City councillors representing the old cities of Toronto and East York voted Monday night to reduce speed limits on their neighborhood streets to 30 km/h.
Councillor Gord Perks told the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat this decision “is about saving lives. Kids run around on our streets,
Do you feel safer?
Councillor Joe Cressy quoted oft-cited statistics proving the faster a car is travelling when it hits a pedestrian, the more likely the pedestrian will be seriously injured or killed. This is true. It’s high school physics in action.
Cressy told the Sun: “If you’re hit by a car at 30 km/h, your chance of survival is 90%. If you’re hit by a car at 45 km/h, your chance of survival is 50%.”
You can quibble over the percentages by a few points here or there, but statistics like these can be found in numerous credible studies. I can’t argue physics. But, physics isn’t the only factor involved in reducing risk.
For sake of argument, however, let’s say it was. If speed is all that matters, why pick 30 km/h? Even then, one in 10 pedestrians hit by a car will still die. Is that really an acceptable casualty rate, Councillor Cressy?
Why not reduce the speed even further? At 20 km/h, most drivers could stop before hitting a pedestrian that pops out 10 metres ahead of them. That could reduce the fatality rate to near zero.
Psychology matters, too. Numerous behavioural studies have shown people tend to obey laws they feel are reasonable. Transportation studies show drivers tend to drive at a speed they feel is comfortable for the roadway, regardless of the posted limit, unless it is strictly enforced. Enforcement is expensive.
But the biggest flaw in the councillors’ plan is galling: they’re fixing the problem on the wrong streets. Over 92% of pedestrians struck by cars between 2009 and 2013 were not even on the local roads affected by Monday night’s decision.
This decision will make councillors feel better, but is unlikely to prevent a single accident or save a solitary life. It will, however, cost a lot of money. And that, may cost lives elsewhere.
City staff estimate the cost for the councillors’ folly will be about $1.1 million to install new signs and re-time traffic signals. More, if aggressive enforcement is required. No doubt, someone will argue “if it saves just one life, it’s money well-spent.” Except, it’s not. If it saves just one life, it’s a tragic misuse of funds that could have saved many more.
One million dollars could buy two fully equipped fire engines. It could hire 18 additional life-saving paramedics for a full year. Imagine the lives they could save. With our million bucks, Plan Canada could buy 100,000 bed nets that would protect 200,000 people in Africa from malaria (a disease that kills 600,000 people every year) for three years. There’s no end to other, better choices, council could have made to spend $1 million to save many more lives.
But rest assured your councillors will thump themselves on the back, puff up their chests and congratulate themselves this morning after a night of blissful sleep. That no one else will benefit, and many others may suffer, won’t even enter their minds.