Fix Winnipeg's Speed Limit Signs And Review Speed Limits
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Did you know that speeding may not be dangerous? According to Winnipeg's traffic engineers, it may not be and that's why inadequate speed limit signing isn't malpractice. However, they may have a point that speaks to a larger issue.
Speed limits in Manitoba are set by the Highway Traffic Board (HTB) generally following engineering reports and studies by the city but this process has greatly failed Winnipeg.
An example is Grant Ave, where the limit was lowered in 1989 from 60-50 km/h as part of an 18 month trial. Follow-up concluded that the 60 km/h limit should be reinstated based on, "radar speed studies and traffic collision histories" but yet it was left too low for unknown reasons. A 2003 city engineering study concluded that based on a collision and radar speed study, both Grant and Kenaston should have their limits changed from 50 to 60 km/h. Rather than forwarding this to the HTB, city councillors decided that they didn't agree with the engineers and that in future, speed limit concerns will go through the councillors rather than engineers. Since then, these roads have become the top ticket hotspots generating millions of dollars for the city and province despite opposition from engineers:
However, in 2004, the HTB did raise the limits on two other roads. A one block section of Disraeli was raised from 50-60 km/h and a portion of Century was raised from 60-70 km/h. Both of these locations had speed cameras which saw a 95 and 98% drop in ticket volumes indicating that most speeding is related to speed limit setting.
Without the engineers being able to write reports due to politics, the HTB did their own multi-year assessment of speed limits in Winnipeg and in 2012 proposed many increases. This would have changed the current roller coaster of speeds on many roads with limits often changing only for a few blocks at a time. Raising limits would have decimated the traffic ticket industry based on the results from Century and Disraeli.
City councillors tried to protect the ticket industry by vigorously opposing the increases. Before limits could be raised following the review and public hearings, the politicians were able to prevent the changes by putting the HTB under review claiming that they were instead doing a province wide review of speed limits. This tactic prevented the board from implementing changes.
In the years since this announcement, there has been no word about this review which essentially did nothing but allow politics to shut down the HTB and allow the limits to remain unaddressed. Ironically, even though limits were not raised since they will not be changed during the so called review of the HTB, some have been lowered further.
Winnipeg is further compounding this claimed problem of speeding with inadequate signage. In 2013, Winnipeg began a speed limit sign removal project removing over 100 signs including those installed before intersection speed cameras. Despite public opposition and a petition, the removal began in 50 km/h zones but eventually effected all speed zones helping create a 64% increase in photo ticket volumes.
In addition, unlike other cities, Winnipeg does not place speed limit signs on both sides of divided roads. This causes the problem of sign shadowing where traffic in the median lane(s) will not see the sign due to having sight lines obstructed by larger vehicles in the curb lane(s). Making matters worse, Winnipeg does place almost all other types of signs on both sides of the road making speed signs the exception. This is not the practice recommended in engineering manuals or utilized in other cities. Using intersection camera statistics for 50 km/h zones, I showed that 400% more tickets are issued after speed reductions where some drivers will not know the speed limit has reduced due to sign shadowing. I used this as a basis for a complaint to the engineering board (APEGM) against Winnipeg engineers for using improper signing and causing a speeding problem. I do not know how many police or photo radar tickets are issued at these locations since the city refuses to release the stats claiming they aren't public record.
The city's engineers have defended the bad signing by claiming through APEGM that I can't prove that speeding causes crashes. They claimed that the tickets issued to 1000's of drivers is not an engineering concern because speeding is not a safety concern if the limit is too low and therefore bad signing isn't a safety issue. In reference to claims about how dangerous speeding is, they have stated that some departments of the city such as police say some things that may not be true but as engineers, they know that speeding on many of these roads isn't dangerous. The real concern they said is speed differentials often caused by too low of a limit.
The engineers' position is certainly consistent with established research on speed limits and the positions of other advocacy groups such as the Speed Kills Your Pocketbook video:
Even some police agencies support proper speed limits such as Michigan State Police which give information completely opposite of what is said by Winnipeg Police.
It is unfair for Winnipeg to justify bad signing as not being dangerous while running a multi-million dollar speed enforcement industry off of claims such as "Speed Kills" and "Just Slow Down." Last year, Winnipeg issued 100,973 speeding tickets which also happen to be the highest fines in the country by about twice the national average. If we're going to justify these tickets, we have to have proper signing and correct limits to ensure that only those who are actually driving unsafely will be fairly targeted for tickets.
Ironically, the same councillors who have opposed raising speed limits have also refused to address signing. Winnipeg police claimed in media, "They're still speeding like crazy. It's a big problem speed area. It's a huge complaint area. A lot of the people from all the residential apartment blocks phone us on a regular basis, saying they can barely get across the street at the crosswalk because of all the speeders" to justify aggressive enforcement on Grant. There was a 50 km/h sign along this stretch which was removed shortly after that claim. Overall, Grant is heavily enforced, had the speed limit sign removed, is after an insufficiently signed speed reduction and has an inadequately low limit and it is just one of many similar roads.
I contacted and presented to mayoral candidates before last year's elections. Mr. Bowman was the only candidate that refused to respond to my requests. All those that saw my presentation had platforms supporting proper engineering and improved signing. Mr. Bowman was elected and to date has refused to even hear about the issues I'm trying to bring forward.
We need to have speed limits set based on engineering criteria so that those who are ticketed are actually doing something dangerous. Citizens cannot afford to pay hundreds of dollars in tickets just so the government can use enforcement as a revenue generator. Whatever the limits are set at, they must be properly signed so that drivers know what is expected of them. Bad signing cannot be justified by saying that speeding isn't dangerous and ticketing is therefore not a safety issue. The government cannot claim that different departments make different claims.
When I saw John Oliver's clip about municipal violations, I was outraged:
It is hard for some people to pay their fines; especially here where they are so high but it's even more egregious considering that with bad signing, many people are tricked into speeding and now I'm told by engineers that it's not a concern because speeding may not be dangerous. I petition the province/city to:
1 - Replace all removed speed limit signs
2 - Place speed limit signs before all speed camera locations
3 - Place all speed limit signs on both sides of all divided/one-way roads
4 - Allow engineers to do a city-wide assessment and report of speed limits
Getting ticketed for speeding needs to mean you were actually driving dangerously and were given a chance to know the limit.
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Christian Sweryda needs your help with “Mayor Brian Bowman, MIT Minister Ron Kostyshyn: Fix Winnipeg's Speed Limit Signs And Review Speed Limits”. Join Christian and 2,093 supporters today.