a default 32km/h (20mph) speed limit on roads where there are cars, cyclists, and pedestrians.
That report found that lowering speed limits will not only reduce road injuries and deaths, but will increase overall public health because more people would walk or bike, and reduce noise and pollution.
“I am quite confident we could do the same thing here in Nova Scotia and all across Canada and find the same thing,” Young said.
Still, Young said there are “outstanding issues” in HRM regarding lower speed limits, including that the city would need higher-speed and higher-quality public transportation to “compliment” the slowing down of cars.
HRM has no jurisdiction over speed limits
But Young said the real “elephant in the room” is that HRM doesn’t have jurisdiction on setting speed limits; that’s the province’s responsibility.
Lucas Pitts from HRM’s traffic authority said HRM, unlike other municipalities across Canada, including Calgary and Edmonton, can’t just change speed limits.
“There is nothing we can do to lower those speed limits to 30km/h without petitioning the province on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis, which is a ton of effort,” Pitts said. “In that case, we can only go to 40km/h, we cannot go to 30 km/h.”
“I’ve been here for two years. I think we’ve written to the province three times to advocate for more control on speed limits on our city roads. I don’t think from a city perspective there’s honestly much else we can do.”
Coun. Patty Cuttell said council wants to be able to make motions to have authority over speed limits, but noted that previous motions to do so have been denied.
“I don’t think council is the place to direct the efforts,” Cuttell said. “I think we need to direct that effort to the province, and seeing if you can’t get a meeting with the minister of public works.”
Committee member Milena Khazanavicius, who is blind and uses a guide dog named Hope, said every week she’s almost hit by drivers at intersections in the city. She said that’s become worse with population growth since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
“This is the first guide dog who has had to work harder than any of my four guide dogs to save me because people are running red lights, they’re careening through the school zones,” Khazanavicius said.
“I am in complete agreement. We need to slow everything in HRM down.”
Committee member Brittany MacLean, who works with Cycling Nova Scotia, said that organization, along with the Ecology Action Centre (EAC), have been doing work behind the scenes with the province and its active transportation policy to advocate for municipalities to have the power to lower speed limits.
“It’s not just the HRM that would be interested in it. We’ve had interest from multiple municipalities from across the province to do this,” MacLean said.
Committee member Anika Riopel, who is a sustainable transportation coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, said the issue of lowering speed limits is “bigger than HRM” and noted that some Indigenous communities, including Membertou, can set their own speed limits.
“We have examples in our own province of what this could do for our own community,” Riopel said.
Ultimately given that HRM doesn’t have jurisdiction over speed limits, Young’s motion to ask the transportation standing committee to direct the CAO to request a staff report on reducing speed limits was denied.