Calgary city council was rolling toward a decision on whether to the lower residential speed limit to 40 km/h, but instead changed lanes and voted to delay the issue until next year when they will consider putting it to voters in October’s municipal election. 

Councillors voted 8-6 in favour of pushing the decision to February and directing administration to come up with possible questions for a plebiscite on the speed limit item. At that time, council can decide whether to put the question on the municipal ballot, approve the item without a plebiscite or quash the idea altogether. 

“I generally have a bit of antipathy to plebiscites because I figure that people elected us to do a job,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who voted against putting the item to a public vote. 

“Quite frankly, we have spent a ton of time reliving very deeply into a lot of scientific data, into a lot of different pieces of work that have led hear and in the general public we hear a lot of misinformation,” he said. 

Last month, the city’s transportation and transit committee voted in favour of reducing Calgary’s residential speed limit from 50 km/h to 40 km/h. Council heard public submissions on Monday and Tuesday morning and was set to vote on the bylaw before the motion to consider the plebiscite was passed. 

If eventually passed, the new bylaw would mean the unposted speed limit on residential roads — roads that are typically in neighbourhoods without a middle line — would be lowered from 50 km/h to 40 km/h. The bylaw also calls for 50 km/h speed limit signs to be installed on collector roadways in the city. 

The cost to install new speed limit signs is estimated at $2.3 million. If council passes the bylaw in February, it could be in place by the summer of 2021. That implementation date will be pushed back if it’s put to a plebiscite instead.

Dozens of members of the public signed up to speak to council, though only a handful actually showed up or tuned into this week’s council meeting. Some Calgarians voiced concerns about “turning all of Calgary into a playground zone,” while others supported the idea to reduce the speed limit. 

“This one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t target where the vast majority of collisions are. It’s the illusion solving a problem without actually doing the hard work of education, enforcement and engineering,” said Coun. Jeromy Farkas.

“I believe the money would be far better spent focusing on problem areas," he said.

According to the city, there are nearly 37,000 crashes in the city every year. About a quarter of those, 9,100 annually, occur on streets inside Calgary neighbourhoods, with an average of 550 of those collisions resulting in serious injury or death. 

A city report estimates the speed limit reductions would prevent about 300 collisions a year and could result in about $8 million in savings in societal costs, including property damage, hospital costs and loss of work due to injury. 

“Frankly, the city has been talking about this for two decades,” said Coun. Jeff Davison.

“What we have here is a city-wide solution that would save tens of millions of dollars every budget cycle, not to mention lives, which I believe is important to taxpayers and all of us as human beings.”

The City of Edmonton is also moving forward with a similar project to reduce the unposted speed limit to 40 km/h.