Update: Council has passed a motion reducing the town’s speed limit to 40 km/hr
Whenever classic editorial fodder such as the changing of municipal speed zones are up for community debate, the old timey newspaperman in me can’t wait to wade in.
Usually, after uncrossing my arms and loudly cracking my knuckles, I’ll begin my column by writing/yelling something along the lines of: Is it just me, or are we overthinking this?
By the end of my rant, I’ll have churned out tired tropes such as Keep It Simple, Stupid! and Don’t fix what ain’t broke, before neatly concluding with the wholly rhetorical Will we ever learn?
Unfortunately (for this column, anyway), I have learned a bit about opining on such matters. What I’ve learned is that solutions to such problems are rarely simple; something is almost always broken; and suggesting we’re overthinking an issue is most often an excuse for not thinking about it at all.
So let’s think about speed limits. Better yet, let’s turn to the people who were hired by the Municipality of Jasper to think about them.
In 2017 the town commissioned a transportation master plan, basically a big picture study on the movement of Jasper’s people and goods around the community with the objective of providing a foundation for future transportation policy and planning. Peak traffic conditions were assessed, wonky intersections were evaluated, parking lots were monitored and “active mode” infrastructure (for cyclists and pedestrians) was analyzed. There was also a fair bit of ink devoted to vehicle operating speed zones.
What did it tell us? Quite a lot. Too much to include in this space, but suffice to say the improvements we’ve seen to Jasper’s transportation infrastructure in the last year (the new four-way stop at Miette and Turret, for example) have been a direct result of the study.
With regards to the speed zones, however, the document doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know before. Most Jasperites feel that 50 km/hr is too fast for most local streets and 30 km/hr is too slow for Connaught Drive north and south of downtown. Moreover, most locals also know that people generally drive based on the characteristics of a road and that a set speed limit seen as inappropriate by motorists will often result in poor compliance.
What stood out for me wasn’t the discussion about the reduction of posted speed limits, however. Rather, I was interested in the idea of the provision of an on-street bicycle network. According to the experts, not only would the implementation of painted and/or buffer-separated bike lines help construct a network of cycling routes, but by reducing the width of vehicle travel and parking lanes (many of which are excessively wide by today’s standards), bike lanes would encourage slower travel speeds. Makes sense to me.
For better or for worse, however, it’s got to make political sense. It’s apparent council is after some kind of blanket speed reduction and the Transportation Master Plan would seem to support such an idea. An all-encompassing speed limit (again, excepting school/playground zones and the Connaught corridors) is easier to obey, patrol and sign, and at an estimated $15,000 for the required signage, it’s a relatively cheap fix (while we’re here, can we put in a four-way at Geikie and Balsam? Somebody’s going to get T-boned!).
But would reduced speed limits reduce speeds? That’s the question council can’t really know until it tries. I know as a concerned parent, I’m all for the experiment. Drop the posted speed limit by 10 km/hr on local roads and see how it works for a year or two.
If it doesn’t take, and we have to look at a more creative solution, that’s when I’ll bust out the rhetorical newspaperman tropes: Will we ever learn?
Bob Covey // email@example.com