North Saanich will not be joining its Greater Victoria neighbours in a proposed pilot project designed to study the impact of lowering speed limits on certain categories of roads.
Coun. Patricia Pearson was the lone voice supporting a staff recommendation to join the project spearheaded by the District of Saanich. Mayor Geoff Orr joined Couns. Heather Gartshore, Jack McClintock, Brett Smyth, Celia Stock and Murray Weisenberger in opposition.
Saanich is currently preparing an application asking the provincial Ministry of Transportation to approve a project of up to three years in length to lower the default speed limit to 40 km/h on streets without a continuous yellow centre line. The provincial election has delayed the opening of the application window until late October and it is not clear when the project would get underway (assuming approval). This said, North Saanich finds itself apart from most other Greater Victoria municipalities, including its immediate neighbours of Sidney but not Central Saanich.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said earlier this summer (well before North Saanich’s vote) that 10 municipalities (minus View Royal where local speed limits are already set at 30 km/h) had agreed to join the project.
While Weisenberger said he could see why Saanich would favour lower speed limits with commuters using many of its rural roads to circumvent congestion on larger roads, North Saanich’s location at the very tip of the Saanich Peninsula and the nature of its road network makes the municipality unsuitable for this type of study.
“I don’t see North Saanich being as a good place to do this kind of study, and I would rather staff our staff work on other things,” said Weisenberger.
McClintock, a former police officer, had earlier also raised questions about whether lower speed limits would help the number and severity of collisions.
“It (reducing the speed limit) sounds like a natural thing to do to slow people down,” he said. “But even in the study’s preamble, it says speeding is a significant factor in collisions. Well, that has been known forever. That’s not news. But it doesn’t say that the 50 km/h setting is a significant factor. It just seems to be an attempt to reduce speed to 40 km/h.”
Citing opposition from two chief constables, later identified as Chief Constable Scott Green of Saanich, and Chief Constable of Del Manak of Victoria, McClintock said the pilot study is just a “preamble” to a permanent speed limit drop. While he expressed agreement with the statement that speeding is a significant factor, it is not clear whether collisions in intersections are taking place in 50 km/h speed zones. “I have my doubts and so do two chief constables.”
This argument appears to have swayed several members of council, who had initially signalled some interest in the issue.
The public also earlier heard from staff that the impact of lowering speed limits on those roads might not be significant.
“My personal opinion is, it probably won’t have a tremendous impact,” said Eymond Toupin, North Saanich’s director of infrastructure services. This said, his report to council pointed to some general statistics in favour of lower speed limits and joining the project would give the municipality some points of comparison should the province decide to lower speed limits in the future.
Pearson cited on-going public concerns about road safety among residents. At the very least, joining the project would give the municipality some data and points of comparison, she said.
North Saanich’s contribution to the project would have been $15,000 to $20,000.
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