October 10, 2012

Council wants 60 kph limit on rural Town roads

As published in The Erin Advocate

In an effort to make drivers slow down on Erin's rural roads, Town council is planning to raise the speed limit to 60 kilometres per hour (kph).

Contrary to popular belief and driving habits, the current limit in rural areas is 50 kph, unless posted otherwise. This is the default speed limit set by the province for all "towns". If Erin were a "township", the default would be 80 kph.

Erin council has had the authority to override the default speed limit and set it at any level from 40 to 80 kph. They debated the issue in 2009 and initially voted for a 80 kph limit, but then put the issue on hold for further study. No new bylaw has been adopted and many areas remain unsigned.

At last week's meeting, council changed its intention, unanimously backing a recommendation from Road Superintendent Larry Van Wyck to develop a bylaw that would set 60 kph as the normal maximum in rural areas (including most hamlets) and 40 kph in the urban areas of Hillsburgh and Erin village.

A public information meeting will be held at the Town office on October 30, at 7:30 p.m., so people can see maps and a presentation about the new limits, and have their questions answered.

The bylaw would not apply to the grid of County roads, including Trafalgar Road and County Road 124. There would also be exceptions, including boundary roads shared with neighbouring municipalities, and specific zones already covered by other speed limit bylaws. These include 50 kph areas on 17 Sideroad and in the hamlet of Cedar Valley.

Van Wyck said there will be a significant cost, since about 230 new signs will be needed, especially at intersections where drivers may turn off an 80 kph County road onto a 60 kph Town road. The new bylaw could be passed next month, but the speed limits will not come into effect until the signs are actually put up next year.

Mayor Lou Maieron warned that there will have to be an awareness campaign to ensure that drivers are aware of the law.

"We're going to have a public outcry," he said, pointing out that the Ontario Provincial Police have said that speeding is not a major factor in accidents in Erin.

In a 2007 letter to Van Wyck regarding a possible 50 kph limit, Staff Sergeant Scott Smith said, "it would appear that there is not a significant problem" though noting it is difficult to draw an accurate conclusion without knowing specific traffic volumes.

"A reduction in speed limits would in my opinion have little impact on the rate of motor vehicle collisions, as speed is not the overwhelming factor," he said. "This change will result in an increase in the number of traffic complaints and the subsequent increase in officer hours attached to this type of investigation."

Van Wyck said the Town has a legal opinion that the rural speed limit has definitely been 50 kph since enactment of the new Municipal Act in 2002, since Erin was no longer a township at that time.

"This is a bit problematic with enforcement, because I don't believe our OPP are all familiar with the dates and this provision of the Highway Traffic Act," he said. "The OPP come out and say, 'Well, they're doing 80', but really the speed limit isn't 80."

With the current 50 kph limit, anyone doing over 100 kph could be charged with racing and have their vehicle impounded.

In 2009, John Brennan was the only councillor voting against the 80 kph plan. Councillors Barb Tocher, Josie Wintersinger, Ken Chapman and Mayor Rod Finnie voted in favour.

Brennan then successfully pushed for a review of the 80 kph plan, noting that a consultant's topographical review of road conditions showed a recommended speed of 80 kph for only 8.7% of roads, and 70 kph for 2.9%. Speeds of up to 60 kph were suggested for 20.3% of roads, 50 kph for 26.1% and 40 kph for 42%.

"My concern was that by posting the default to 80, we were placing ourselves in a situation of liability," he said last week. "I think 60 is a good compromise. People are going to go what they're going to go, but at 60, our conscience is satisfied that we are doing what we should be doing."
Councillors Tocher and Wintersinger have now voted in favour of the 60 kph plan.

"Sometimes you just can't fight provincial legislation forever," said Tocher. "If we were still called a township, and the Highway Traffic Act allowed us to have a default speed limit of 80 kph, I would not even consider a bylaw of setting the speed limit at 60 kph.

"This issue has been around for the last 14 years for the Town. It's time to resolve it. I suppose we could have considered an overall bylaw to set the rural roads at 80 kms an hour, but I believe this would have put the corporation in a very poor position, with regard to liability.

"This by-law will also bring clarity for the OPP. It must be difficult for the OPP. Under the present situation, the Highway Traffic Act says one thing, the practice has been another and the Town has not clarified the situation.

"If you take into account the study that was done, most of the rural roads would actually have been less than 60 kms an hour. I believe that, although this bylaw may not be perfect, it is a best efforts compromise."

Van Wyck said engineering standards demand better roads for higher speeds. Guidelines published by the Transportation Association of Canada justify lower speed limits for most of Erin's roads, because of hills, curves, gravel surfaces, narrow roadways, visual obstructions, frequency of driveways and exposure to pedestrians and cyclists (without bike lanes or adequate shoulders).

"I drove up and down these roads looking for some compelling reason to raise the speed limit back up to 80," he said. "In a 66 foot right of way, in a rolling topography, we can't meet an 80 kilometre design speed."