Forecast: Slow(er) Ahead

In 1996, Charles Siegel wrote Slow is Beautiful: Speed Limits as Decisions on Urban Form for The Preservation Institute. In it, he described how increased vehicle speed dramatically changed the American urban landscape in the twentieth century and demonstrated how  “speed creates distance”. In other words, traffic speed is directly related to sprawl. Mr. Siegel showed that lower speed limits could also help to reverse the process and contribute to a more compact urban form. Barrie is coming late to this lesson. As the city boomed in the 1990s, virtually every major road was widened into 5 or 6 lanes that now resemble highways. Pedestrian traffic declined and businesses discovered that they were either a destination or just part of a route. Now Barrie is contemplating “traffic calming” remedies.

In some American communities, traffic engineers set local speed limits at 80% of the speed of prevailing traffic. The theory is that the speed limit should be within a range that car drivers will obey.  As a result, residents sometimes find that the speed limit has abruptly been adjusted higher following a traffic survey, without considering the opinion of people who live in the neighbourhood.

As personal transportation moves toward electric drive, it’s less likely that drivers will have absolute control over the speed of their vehicle. In the future, maximum speed is more likely to be controlled from outside the vehicle through radio signals. A speed sign will also electronically reset the maximum speed of vehicles passing it. Some research has been already conducted along these lines in the US and the UK. The benefits are obvious – greater public safety, fewer accidents and injuries, fewer insurance claims, fewer police traffic officers and no speeding tickets. The opportunity will exist to set local speeds that are more compatible with mixed types of vehicles and make their use safer.

In earlier posts, I have advocated for ideas that would move Innisfil away from a car-dependent community, choosing instead other slower, more modest ways of travel including bikes and walking. This is part of a larger lifestyle choice that is focused on regaining a more balanced, community-focused life – the ‘Slow’ Movement (links are included on this blog). It started in Italy as the Slow Food Movement that was a reaction against the fast food industry. But organizers quickly realized that the goals went far beyond the communal table. As discussed on this blog it means less commuting, and more time to participate in our communities in things that matter to us, whether it’s food, agriculture, environment or the arts.

Interestingly, American teens appear to be placing less importance on driving. A report published in July noted, “while in the past savings from teens’ summer jobs used to often go towards buying a first used car, today it’s more likely to go be used for a smartphone, and young drivers are more likely to share the family car … the used-car market for teenagers has dramatically shrunk over the past several years. According to CNW Research it’s fallen from 7.5 million to 4.2 million in just five years; and overall, just 10.9 percent of all used cars go to teens today, versus 17.4 five years ago.”  (Trends- Fewer teens buying cars younger motorists driving less) This is attributed to more prevalent youth unemployment and greater licensing restrictions on young drivers. If there is a similar trend in Canada, I expect ‘slower’ life ahead.

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