Speed limit stick without public transit carrot won't work

Toronto is deciding today on whether to lower residential speed limits in East York from 40 kph to 30 kph.  No one's talking about bala...

Toronto is deciding today on whether to lower residential speed limits in East York from 40 kph to 30 kph.  No one's talking about balancing out the effects such a move will have on commute times generally.  Without a broader systems perspective, and without communicating it effectively to the citizenry, this won't end well.
Stick; no carrot. (Source: CBC)
There's good evidence (e.g., here) to support the claim that a residential speed limit of 30 kph saves lives, and that the improvement is quite significant.  It seems like a no-brainer, then, to lower the speed limits.
But that will increase commute times, which are already woefully high in Toronto due to nearly criminal neglect by all levels of government for infrastructure and public transit.  Re-timing the stoplights won't help, because you're fundamentally adding about 25% to commute times even if there were no stoplight interruptions.
Unfortunately, no one's addressing the real problem, which is not just lowering speed limits to save lives, but to do so while not adversely affecting any other feature of the transit landscape (in this case, commute times and the consequences of increasing them).
In other words, no one's thinking in systems here.  And that's bad, because without a systems perspective, things will, overall and in the long term, only get worse.
Lowering the speed limit without also instituting balancing measures elsewhere in the transportation system will put more pressure on commuters to either (a) cut their useful time at home and work (because they'll be spending more of it in their cars, lowering productivity, decreasing "work/life balance," infringing on time spent with one's family, and generally making life more miserable), (b) find alternate (and very likely longer albeit quicker) routes, which will increase fuel consumption and therefore pollution, or (c) ignore the new speed limits, undermining their responsibility to be good citizens.  Not to mention the net increase in commuter stress which will damage the population's health in the long term.
This is no way to run a city.
Here's what really needs to be done to make this move to 30 kph successful:
  • Figure out how traffic patterns will change as a result.  This isn't very hard to do these days with "big data" analyses and well-known traffic simulation techniques.
  • Figure out how people will respond to those traffic pattern changes. This can be done with surveys, town hall meetings, etc.
  • Determine what other services* (e.g., public transit) need to change to accommodate the undesirable side-effects of the speed limit decrease.
  • Make damned sure the changes to those other services are bundled into the overall strategy.
  • And perhaps most importantly, make damned sure that all of this is communicated broadly in plain language to the citizenry, and that all the citizens concerns are noted and accommodated in some way.
That last item is particularly important. Governments need to get people involved in decision making - not just because it helps them stay in power, but because one must close the systems feedback loop to make sure that the fundamental goal - increased well-being for everyone - is being met.
Sure, such an exercise will cost more.  So what?  If you do it right, everyone wins.  If you do it right, everyone suffers.  Again, it's a no brainer.
Forcing a 30 kph speed limit is a "stick."  It's a punishment because too many people aren't clever enough to realize that driving cars is a highly sub-optimal mode of transportation in big cities.  Sticks are necessary every once in a while.  But you can't use a stick without also providing a carrot.  The stick pushes people away from one behaviour, but without a corresponding carrot to a draw them to what is known to be a better solution, they'll just race off madly in every direction - many of them towards even worse behaviours.

* The services aren't necessarily limited to just public transit, though that's clearly the low-hanging fruit here.  Perhaps traffic flow needs to be changed - more one-way streets, for instance.  Perhaps more parking near public transit hubs (well, that would help no matter what....).  And there are doubtless many, many other ways that the commute time pressure can be managed.



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The Trouble with Normal...: Speed limit stick without public transit carrot won't work
Speed limit stick without public transit carrot won't work
The Trouble with Normal...
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