Slowing Down Cars Saves Lives. So Why Is Toronto's Mayor So Opposed?

Lowering speed limits can greatly cut down on pedestrian injuries. But Rob Ford thinks one such proposal is "nuts."

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Toronto mayor Rob Ford thinks the idea of reducing speed limits in the city to save lives is “nuts, nuts, nuts.”

Ford's remarks come on the heels of Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, David McKeown, releasing a report that recommended reducing speed limits because of the public health benefit. Ridicule from the mayor doesn't seem to have deterred McKeown, however. Nor did a remark from the head of the city’s public works committee that Meckeown should "stick to his knitting." From The Globe and Mail:

“I’m not surprised that on first blush, some people might be concerned about the recommendation,” Dr. McKeown said in an interview. “[But] the evidence of the relationship between speed and mortality and fatality is very strong.”

Indeed it is. A person hit by a driver traveling at 48 kilometers per hour (roughly 30 miles per hour) is three times more likely to suffer a serious injury than someone struck at 32 kph (20 mph). A person struck at 40 mph is 3.5 times more likely to be killed than one struck at 30 mph.

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Cities all over the world are taking note, implementing campaigns like the United Kingdom’s “20’s Plenty Where People Live.” In New York City, a neighborhood “slow zone” program is being piloted, allowing communities to request 20 mph zones in low-traffic areas (New York’s limit, which is not posted on most streets and frequently exceeded by drivers, is 30). These zones are indicated not only by signs, but also by speed bumps and other traffic-slowing design measures. Nearly 100 neighborhoods across the city have applied to be part of the program this year after the first such zone was implemented in the Bronx last year.

In London, a 20 mph speed limit has resulted in a 41 percent reduction of road casualties – a figure that includes, significantly, not only pedestrians and cyclists, but also car occupants.

In Toronto, medical officer McKeown proposes reducing the limit on residential streets in Toronto to 30 kph (approximately 19 mph) and the default speed for the city at large to 40 kph (approximately 25 mph). Here's his quote via InsideToronto.com:

"I'm doing my job," he said. "It's the job of the medical officer of health to look into the health of the population -- not only through the services we provide through Toronto Public Health but also by recommending the best policies for the city."

So why is Ford so opposed? Even a quick glance at his record offers clues. Back when he was a city council member, Ford proclaimed that “cyclists are a pain in the ass” and vowed shortly after his election to sink surface light-rail plans because they are part of a “war on the car.” Instead, he proposed vastly more expensive subways and has promised to keep fighting against light rail “blocking up our city,” even though the city council ultimately revived the project.

Photo credit: Stacie Stauff Smith Photography/Shutterstock

About the Author

  • Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn.