Ottawa's transportation committee says narrower, less-busy local roads with little transit service should be allowed to post speed limits of 30 kilometres per hour.
The new policy, which still must be approved by full council, could be implemented on existing streets in cases where the lower limit meets "traffic management best practices" and protects vulnerable road users, said the city.
The current City of Ottawa rules do not allow for a posted speed limit lower than 40 km/h unless 85 per cent of traffic on the road travels 40 km/h or lower.
"Traffic services has been receiving a number of increased requests to post 30 kilometre an hour speed limits on roadways," said Krista Tanaka, the city's program manager for road safety and traffic investigations during a presentation Wednesday to the transportation committee.
"These requests are not unreasonable. Studies have shown that reducing speed limits on roadways ... have the benefit of reducing collision severity as well as increasing the chance that people can avoid collisions if something does arise."
In a report submitted to the transportation committee, city staff suggested five criteria for evaluating whether lower speed limits should be implemented.
- Be a local road and/or have a strong pedestrian presence.
- Have a transit service of no more than three trips per hour per direction.
- Have a combined travel lane width of no more than seven metres.
- Have an existing maximum speed limit of 50 km/h.
- Have traffic volumes of less than 2,500 vehicles per day.
Some councillors at the transportation committee meeting questioned whether the policy would impact roadways within their wards, given that many streets in more suburban areas are wider and do not meet the criteria.
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Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper said he believes the lower speed limit is appropriate for residential neighbourhoods, but he doesn't think the new policy actually helps lower speed limits in all areas where it's needed.
"What we sensed in the report that came forward this morning was a real reticence on the part of staff," said Leiper. "They don't want to implement a 30 kilometre per hour speed limit unless the road is already operating slowly."
Leiper said the policy's criteria also makes lowering the speed limit on wider streets where some schools exist — such as Devonshire Community Public School at 100 Breezehill Ave. — very difficult.
"The implications of the policy ... is that those streets won't be considered for [a] 30 kilometre per hour limit," he said.
Leiper said enforcement could also prove to be a challenge. "Despite putting a sign up to say 30 kilometres per hour, a lot of drivers are going to ignore that and we don't have any tools in place to enforce the limit," he said.
"The police have limited resources to try and do traffic enforcement."
However, Leiper said he's hopeful provincial legislation could help mandate lower speed limits in areas of the city where it's needed, which could provide greater support around enforcement.
"There is a process in front of Queen's Park right now that should be finished by this spring and we're hoping that they will pass legislation that give us an ability to create default speed of 30 kilometres per hour."
In the meantime, Leiper said he intends to speak with city staff about loosening the policy's "restrictive" criteria before the policy report is presented to city council on April 12.