At first blush, a recent study recommending slower vehicle speeds on a six-block stretch of Vancouver’s East Hastings Street struck me as, well, misguided. That’s because high velocities aren’t the only reason for traffic-caused pedestrian injuries in the challenged Main and Hastings neighbourhood.

It’s the unfortunate combination of lawlessness and social disorder that makes the area more prone to traffic trouble. On the occasions I have driven or cycled through the Downtown Eastside, I have witnessed everything from vicious beatings in the middle of the street, to people wandering carelessly into moving traffic.

But regardless of underlying social problems and associated risk-taking, cars and trucks are still hurting pedestrians here at a higher rate than the rest of the city. That fact in itself is impossible to brush aside.

So the report, prepared for the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), wants to lower the speed limit for vehicles to a mellower 30 kilometres per hour — a concept apparently first endorsed by the Vancouver Police Department.

The idea of lowering motorist speeds in the city is a good one — even if Vancouver’s most politicized neighbourhood is probably the wrong place to start.

A slower traffic environment would not only be a boon for pedestrians and cyclists, it would also be beneficial to more eco-friendly forms of motorized transport. Think mopeds, motorcycles, smart cars and micro-vehicles.

No longer would their vulnerable drivers need to worry so much about reckless tailgaters and red-light runners, whose speeds often exceed 80 km/h, never mind 50.

One can only imagine how many more pint-sized vehicles might commute into downtown Vancouver if, for example, the Stanley Park Causeway’s speed limit was also reduced.

More people believe that when it comes to driving, slow is the new fast. That’s what Automobile Magazine declared in a recent article entitled The Joy Of Slow.

Others have echoed that sentiment.

The Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based think-tank, has written previously about the benefits of the so-called slow car movement, given that lower road speeds lead to reduced fuel consumption. And New York Times Magazine contributor Robert Sullivan has written about the “Slow-Road Movement” in the context of rethinking our manic roads and highways.

So put aside the fact that the VANDU report is ultimately flawed. Given the benefits of slowing cars down throughout the city, it is still the right thing to do.

– Derek Moscato is a writer with a focus on urban issues, transportation, architecture
and economics;

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