Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Lessons from Iceland: 30km/h zones, traffic calming, and building safe streets for kids

For the last few weeks, I have been travelling around Iceland. When I’m in different places, I like seeing how other governments tackle land-use and transportation issues, and if their solutions could be applied in Metro Vancouver and Langley City.

Iceland is very similar to BC when it comes to how people get around; driving is the primary mode of transportation. The following graph shows people's primary mode of travel. It is in Icelandic, so from left to right, the columns are auto, transit, cycling, walking. The grey is their capital region (Reykjavík), and the other bars represent the remaining regions which contain smaller towns. In their capital region, which has a similar scale and feel as Victoria, more people drive than in the smaller towns, where walking makes up the difference.

Iceland travel mode share. From left to right: driving, transit, cycling, walking.

One of the big pushes in Iceland is to reduce the speed of traffic on local roads to improve safety for children and vulnerable road users. Major roads similar to King George Boulevard or Fraser Highway have speed limits between 45km/h and 60km/h. Side streets, most streets in downtowns, and all streets near public facilities such as schools and recreation centres were capped at 30 km/h.

Iceland’s transportation department has a guide called “Umferðaröryggisáætlanir sveitarfélaga” or “The Traffic Safety Planning Guide for Local Government” which offers advice on how to building safe streets including maximum speed limits.

Since implementing 30km/h speed zones, accidents with injuries have decreased by 27% and serious accidents have decreased by 62%.

In Iceland, there is a limited number of police officers. In two weeks, I saw four police officers. All that to say, enforcement is done with road design. People certainly speed in Iceland, but in built-up areas, road design forces people to slow down.

The following pictures show some examples of traffic calming used in Iceland.

An example of a raise crosswalk at an intersection in Iceland.

A downtown street in Iceland which includes multiply mid-block raised crosswalks.

An example of a typical mid-block raise crosswalk in a residential area in Iceland.

An example of an intersection in a downtown core in Iceland.

An example of changing the road texture, and narrowing a road, when entering at 30 km/h zone.

I noticed that children of all ages biked and walked without their parents supervising them. When streets are safe for kids, they are safe for everyone.

Children of all ages use their bikes to get to school.

The traffic calming measures implemented in Iceland can be applied to communities such as Langley. 30km/h zones like in Iceland can be implemented in a similar fashion in BC. Like BC, urban roads are 50km/h unless otherwise posted. In Langley City, we are starting to build more raise crosswalks and crosswalks with curbs extensions as an example.

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