Some St. Albertans are excited with results of the city’s speed review, which is recommending ramped up rules for motorists.
Last week a committee of city council heard results of that review, that a 40 km/h neighbourhood speed city-wide is recommended, along with increasing the number of playground zones that have set active times 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
One Erin Ridge North parent said she was “shocked” when she moved from Calgary to St. Albert and found playground zones were only active until one hour after sunset.
“You see cars parked there every evening when I drive by, there's always stuff going on,” said Amy Cowan, who lives down the block from Lois E. Hole Elementary School. “The community lives at that playground.”
If city council approves the recommended changes – which they are set to look at Tuesday after publication time – all elementary school zones would be harmonized into playground zones.
Cowan said it is “amazing” to see the change, and she has been hoping for it since day one. Considering the sun does not set until 11 p.m. in the dog days of summer and kids are out on the streets later, Cowan said it just makes sense.
“A child or a person is hit at 30 kilometers an hour versus at 40 kilometers an hour, we're talking like life – with some injuries – versus death,” she said.
The City of Calgary changed all of its school zones into playground zones by 2016, which are in effect 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Since this switch, mean traffic speeds in playground zones fell from 36 km/h to 30 km/h, a 2017 study by the University of Calgary through the Urban Alliance Partnership found.
The same study also found Calgary’s collision rate dropped from 0.049 collisions per million kilometres of vehicle travel per year to 0.011 collision.
St. Albert is also looking at reducing the overall neighbourhood speed from 50 km/h to 40 km/h, and transportation manager Dean Schick said while presenting the speed review 15 per cent of “severe incidents” happened on local and collector roads.
A Grandin resident who backs onto a local road said she is 100 per cent in favour of the reduced neighbourhood speed, saying it is like taking her life into her hands every time she backs out of her driveway.
“People treat it like a drag strip; I see people going 60/70 (km/h) down it and it's a 50 (km/h) road,” said Kirsty MacIntosh. “It's quite frightening.”
MacIntosh added the reduction in speed will have to be paired with increased enforcement, and the “much higher fines” will help deter people.
During the Feb. 10 community growth and infrastructure meeting, Coun. Natalie Joly asked if the city would look at increasing its traffic enforcement presence after making the changes.
Manager of policing services Aaron Giesbrecht said that is certainly “on the table” but it comes down to council priorities. Currently there are six RCMP officers and two municipal enforcement officers solely dedicated to traffic safety, he added.
During 2020 budget deliberations, city council defeated a motion by Joly to hire an additional bylaw officer. Council also denied a request by the RCMP to hire two additional members this year.
Cowan agreed that the changes have to go “hand in hand” with enforcement and said it “irked her” when the city piloted lowered neighbourhood speeds in Erin Ridge North last year. That is because it becomes so much more difficult to police a city-wide reduction, versus focusing enforcement efforts on playground zones.
“You can put whatever sign you want out there, but if no one is going to enforce it, people can still drive whatever speed limit they want,” she said.
Not everyone was pleased to see the recommended changes, however.
Danielle Newsome said the speed review did not address issues pedestrians face, pointing to all the “fancy crosswalks” installed on Sturgeon Road that she says are hardly utilized.
In addition, she said it is problematic that Sturgeon Road is one of the arterials St. Albert would consider increasing the speed to 60 km/h.
“We're going to ... change all the signage, which is going to cost us money,” Newsome said. “People aren't really going to – you might put some speed traps up and get the odd person to kind of slow down.”
Newsome said she worries about her 12-year-old son crossing Sturgeon Road to get to his bus stop every day, since he has to cross at a spot that has extremely poor visibility for motorists approaching the intersection.
Last week the committee recommended that council set a public hearing in July for the proposed changes and spend up to $20,000 on public engagement.
If approved, the cost to implement the changes – including new signage – would be around $365,000.