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Port Stanley News RSS Feed  News Changing Speed Limits On County Roads Is Easier Said Than Done


by Doug Harvey

According to a report from Brian Lima, Director of Engineering Services for Elgin County, prior to the most recent Highway Traffic Act amendment on January 1, 2019, all unsigned major collector or arterial roads in Elgin County had an assumed default speed limit of 80 km/h and these limits do not need to be signed or by-lawed. Through legislation municipalities can change speed limits on roads other than 50 km/h or 80 km/h roads by installing signs and supporting a corresponding by-law. Within the County's rural area, most of the major collector or arterial roads have 80 km/h speed limits with the exception of some more densely populated areas where the speed limits have been reduced.

County of Elgin Roads Plan and Policies reflect planning and policies that consider functional classification of roads, access to adjacent lands, land development, road setbacks, road system improvements, truck routes, pedestrians, and cyclists that is used as a basic framework for the long term planning of the County Road network. Endorsed by Elgin County Council on April 28, 2009, these policies served to establish the function of the County roads and protect the right-of-way for future improvements.

When existing posted speed limits are reviewed due to operational or public concerns, engineering studies are typically conducted, and must consider all road users (motorists, pedestrians and cyclists) using a mix of engineering principles and consideration of human factors such as: road characteristics, vehicle operating speeds and volumes, reported collision history, pedestrian and cyclist activity, driveway spacing, location of signalized intersections, roadway and roadside features such as hills, curves and on-street parking, as well as adjacent land use. The process also recognizes that motorists are required to make a series of complex decisions in relatively short time frames, and that motorists' perception of the roadway characteristics is critical in determining the rate of speed they feel comfortable driving.

Speed limits are influenced by the design and classification of a roadway. In accordance with the latest edition of the MTO's "Geometric Design Standards For Ontario Highways", while reviewing possible speed limits, the first step in evaluating the roads geometry is to select a logical design speed. Design speed is defined as "a speed used for the design and correlation of the physical features of a highway that influence vehicle operation", and as "the maximum safe speed that can be maintained over a specified section of highway when conditions are so favourable that the design features of the highway govern". Further, MTO commonly uses design speeds of 100 km/h for arterial and collector roads and 80 km/h for local roads, in excess of such roads posted at 80 km/h and 60 km/h respectively. The County's policies and design speed selection process to date has mirrored that of MTO's Standards.

Artificially high or low posted speed limits have little impact on actual operating speeds and can often result in increased motorist travel time, increased non-compliance, increased driver frustration, and decreased roadway capacity. Conversely, when speed limits are appropriate, there is a decrease in speed variance, a reduction in the instances of aggressive driving, increased credibility for the posted speed limit, and an achieved sustainable balance between positive (e.g. mobility, efficiency) and negative (e.g. environment, collision severity) conditions.

In conducting the engineering studies to review posted speed limits, the 85th percentile speed factor is sometime used as a predominant indication of the appropriate posted speed limit. This represents the speed at which 85% of the motorists are traveling at or below, and is based on the reasoning that drivers are in general reasonable and travel at a speed they feel comfortable with so as to avoid crashes. Collection of such data is obtained over a minimum twenty-four (24) hour period during favourable weather conditions on an average weekday.

The review of driveway and signalized intersection spacing is completed by using the MTO's respective guidelines, while a review of collision history involves a review of data collected over a three (3) year period to determine the average collision frequency, and a view of situations where a reduction of the speed limit might cause rear-end collisions or encourage overtaking manoeuvres by motorists.

Adjustments to posted speed limits throughout the County in whole or part are anticipated to have a direct impact on the current Road Maintenance Agreement funding formula that calculates road maintenance allocation payments to the County's member municipal partners.

Additional costs associated with speed warning signage may also be required in accordance with Ontario Traffic Manual Book 5 – Regulatory Signs to provide information to motorists only entering a road section where the posted speed limit is considerably reduced. Maximum speed ahead warning signage must be placed 100 m to 250 m upstream from where a posted reduced speed zone of 20 km/h or more exists. Furthermore, a maximum speed sign with the "begins" legend may also be required to follow.

The HTA allows the council of a municipality, for motor vehicles driven on a highway or portion of such under its jurisdiction, to prescribe by by-law a rate of speed different than set out in subsection 128 (1) that is not greater than 100 km/h, and may prescribe different rates of speed for different times of day.

In response to any operational or public concerns associated with speed limits, County Engineering Service staff would reference the applicable policies, and recognized provincial standards and Canadian guidelines when reviewing posted speed limit adjustment requests.

If Council wished to explore posted speed limit adjustments of the County's road network in whole or in part, Engineering Services would need to undertake engineering studies of each applicable road section guided by the applicable MTO Standards and Transportation Association of Canada's guideline evaluation tools, to assess the appropriate speed limits based primarily on the classification, function, and physical characteristics of a roadway.

Last Updated: Monday, 15 April 2019 13:36:47 PM EST

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