Last week I wrote about the report going to Edmonton City Council that could lead to the removal of 68 standalone playground zones.
There were a lot of reasons that the results of this report didn't make a lot of sense, but most of it came down to why this report was asked for in the first place. Edmonton City Council has a political problem with reduced speed zones. People don't like change, and the playground zones were a big change, one that was not popular with voters who primarily commute.
In the implementation of the playground zone project, the city opted to be extra cautious: it made more sense to install the playground zones in more places than might be strictly necessary, because if they chose not to install a zone in a particular location, and then there was a fatal collision at that location, administration would have some tough questions to answer.
While understandable, this implementation had the unfortunate outcome of installing zones in a couple places that didn't quite make sense. A great example is the field by W.P. Wagner High School. The road is an Industrial Collector, with a limit of 60km/h.
On a curve, the speed jumped down to a sudden 30km/h for the playground zone. Frankly, it was dangerous, far more dangerous than not having the zone at all as the implementation was going to cause collisions, not prevent them.
This was one of the first playground zones to get removed, as it was relatively easy to see the failings in its implementation.
Why the absurdity of it wasn't caught during installation is another question entirely, of course.
These are the types of zones that get thought of when people say there are problems with the playground zones we've added. People don't typically think of the small zones on narrow, mature streets, by the parks and green spaces in our communities.
Unfortunately, those small, mature green spaces were precisely the zones that would have been removed according to this report.
It all comes down the mechanism by which playground zones are evaluated. It's difficult to assign a quantitative measure for which areas deserve reduced speeds and which areas do not. City Council attempted to use the Alberta Infrastructure guideline on school and playground zones to accomplish this, and the results were less than ideal.
We've been touting the success of school zones since they were installed in 2014 - they've led to a substantial decrease in collisions and injuries. However, if we were to be using only the Alberta Infrastructure guideline to inform where they should be installed, we simply would not have any.
According to the provincial guideline, any elementary school that has a fence and also has sidewalks does not earn the 80 points required for a reduced speed zone.
I spoke at council this Wednesday to highlight some of the critical and crucial flaws that accepting this guideline would introduce into our traffic safety system, and Community and Public Services Committee agreed.
Council will not be pursing the removal of the 68 mentioned playground zones.
However, this doesn't address the political problem that council has, and thankfully they recognized this and opted for a purely political solution. Over the next 12 weeks, councillors will talk with city administration and write down a list of the "anomalous" playground zones in their wards; the playground zones that were installed for every reason but just don't feel like they make sense.
At the end of this three month period, the city will provide engineering guidance to council and a bylaw amendment will be prepared to remove those playground zones, if council agrees it is safe to do so.
One might ask "What makes Edmonton so special? Why are the Alberta guidelines not good enough for Edmonton?"
It's a good question, and a valid point. The issue comes down to Edmonton's lack of commitment to material traffic safety action. Edmonton doesn't fund the installation of crossing infrastructure - that can only come from the automated enforcement reserve. We have a list of over 600 crossings that are deemed unsafe, but at the current funding level we're over a decade out from improving just what's on our current list. We currently do not have any procedures at the city level for handling Community Traffic Management, so communities are completely unable to increase the safety of their streets.
Except through playground zones. That is all we have left in Edmonton.
The Alberta Infrastructure guideline specifically says that playground and school zones are not to be used the way we're using them
Zones and Areas should not be provided in an attempt to increase the safety of crossing the roadway; other devices have been developed and should be applied for such a purpose
Maybe one day Edmonton will truly embrace the goals of Vision Zero and use the right tools - with the right funding - to combat the dangers of our roadways. But until then, we have playground zones. And for now, we're not going to lose them.