Unpopular Opinion: Reducing speeds on Vancouver side streets is shortsighted and selfish

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There is currently a proposal before Vancouver City Council to lower the speed limit on British Columbia’s side streets from 50 kilometres per hour to 30 kilometres per hour. The rationale behind the idea is that at a speed of 30 kilometres per hour, a pedestrian is significantly more likely to survive a crash than at a speed of 50 kilometres per hour.

speed limit
Speed limit sign/Shutterstock

The route to doing this would be somewhat convoluted. Vancouver City Council has no power to change speed limits throughout the province. The motion would compel City Council to work with the Union of BC Municipalities to lobby the provincial government to lower the speed limit by amending the Motor Vehicle Act. This would mean that Vancouver’s proposal would become law across the province, if the provincial government agreed.

And while it is certainly noble to want to reduce the crash risk involving pedestrians, there really does not appear to be a need for this law change.

A side street would be, for the purposes of the legal change, any street that is unlined. In Vancouver, this is generally limited to the residential streets outside main traffic thoroughfares and alternate routes, the bicycle routes, and streets without controlled parking. But as any Vancouverite who has tried to find parking a few blocks off Main Street or in Kitsilano is well aware, it is virtually impossible to travel 50 kilometres an hour on these streets.

Streets targeted under Vancouver’s proposal are those where parking lines both sides of the street, and where only one car can proceed at a time. Streets where only the most deliberately awful driver would drive in excess of 50 kilometres an hour.

These streets do not pose a significant crash risk at any time. There are very few pedestrian-involved collisions on these streets, and very few that result in deaths. The tragic cases that we see in the news and on television take place on main thoroughfares and at intersections.

Indeed, most of these side streets have sidewalks so that drivers are separated safely from pedestrians in any event.

It is not necessary to have the speed limit lowered.

But that is not the only reason why this proposal is short-sighted. The City proposal is incredibly Vancouver-centric. The rest of the province generally does not resemble Vancouver. Streets, including side streets, are for the most part much wider and there is more space for vehicles to move safely. This also means that it is safer to travel at a higher speed.

Many municipalities in British Columbia have very few lined roadways, and some do not even
have lines on the main streets in town. These communities would be disproportionately affected by Vancouver’s lobbying, because they would then have to pass legislation to opt out of the speed limit imposed on them by Vancouver, when a 30 kilometre an hour speed limit would make no sense in their town.

And lest we forget that Vancouver already has the power to change the speed limit to its heart’s content on side streets.

That’s right. Vancouver as a municipality can enact its own speed limits on any municipal roadway, meaning that the City has the power under existing laws to erect speed signs on the side streets lowering the speed limit to 30 kilometres per hour, and no change to existing law is required.

So why should a piece of legislation that affects the entire province have to be amended to suit one Vancouver City Councillor’s specific concern? And why should taxpayers fund the exercise of lobbying the government, changing the legislation, creating new enforcement criteria and public education campaigns all so Vancouver can change something it already has power to change? This is a giant “screw you” from the City of Vancouver to the rest of the province, with the intention of showing that they run the show. Meanwhile, smaller municipalities with fewer resources will then have to waste their time and money changing the law specifically in their towns, instead of the other way around.

The proposal is short-sighted, unnecessary, and will do little to accomplish its goals. What it will do is create chaos for the rest of the province, and Vancouver needs to understand that.