How Edmonton is quick to words but slow to action / by Tim Querengesser

On September 10, Calgary will debate a motion to adopt a 30km/h speed limit on its residential streets. For anyone in Edmonton – a city that has bragged about being the first major Canadian city to adopt the principles of Vision Zero, which it did in 2015 – this debate and the widespread support the proposal appears to have within Calgary's council should be instructive.

You see, Calgary has not declared itself a Vision Zero city in the way Edmonton has. Those advocating for improvements under the Vision Zero banner in Calgary are not city employees beholden to the bureaucratic maxim of not rocking boats while trying to make change. 

They are just advocates.  

 Flickr/Allain Rouiller

Flickr/Allain Rouiller

This distinction is important. Reaching the very necessary goal of Vision Zero, which is to see a road design that results in zero deaths from collisions, will not be achieved through pain-free information campaigns that urge us to slow down, or tell pedestrians to pay more attention, or suggest those on their feet wear reflective tape, or have people with flags announce their presence at crosswalks. And it won't be achieved through having police ticket speeders (though this does help slow people down somewhat).

Instead, it will require a rethink of our streets and how we design them. Design a street for speed and you will get speed.   

While Edmonton has made some progress to protect active-mobility users on our streets, including the bike-lane network, creating some actual Vision Zero targets, adopting Complete Streets as a design standard and contemplating banning rights on red, what we have right now is a bit of city council contradicting itself. It has done this by voting in Vision Zero but then choosing to postpone a vote on one of its many necessary steps, which is 30km/h speeds in residential areas.

Speed is central to Vision Zero goals. As one Swedish Vision Zero expert visiting Edmonton said, as reported by the CBC, "To my eye, you have very high speed in your town compared to what we see in Sweden. We are giving higher priority today to cyclists and to pedestrians, getting the speed of cars down, making the city a lot of livable."

Ouch.  

In Edmonton, real, hard, often unpopular decisions will have to be made for us to even come close to achieving Vision Zero. Political will, well, will have to be shown. Emails from angry drivers will have to be either ignored or absorbed or balanced, rather than used as reasons to postpone decisions. 

The boat, in short, will have to be rocked. Thirty will have to become normal in neighbourhoods.

I find it highly interesting that Calgary has gotten to this point and, after September 10, if all goes the way advocates hope, may in fact overtake Edmonton in putting some basic Vision Zero principles in place. All despite Edmonton having a dedicated office, budget and staff charged with that very task.