BANFF – The rubber meets the road next week when Banff’s elected officials decide whether or not to implement a contentious town-wide 30-km/h speed limit.
In early December, council gave first and second reading to a bylaw that proposes to lower the speed limit as well as open up all roads to skateboards and rollerblades. Third reading was delayed until Monday, Jan. 10 to give residents a chance to have one last say on the matter.
Ahead of next Monday’s meeting, residents have flooded council with several letters both in support and opposition to the lower speed limit, which 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.
Amanda Arbuckle, the Town of Banff’s manager of recreation services, said one of the main drivers behind the proposed speed limit reduction is an increase in safety.
“There is ample evidence that reducing speed limits reduces injuries and fatalities for both vehicle passengers and pedestrians,” she said in a report going to council.
There are already roads in Banff posted at 30-km/h, including Banff Avenue, and Arbuckle said 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,” she said.
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.”
Walker said Spray Avenue, particularly the section from the Mountain Avenue intersection to Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, should have dedicated bike lanes and traffic calming measures in place before enforcing a lower limit.
“While there is on-street parking on both sides of the road, it’s not always utilized and the road can feel like a freeway,” he said.
“One of the biggest factors affecting driver speed is the width of the road and I feel like lowering the speed here will feel more like a cash grab than a safety measure.”
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/hr 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 from the Norquay Road to a more suitable location be considered to improve pedestrian, bike and vehicle safety while eliminating a Town liability.
In terms of reducing vehicle emissions, he suggested changing the town-wide midnight to 7 a.m., four-way flashing lights to caution amber on Banff Avenue while maintaining the red stop on adjacent side streets.
“Coordinate the lights on Banff Ave. so drivers can actually make it from one end to the other without stopping at every red light intersection,” said Tessolini.
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.
Residents Mike Carkner voiced strong support for a town-wide 30-km/h speed limit.
“It’s safer for wildlife and the people who reside here,” he said.
Carkner, who has lived in Banff for 25 years, said jaywalking is a major issue in town, noting reducing speed limits in all areas will help lower the probability of an injury or fatality.
“I especially think reducing speed limits is needed to keep people and wildlife safe in the winter months,” he said.
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.”
Jesse Gilmore voiced opposition, saying navigating Banff is a challenge on a good day.
He said between tourists, traffic and wildlife, further slowing the pace of traffic via a lower speed limit will only cause further frustration.
“30-km/h is slow. 40-km/h is workable, but any further adjustments aren’t necessary,” he wrote.
Alan Stevenson registered his objections to the proposed 30-km/h speed limit.
“Cars currently get overtaken by bikes on the flat roads, never mind on the hills, so we can now look forward to being overtaken by skateboards as well if this gets the go-ahead,” he wrote. “Where are the statistics on car versus pedestrians to back up this madness, or is this another revenue gathering exercise for the bylaw officers? I would rather see more enforcement at pedestrian crossings on Banff Ave. where cars just ignore people trying to cross.”