A regularly seen warning on roads is that “speed kills” and cities have been slowing traffic around the world to protect pedestrians. However, have you thought about how speed as a concept kills? Over at the tech-worshipping magazine, Wired, they’re running an article that explores the idea that reaching for better speeds is in itself a problem. The need for speed is killing the planet and instead, they argue, we need to strive for efficiency.
Here’s the thing: These ideas for accelerating the future fail to address a far more pressing problem than our stalled speedometers. In the US, transportation accounts for 27 percent of the carbon we release into the air, more than any other sector of the economy. Four-fifths of that comes from cars and trucks. The internal combustion engine is rocketing us deeper into a climate crisis that demands an immediate—and big—reduction in those emissions. Hyperloops might run on clean electricity, but it would take decades for them to become extensive enough to replace a significant number of cars. Supersonic flight requires engines that use much more fuel, and more carbon, than slower planes. These rosy renderings of effortless whooshing hither and yon distract us from what the problem demands: a way forward that prioritizes not thoughtless speed but calibrated efficiency.
Drivers often argue for higher speed limits thinking that it will allow them to get around faster. Unfortunately that logic usually isn’t true and when speed limits are increased then more people die. High speed limits are even more dangerous in urban settings since collisions in cities involve drivers hitting cyclists and pedestrians.
It’s often argued that speed limits should be as low as possible in urban centres since it has little impact on traffic and a huge influence on collisions with pedestrians. The city of Edinburgh has made the smart decision to lower their speed limit in order to protect road users from drives.
The speed limit change is an explicit move to encourage walking and biking, especially in the city center. “Edinburgh’s move also syncs with the Scottish government’s 2010 Cycling Action Plan, which aimed for 10 percent of all journeys to be taken by bike by 2020. When the plan was updated in 2013, urban areas were encouraged to introduce more 20 mph streets.”
Cars kill. Or is it like the gun debate – cars don’t kill people drivers kill people? Regardless of fault the results of car use as a primary means of transportation causes health problems and needless death. Cities around the world are taking steps to try and hold back cars (or is it drivers?) from killing people. One sure-fire way that works is to lower the speed limit.
The City of London lowered their local speed limits and found that it made for safer streets. Other cities are finding the same strategy equally effective, yet here in Toronto will we ever see this? Our local councillors and crack-consuming mayor went out of their way to spend $300,000 to ensure cars can move faster at the expense of cyclists. The mayor himself has stated multiple times that the lives of non-drivers are worth less than taxpaying drivers. Torontotist looks into the issue while sharing the success of smarter cities than Toronto.
The move to reduce driving speeds in cities is based on some convincing statistics. Greater London contains roughly 400 zones with 20 mph speed limits, and these are credited with reducing traffic fatalities by 42 per cent. In London, Barcelona, Brussels, and a handful of other European cities, low-speed zones have resulted in significantly increased bike and foot traffic, according to a 2013 study, as people have begun to feel safer on city streets.
The U.K.’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in 2011 found that decreasing average driving speeds by just one mile per hour would reduce the accident rate by about 5 per cent. There has even been academic research on the success of lowered-speed zones in the U.K.
This week Wired published an article about the 20 deadliest US cities for pedestrians and they write:
There, low-density neighborhoods “rely on wider streets with higher speeds to connect homes, shops, and schools—roads that tend to be more dangerous for people walking,” the report says. More than half of all pedestrian deaths recorded from 2003-2012 occurred on wide arterial roads designed to move cars quickly.
Paris, is known for its boulevards that accommodate fast moving traffic (in theory) and good pedestrian walking. Over the past few years Paris has had some of the worst traffic problems in the world. They have experienced seemingly never-ending smog and congestion. Their most recent way to curb these problems is to reduce the speed limit.
As traffic speeds are significantly brought down across the city, a number of very important things occur as a direct result: substantially fewer accidents, significant reduction in serious injuries and deaths, energy savings, reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels, local air pollution reduction, quality-of-life improvements all those who live and work, and play and study there, improved conditions and local accessibility for local business, significantly reduced carbon stress on climate, and the long list goes on.
Read more about Paris’ plan here.
It’s worth noting that Toronto’s crack-mayor with crack-supporters stopped a similar speeding policy in Toronto.
Electric airplanes are still rare but hopefully this will change sooner rather than later. Airplane fuel is super-dangerous for our friendly environment so if we can get planes to run off of batteries (electricity of course coming from wind or the like) than score a million for the good guys!
Cri-Cri is a small aircraft that just broke the electric plane speed record with ease and could herald the development of personal aircraft being electric!
According to Electravia, the firm who designed the Cri-Cri’s 35-horsepower motors and custom propellers, the plane was only using 75% of its total power when it broke the speed record. The engineering firm said that its engines and propellers could have taken the plane to speeds over 220 mph, however such velocity would have put serious stress on the Cri-Cri’s airframe so only 75% power was used.
Read more: The Cri-Cri Breaks the Electric Aircraft Speed Record