Municipalities across the province have grappled with the issue of reducing residential speed limits for at least two decades, according to the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM). The provincial government currently sets a speed limit of 50 km/h within city limits unless otherwise posted, but many municipalities think it should be lower. Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes is calling on the provincial government to enact province-wide changes to speed limits by updating the provincial Motor Vehicles Act.
This situation is complicated by the relationship between provincial and municipal governments. While municipal governments have the power to enact municipal bylaws to change local speed limits, there are reasons both municipal and provincial governments don’t really want this to happen.
As Haynes said in a letter he wrote to premier John Horgan on Nov. 18, the “reality” of enacting these bylaws presents an administrative and financial burden to municipalities, as well as lacking the kind of consistency and effectiveness needed to make B.C. roads safer for residents. Municipalities would have to change speed limits for every single road one at a time, and are also charged with posting proper signange for those roads.
During the UBCM conference in September, one of the things agreed on was to ask the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure to consider amending the Motor Vehicles Act to allow incorporated municipalities (such as Saanich) to institute blanket speed zones in residential areas. This would remove the need to change speed limits one road at a time.
But Haynes was “disappointed” to receive the response from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, which he said “does not address our needs or the expressed at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.” The response cited the potential challenges of patchwork speed limits and speed enforcement as reasons for declining to make the amendment.
Varying speed limits across neighboring municipalities can cause enforcement issues, as the ministry said, due to challenges to speeding tickets on the basis that motorists can’t reasonably know the applicable speed limits set by bylaws and posted only at entrances to those defined areas.
Haynes’ Nov. 18 letter represents a shift in tactics for Saanich. He is now asking the provincial government to lower blanket residential speed limits to avoid the patchwork quilt that would result if municipalities were to go the bylaw route for lowering speeds, and he plans to get other mayors on board.
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