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EDITORIAL: Speed snarls

"Improving traffic flow on St. Albert's main roads could do the job of discouraging people from shortcutting through neighbourhoods."

If you've lived in St. Albert, driven through it or simply talked to someone who has, you probably know the list of traffic complaints is long and detailed.

Traffic lights? Not co-ordinated enough. Speed limits? Not consistent enough. Roundabouts? A laughable use of public money – or a prudent alternative to long lights, depending on who you ask.

The list goes on. Many of the criticisms St. Albert faces are rooted in decades of increasing traffic volume, particularly on St. Albert Trail, Boudreau Road and Ray Gibbon Drive – an unavoidable side effect of growth. As traffic levels increased, so has the amount of people shortcutting through neighbourhoods.

Fast forward to today, where efforts to slow down vehicles in residential areas have led to unpopular traffic-calming measures in many neighbourhoods. Now, the city is in the throes of a speed limit review, presented to one of council's two main committees Monday.

About a third of all collisions and 15 per cent of severe collisions that happen in St. Albert occur on local roadways – that is, roads within neighbourhoods – and that number is on the rise, according to city transportation manager Dean Schick. Given the city's commitment to Vision Zero, a traffic safety goal of zero fatalities, administration is recommending council reduce speeds on these roads to 40 km/h and thus reduce the severity of collisions – even though a majority of residents who weighed in during the city's extensive public consultation opposed such a measure.

Local speed reductions aren't exactly a silver bullet. Councillors heard Monday that the recent speed reduction in Erin Ridge seems to have had preliminary success, though it hasn't been in place long enough for the city to say definitively. Anecdotally, residents who live adjacent to Erin Ridge Drive told the Gazette in September the new speed limit has helped slow excessive speeders but people are still going faster than the speed limit.

Exactly how much this will improve safety is unknown. If 85 per cent of severe collisions are happening elsewhere, perhaps council's attention is better focused where the majority of collisions occur. People are already frustrated with how long it takes to get through St. Albert on main roadways, and increasing the time it takes to travel local roadways – even marginally – is bound to foster more frustration. Improving traffic flow on St. Albert's main roads could do the job of discouraging people from shortcutting through neighbourhoods.

Then there's the cost factor. By February of last year, the city had already spent roughly $70,000 on its speed and playground zone review, which led to the initial recommendation to reduce neighbourhood speed limits to 40 km/h. Add in another $20,000 for public engagement and roughly $230,000 for implementing the recommendations, as estimated back in September, and the price tag is one that deserves careful consideration.

Some of the recommendations are no-brainers. Short 30 km/h zones, such as the one on Sturgeon Road between Burns Street and Burnham Avenue, could disappear. Most arterial and collector roads would have more consistent – and higher – speeds. But lowering all neighbourhood speeds to 40 km/h should only be done based on quantitative evidence that it will actually make our roadways safer. Let’s wait and see what the evidence tells us.