Victoria is the traffic crippling capital of Canada. If you go to a council meeting in the City of Victoria, many of the petitioners come to complain about traffic on their street and they come to ask for some crippling to be put into place in their backyard: barriers, speed limit signs, no-parking, bike lanes, et cetera. The city councilors want to look proactive, so they are open to crippling; and will often endorse and approve of such plans. The City staff is always eager to get the cement mixers pouring, so crippling is a welcome melody.
Local councilors have hatched a scheme to hobble the speed limits. The defacto speed limit, unless otherwise posted, is 50 km/h. On some side streets that does come across as fast and can pose some jeopardy should a driver be inattentive, incapable of driving or apathetic to the consequences of bad driving. The politicians want to knock the speed down to 40 km/h. Because of the cost of signage and the process of getting every street paralyzed, the Victoria politicians don’t want this to be a Victoria-only solution. They want the default speed limit in the entire province to set back to 40 km/h. Their intention is to take this motion to the Union of BC Municipalities conference this spring. If successful, the motion would go to the BC government so that the Motor Vehicle Act could be amended to drop the speed limit. With the stroke of a pen, your commute could become more than 20% slower.
The politician’s mindset is that getting hit by a car at lower speeds looks good on paper. The energy put into a 50km/h impact is much higher than the energy put into a 40km/h impact. By dropping the speed limit they will be taking energy out of a potential crash.
Locals have voiced an acceptance of a 25km/h speed limit by default. According to the science, if a 50km/h that instead happens at 40km/h has less jeopardy, then a crash at 25km/h is much less injurious. That’s where this argument can go. We can keep dialing down the speed limit to take energy out of the crashes. It’s like saying that we’re okay if kids play with guns, but let’s limit the caliber size because a) a minor incident is more enjoyable than a major incident; and b) people usually only break one law at a time.
Here are the problems with applying science without logic:
- Crashes and motor vehicle incidents happen when things go wrong.
- Crashes often happen when a vehicle is traveling at excessive speeds.
- A person who causes a crash is unlikely to be obeying all of the laws and that includes obeying the speed limits.
- A road capable to moving a car at 80km/h today will still be capable of moving cars at high speeds after the laws are altered.
- The outcome of a crash is speed divided by luck. A slow crash can kill you while you can walk away from a major incident occurring at high speed. The random chance at play in an accident is reset with each accident.
- Example #1 of speed divided by luck: My disabled friend was a mechanic. The car he was working on was accidentally put into gear while running. It struck him, pinned him and that gave him a lifelong injury. That crash did that at less than 5kmh.
- Example #2: General Patton survived World War II and was killed in the back seat of a car. At the end of the war, he was being driven through post war Germany. His car was involved in a minor accident that threw from the back seat to the floor of the back seat. This cracked one of his cervical vertebrae and left in a deteriorating state of paralysis that cost him his life. That wasn’t a 50km/h crash; it was someone spacing out when the traffic light went green. We’re not talking about the crumbled wreck; we’re talking about a fender bender.
- Most drivers drive without incident. Some of them drive their whole lives without a crash; or at the very least, many of them drive without causing an accident that they may be a part of. Hundreds of thousands of daily trips in the CRD result in dozens of incidents, some major and some trivial.
Slower speeds may actually cause more accidents:
- Let’s say that out of 100,000 journeys in the CRD with a median time of 30 minutes that 50 of those trips result in an incident.
- Out of 3,000,000 driver minutes we get 50 incidents. Or, one incident for every 60,000 driver minutes experienced on the road. Driving is Russian roulette or a lottery. This is why bus drivers, cab drivers and delivery people have more accidents under their belts—they drive more and despite their driving experience they are on the road longer and have a better chance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- This 40km/h scheme will take a median 30 minute journey at make it into a 36 minute journey. We will be exposed to jeopardy longer each day if we drop the speed to 40km/h.
- If we get 50 incidents per 3,000,000 minutes of daily driving, it means we will see 60 incidents per day because we’re exposed to other cars that much longer on a given day.
Traffic Crippling Leads to Traffic Frustration
Lowering the speed limit drastically would persuade some to choose the option of walking and/or riding a bike more often. While bicycling is not mentioned in the most of the comments surrounding dropping the speed limit, the impact on bicycling is clear. If you can get somewhere in 30 minutes by car, it may take 60 minutes to get there by bike. If this traffic crippling scheme goes through, the bike speeds are unaffected but the cars lose 6 minutes making biking that much more viable.
There’s a problem with the panacea of bicycling as all of the problems to our woes. Despite all of the money and attention that cycling gets it, not many people bicycle. More so, the trend of arriving sweating with your bike helmet looped over your handlebars is likely to drop. In 2011, the CRD studies daily modes of transportation. Despite all of the roads being reworked to make Victoria the “Cycling Capital of Canada,” only 2.8% of all journeys happen by bike. 2.8% is the high point.
