BANFF – The tourist town is dropping the town-wide speed limit to 30-km/h.
Following more than 90 minutes of discussion and debate on Monday (Jan. 10) council passed third reading of a bylaw that sets the maximum default speed limit at 30-km/h and opens up roads to skateboards and rollerblades where they were previously banned.
Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno voiced strong support for the lower speed limit, saying people need safe, lower speed streets that encourage sustainable transit choices and lead to lower vehicle congestion.
“Slower is safer, and in a community with four square kilometres, I don’t understand the need for speed,” she said.
“We don’t track the number of near misses, but we know that reducing the speed will help reduce the number of near misses and collisions as well as the severity of injuries when traffic moves slower.”
One of the main drivers behind the proposed speed limit reduction is an increase in safety.
The bylaw aims to make roads safer for people who get around on bikes, skateboards and other active modes of transportation, as well as for pedestrians in crosswalks.
There are already roads in Banff posted at 30-km/h, including Banff Avenue, and the move would also align Banff with many other cities and towns across Canada that are currently reducing speed limits on connector and residential roadways.
Of note, the City of Airdrie and Town of Cochrane have set 30-km/hr speed limits in all residential zones and the City of Toronto and Vancouver have both adopted 30-km/hr speed limit for both residential and collector roadways.
Further afield, Paris, France, went to 30-km/h across the entire city a few months ago, following in the path of many other European cities.
“There is ample evidence that reducing speed limits reduces injuries and fatalities for both vehicle passengers and pedestrians,” said Amanda Arbuckle, the Town of Banff’s manager of recreation services.
Councillor Ted Christensen supported a lower speed limit, but voiced concern about opening up all roads to skateboarders and rollerbladers.
He was unsuccessful in his attempt for a formal education program for skateboarders and rollerbladers as well as a potential registration or licensing program for non-motorized vehicle users.
“I am disappointed that we are not able to further control the use of non-motorized vehicles, which I see as a growing problem because they basically don’t follow the rules of the road,” said Coun. Christensen.
“When you’re mixing that with the vehicles that are coming into town and people that have never been in town before and are looking around, I think it creates a safety problem that we are ignoring.”
Councillor Barb Pelham, who voted in support of the default 30-km/h speed limit, wanted to address residents’ concerns that the lower speed limit is an intentional cash grab by the municipality.
“I just don’t believe that. I really believe it’s about safety, about consistency and about moving us in this direction of pedestrianization and of active modes of transportation,” she said.
“I would like to assure residents this is not about money, this is about safety, this is about encouraging people to get out and move in different ways.”
Councillor Grant Canning did some calculations on the amount of time people would save if the speed limit stays the same.
He said 54 seconds would have been saved had the speed limit not gone from 40-km/h to 30-km/h on Banff Avenue from the Inns of Banff to the CIBC, while it is just a 27-second difference between 30-km/h and 40-km/h on a 900-stretch of Tunnel Mountain Road.
“I think those are very small prices to pay for increasing the safety along those stretches of roads,” he said.
“If we have 30-km/h on our road system, it’s also much easier to communicate and it’s much easier to enforce.”
Councillor Hugh Pettigrew failed in his attempt to keep Tunnel Mountain Road from Deer Street to Douglas Fir Chalets Mountain Avenue at 40-km/h, with support only coming from councillors Kaylee Ram and Ted Christensen.
“These streets are addressing a different type of traffic than residential and they are built to standards that accommodate 40-km/h,” he said, adding the limit goes to 50-km/h or 60-km/h on these roads as they transition into Parks Canada jurisdiction.
In the lead up to Monday’s decision, council had been flooded with public feedback both in support and in opposition to a town-wide 30-km/h speed limit.
Resident Mark Walker said he mostly supports a 30-km/h speed zone across town for safety reasons, but he said it could create some problems on some of the steeper roads like Mountain Avenue, Tunnel Mountain, Otter Street and St.-Julien Road.
Walker, who suggests those roads remain at 40-km/h, said the downhill section of Mountain Avenue is quite steep from the Rimrock Resort Hotel, and in particular from above Middle Springs to about Kootenay Avenue.
“On a bike, without even trying, it’s easy to reach speeds around 40-km/h,” wrote Walker in his letter to council. “This is a favourite spot for bylaw to set up their radar because vehicles often hit speeds of 60-km/h or more, often without even noticing.”
Walker said the uphill journey can be an even bigger problem.
“In the winter when the road gets slick, you need to build up a bit of momentum to get around the bend at Kootenay or risk losing traction before the Valleyview crosswalk,” he said.
“Living up the hill, I have seen multiple cars, trucks, even Town buses getting stuck on this section of road. Requiring them to drive even slower before the steep corner will only create more issues.”
Long-time resident Ron Tessolini said he’s unconvinced there is a need to lower the speed limit given a lack of police reports, news articles or letters to the editor reporting on numbers of accidents, or how unsafe Banff’s streets are, or the fear citizens and visitors have riding or walking about town.
“As council appears ready to implement this 30-km/h speed zone, I request that it be applied to residential areas only and that ancillary roadways such as Tunnel Mt. Rd, St.-Julian Rd, Spray Ave, Norquay Rd, Mountain Ave and even Banff Ave be maintained at a minimum 40-km/hr,” he wrote in a letter to council.
If council is serious about safety and vehicle emissions, Tessolini suggested relocation of the BANFF letters sign from the Norquay Road to a more suitable location be considered to improve pedestrian, bike and vehicle safety while eliminating a Town liability.
Long-time residents Stormy and Phillip Monod are in favour of reducing the speed limit everywhere to 30-km/h.
“It makes sense to make the entire town consistent so that visitors don’t get confused why it is 30-km/h in one neighbourhood but 40-km/h in another; it also makes it safer for everyone from pedestrians to motorists all over town,” they wrote to council.
In terms of Mountain Avenue, the Monods said most people currently go at least 10-km/h over the posted 40-km/h speed limit on the way up the hill toward the Upper Hot Springs on Sulphur Mountain most of the year.
“If the speed limit were reduced to 30-km/h, they would most likely go 40-km/h instead,” they wrote.
Robb Aishford said he believes 40-km/h should remain the standard speed limit throughout the community.
“Unless someone is driving in a school or playground zone, 30 is honestly too slow,” he said.
If Banff passes the default speed of 30-km/h, Aishford said he would make a special trip just to try out bicycling around the town.
“I have used the bike path from Canmore to Banff more than once, but always turned around at the entrance to Banff because of the traffic,” he said.“With a 30-km speed limit, Banff could become a destination point for people who just want to enjoy a safe zone for pedestrians and bicyclists.”
It is expected to take about a month for the change in speed limit to come into effect by the time signs are ordered and education is done.