Cars drive past a speed limit sign on Second Avenue in Whitehorse on April 21. Whitehorse council and administrative members discussed the possibility of reducing the speed limits in the downtown area to 40 and 30 kilometres per hour during a roundtable discussion on Nov. 19. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Cars drive past a speed limit sign on Second Avenue in Whitehorse on April 21. Whitehorse council and administrative members discussed the possibility of reducing the speed limits in the downtown area to 40 and 30 kilometres per hour during a roundtable discussion on Nov. 19. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Lower speed limits contemplated for downtown Whitehorse

Possibilities expected to formally come forward in 2021

Whitehorse drivers could be expected to move a little slower through the downtown in 2021.

At a council and administrative roundtable discussion Nov. 19, members reviewed a study done this year about the possibility of lower speed limits with council members appearing to favour a reduction to 40 kilometres per hour on Second and Fourth avenues and to 30 km/h on other downtown streets as well as on a portion of Fourth next to Ecole Whitehorse Elementary School. Most downtown streets have a speed limit of 50 km/h.

“I like the direction (this is) going,” Coun. Laura Cabott said at the meeting after being presented with the study on the matter.

Stefan Baer, a traffic engineer with the City of Whitehorse, presented it, noting more than half the collisions in the downtown between 2012 and 2018 happened on Second and Fourth Avenues.

He also detailed information showing that lowering speed limits can reduce the number of severe crashes along with increasing the field of vision for drivers and shortening the distance required for a vehicle to stop.

A number of initiatives done by other cities and towns were cited showing lower speed limits significantly decreased the number of crashes as well as injuries from crashes.

In Seattle, for example, a reduction from a 50 km/h speed limit to a 40 km/h speed limit resulted in a 22 per cent reduction in crashes and an 18 per cent reduction in injuries from collisions that did happen.

Other communities have also seen similar changes.

Questioned by Coun. Steve Roddick, Baer made it clear that the decreases in collisions and injuries came with only the reduced speed limits and no changes to road infrastructure aimed at lowering speed limits.

Baer emphasized the importance of enforcement (noting the city does work regularly with the RCMP through the city’s traffic committee), public engagement and education in any efforts to decrease speed limits.

The concept for a 40 km/h speed limit on Second and Fourth avenues and 30 km/h speed limit on other downtown streets was one of three options outlined in the study.

The other two options would see blanket speed limits throughout the downtown of 40 km/h or 30 km/h.

Baer noted though a 30 km/h limit on Second and Fourth avenues may not work well for those streets that serve as major routes for residents of the city. Meanwhile, the 40 km/h speed limit may be too much for some of the smaller side streets.

Thus, it was suggested it would be best to pursue a 40 km/h option for Second and Fourth avenues (with the exception in front of Ecole Whitehorse Elementary School which would be 30 km/h) and 30 km/h for other side streets.

Baer said transit was contacted about the study and it’s not anticipated the change would impact bus schedules in any major way as the schedule is based on a travel time of about 25 to 30 km/h for buses due to the high number of stops.

Signs noting the reduced speed limits could be placed strategically at entrances into the downtown, every 400 metres along Second and Fourth avenues and when turning onto certain streets downtown.

It’s estimated a change in the speed limit and signs would cost about $9,300, though Baer noted that estimate does not include a communications campaign to ensure residents are aware of any new speed limits beyond the signs.

Council members voiced their support to work towards the possibility of the 40 km/h speed limit on Second and Fourth avenues and 30 km/h elsewhere downtown, though many also made it clear they want to ensure the public has an opportunity to share their thoughts on the proposal.

“I think (it) makes sense,” Mayor Dan Curtis said of the option with the two speed limits.

Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu said she would like to see the public have access to the same information city council was getting in the presentation.

She also wondered what it might mean for materials available through the territory’s Motor Vehicles branch that detail speed zones for many communities, such as the pamphlet provided to those working on getting their driver’s licenses.

Baer said that would be something to be looked at and potentially explored with Motor Vehicles.

While Coun. Laura Cabott also voiced her support to move forward with the two lower speed limits, she also said with that work she wants more details on RCMP enforcement in the downtown.

“This will be a big piece of that,” she said.

Curtis noted he’s been in contact with RCMP officials who have acknowledged the importance of enforcement of speed limits in the downtown. The mayor said a meeting between RCMP and council is expected to be booked soon where the possibilities could be discussed further.

Administration will work to prepare a report and recommendation on the potential speed limits to come forward to council. It’s anticipated that would likely happen early in 2021.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

speed limitsWhitehorse city council

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