The projections show that median population ageing is accelerating. In Canada, 13% of the population is 65 years or older. By 2031, seniors will be 23-25% of the population. By 2056, seniors will make up 25 to 30% of the population. The current national average is 39 years old. In Victoria, the current average age is 41.7 years old. If we skew 2 years older that the national average on the current stats, that means our population in 10, 20 and 40 years will likely skew older as well.
Any statistician can see where this goes. Currently, 64% of the Victoria population is in the right age range (15 to 64 years old) to have the health and the travel needs to choose to bicycle (maybe I'll give you 70% of the population for those seniors who bicycle, and kids that bicycle noteworthy distances). 2.8% of the trips happen by bike. 64 to 70% of the population can ride a bike; but 97.2% of the trips did not happen by bike.
Do you actually think that, in 20 years, when only 50% of the population is old enough and healthy enough to bicycle that we will see them breaking through this glass ceiling of 3% of daily trips? No: that’s wishful thinking. 77% of daily trips happen by car, but we have handed over driving capacity and parking capacity to bike lanes. This has led to more congestion and less parking availability. In other words, cars have to be on the road longer (density, parking searches, etc.) because some squeaky pairs of wheels got all of the attention and funding.
Let’s say that for once a politician could get something right. Let’s entertain the fantasy that this drop in the speed limit will spark a two-wheeled love affair with the citizens of BC. Bicyclists have been able to lead a Libertarian charge to prevent licensing, vetting and insurance. As one resident said, “I would rather get hit by a car than a bike, if I had to choose. At least if I lived I could be compensated by the insured driver.” Cars are licensed and insured. Car drivers are licensed. If the politicians diminish the speed contrast between cars and bikes to give encouragement for there to be more bikes on the road, it means an increasing share of those people on the road will be unlicensed, uninsured and untraceable. Bike victims will enjoy less injury and almost no capacity for compensation. Not even a "sorry" or an "are you okay." I know this for a fact. Having been hit by bicycles twice while walking down the sidewalk (silly me, I should have been born with eyes in the back of my head to jump out of the way of bicyclists), I see many in Victoria who feel they have the “God-given right” to be a cyclist wherever and how ever they choose. In both of my cases, they didn't even stop to say "sorry" nor "are you okay." When they did the same to my wife, the bicyclist carried on with looking back. Didn’t they notice that their handle bars knocked a woman down? How oblivious is that. There was no point taking the hit and runs to the police: “some guy on a bike” isn’t enough to go from. Besides, the police would likely laugh off the case. And really, it was my fault I was hit from behind by a bicycle while on the sidewalk. I was asking for it. Maybe I was dressing sexy and enticing the bicycle to hit that. Right? Does that justification work for you; or does it feel like a cowardly way for cyclists disown their responsibility?
Bicyclists enjoy a level of entitlement that is nauseating in Victoria. The only saving grace is that despite all of the social engineering carried out by wrong-headed advocates to realize their dreams of a bike powered Victoria, the demographic is aging. Healthy or not: if you’re too old to peddle down the Trans-Canada highway or the Galloping Goose, you’re not going to do it. If only we could stop the population from aging to prevent them from being less prone to being physically capable of taking extended bicycle trips… (Sorry, dumb idea. Dumb ideas are best left to the professionals).
The approach of taking the 40kmh change to the Union of BC Municipalities to create downward pressure from above and inflicting this on the whole province feels underhanded. It feels like the actions of the WTO versus individual nations who had to adhere to what was imposed upon them by a higher jurisdiction that was outside of the reach of any body of opposing voters. It sounds like a roundabout way to save the City of Victoria some money on sign printing while generating revenue through new speeding tickets. Some of the politicians think that we’ll fall for the notion that they cannot set the speed limits. They claim that municipal speed limits are set in the provincial Motor Vehicle Act and that the City of Victoria has no jurisdiction to change the speed limit on its own. That politician probably hasn’t made it up to the 2400 to 3000 block of Quadra where the speed limit has been set to 40kmh. As a chaser, the Quadra Street Village has been pepper with barricades (aka islands). These barricades where part of a “beautification” project that had two outcomes: first, the islands are handy if you’re jaywalking through traffic on Quadra; second, the barriers are impassable to emergency vehicles. When an ambulance or fire truck needs to get down one of Victoria’s clogged arteries, vehicles are supposed to pull over to the side of the road leaving the potential for an emergency vehicle to go down the middle of the road to help save a life. Except on Quadra. Isn’t that beautiful? We need more of that.
By making the whole province succumb to this scheme, it means that Victoria citizens cannot oppose the speed change because their local politicians will be able to shrug and say, "Municipal speed limits are set in the provincial Motor Vehicle Act". That jurisdictional trumping is straight out of the WTO playbook.
One politician complained that people had spilled their upset over into the domain of personal insults and attacks. She asked for constructive suggestions. Ironically she asked for this after preparing to botch the whole province to make it a slow zone. Had she asked for ideas and solutions earlier I would have had some ideas. They boil down the same thing: get off the road.
- When you lower the speed limit, you extend the duration of trips. A friend is a nurse. She does in-home care. She is compensated for her travel time, but only to some degree. I estimated that this scheme to knock down the speeds will extend her work week by 3 hours—3 hours of unpaid time that comes out of her sleep and home life. When you raise the speed limit you can get people to their destinations and off of the road faster. Seriously: in Victoria people drive slowly already and they drive so poorly they could write the “how to do it wrong” manual for failed drivers. I’ve seen people who space out that green lights mean go. I’ve seen people back-up 10 cars behind them to let one car in. If we instead raised the speed limit to 60 km/h or higher, we would give competent drivers a chance to get off the road.
- Car accidents usually happen when a car hits something (sorry, if someone can’t figure out that dropping a speed limit will not eliminate accidents, they may not know how accidents happen in the first place). If we take a number of “residential” roads and allow more traffic capacity, we will be removing traffic density from the main arteries. When traffic experts get together they use fluid dynamics to predict traffic. If you increase the number of routes and increase capacity, according to how fluid dynamics work, you end up with more water flowing everywhere: more capacity equals more volume. Cars are not water. There are a finite number of cars in the community. There are a finite number of destinations. When you open up capacity, new cars do not spring into being. When you open up capacity, you get people to their destination sooner. They leave the traffic volume. When cars are not on the road, they will not hit another car, a bike or a person. When cars are not on the road, they cannot be hit by other cars.
- Accidents happen when people do stupid things. They speed. They space out. They ignore the rules of the road. Sometimes good drivers do stupid things, but often it’s the bad drivers who drive badly (sorry, but if you think hobbling all drivers because the actions of a few drivers you may not know that by and large drivers drive without incident). If the politicians are going to take a proposal to the UBCM and then the BC government, take this to them: repeated driving exams. Make people re-qualify for their license every 10 years. If they can’t pass a driving exam, they’re off the road. Tell me how you would want an untested driver or a failed driver on the road? If you get the bad drivers off the road, you will have fewer accidents. As one neophyte politician said, “people think they have a God-given right to be on the road.” They don’t.
This traffic crippling approach is mistaken. Other Canadian communities have attempted this sort of social engineering and they have discovered the effect to be negligible. If you subscribe to the science that slower speeds will make less damaging accidents, do you know what happens when you run experiment several times with the same outcome? I’ll help you: subsequent experiments will have a similar outcome. That outcome: negligible.
Bad driving causes incidents, not speeds. Speed only packs more force into the incident. It was argued that this will increase reaction time. If reaction times were paramount in this change, the recommended speed would be much less than 80% of the previous norm. If reaction times are actually important, we would look to traffic planning to change roadways to make them straighter and provide better visibility. The speed changes do nothing to address that aspect of reaction times. When I was at a strip mall in Oak Bay, I saw a women climb the curb and use the sidewalk instead of the road to get into the parking lot. I was able to yank my daughter out of the way as this woman drove towards us at 10km/h. Do you think we all benefited from her improved reaction time that came from reduced speed? It didn’t give her the ability to refrain from using the sidewalk as roadway.
Efficiency is not a 4-letter word. Cars move groups of people, the disabled and the elderly quickly to their destinations. Why are we entertaining a scheme to stymie people by dropping the speed limit? Don't they count?
This traffic crippling scheme is a waste of people's time. It does nothing at all to address the problem of cars hitting things. All this does is create a lot of busy work that mimics progress.
I find myself feeling a lot of resentment. My resentment at this waste of time imposed on so many people may come across as visceral. We only have one life to live and it shouldn't be spent in slow moving cars; or protesting the imposition of a social experiment on our population. If we sit by and try to quietly live our lives, politicians will go through the busy work of eroding our quality of life.
If you have a problem with being stuck in your car for 20% more, join me on March 27th 7:30PM at SJ Willis (923 Topaz Avenue, Victoria, BC). Make sure that the politicians don’t mistake your attendance for endorsement.
If you’re outside of the Victoria area, get to your city hall. Get time with a councillor or mayor who is about to attend the UBCM conference. Voice your opposition to this plan and tell them that you don’t want them to help crippling the province by approving this motion.