Is a speed limit of 15 km/h reasonable for a busy, multi-use path in an urban centre? Must the limit take into account the characteristics of the path users? Must it take into account the characteristics of the path?

Shared paths in urban centres can be a problem. Vulnerable pedestrians, such as children and the elderly, must interact with riders of higher-speed vehicles such as road bikes, e-bikes, e-boards and similar electric-powered vehicles.  For riders of cycles or other vehicles that require balance, the dodging of slower pedestrians who block the path can lead to loss-of-control collisions. Speed limits have been posted for these shared paths to reduce the potential of significant consequences from collisions. But what is a reasonable speed limit?

In London, Ontario some sections of the Thames Valley Parkway (TVP) have been regulated with maximum speed limits of 15 km/h. Yet, based on the many videotaped studies conducted by Gorski Consulting, the locations where some of these speed limits have been applied appear illogical. Our observations of cyclists have shown that average speeds can be well above the 15 km/h speed limit.  But these speeds are dependent on the characteristics of the path and its users. Here is an example.

A recent study was conducted by Gorski Consulting on the TVP at the Greenway Park area, just west of the downtown district of London, Ontario. This section of the TVP was posted with a maximum speed of 15 km/h. We wanted to test whether this speed limit was reasonable. So we set up a number of video cameras to document user speeds as well as their characteristics. The photos below show some details of the site location.

This Google Maps view shows the central part of west London and the location of the test site encompassed by an orange sphere.

This closer view of the test site shows the TVP from the underpass of the CNR railway line on the east (right) where it enters the area of Greenway Park. This portion of the TVP is named after Terry Fox, the heroic marathon runner who inspired so many Canadians before his death from cancer.

This closer view of the testing site shows the 150 metres within which video cameras captured the motion of path users. The most easterly video camera as positioned at the gates to Greenway Park and subsequent cameras were positioned at select locations to the west.

This view shows the area of the testing site and the area to the west which contained some sporting facilities and a parking lot. Persons would reasonably park in the parking lot and then cross the path to use the sporting field. It is understandable that the City of London would be concerned about this crossing and therefore a lower speed limit on the path was deemed as an appropriate counter-measure.

View, looking west, from the east end of the testing site at the gates to Greenway Park. A maximum speed sign can be seen in the distance on the left edge of the path.

View of the maximum speed sign posted just west of the gate to Greenway Park. This sign was double-sided such that it applied both to eastbound and westbound users of the TVP.

View looking west from the “50-metre-west” marker of the testing site, looking toward the sporting facilities in the background. Note the open space and good visibility that should allow users of the TVP to see any persons crossing the path.

Videotaping took place over a 2 hour period commencing at noon on July 31, 2021. During this time 294 cyclists were observed using the path in the documentation zone. Following the analysis of our videotape we calculated that only 7.1% of cyclists were observed to be travelling at or below the speed limit of 15 km/h. This would mean that almost 93% of all cyclists were guilty of speeding. Furthermore the average speed of cyclists in the testing area was 19.3 km/h for westbound riders and 21.76 km/h for eastbound riders.

Of the 74 pedestrians that travelled through the documentation zone, only 3 appeared to be younger than 13 years old. And only one pedestrian appeared to be approaching an age of 80 years or over. Thus the number of vulnerable pedestrians using this portion of the path was very small.

Conversely, Gorski Consulting has also conducted similar studies on the TVP south of Trafalgar Street in east London. Here the number of vulnerable pedestrians was much higher. The City of London just finished construction of a playground for toddlers right next to the edge of the path. In addition the City also constructed an overpass of the CN railway line south of the playground which created a steep downslope in the path as it approached the new playground. Despite these obvious safety issues no signs were posted to regulate maximum speeds and not even signs warning cyclists that they were approaching a playground which attracted toddlers.

View, looking south, at the newly-constructed playground adjacent to the TVP south of Trafalgar Street in London.

View, looking north, along the TVP south of Trafalgar Street. The new playground is shown in the background. While cyclists travel at high speed toward the playground there are no signs posting a maximum speed nor are there any signs warning cyclists of the toddlers potentially playing on or near the path.

An example of two toddlers that were observed crossing the TVP numerous times next to the new playground near Trafalgar Street in London.

At the Trafalgar Street area of the TVP the average speed of northbound cyclists near the base of the overpass was over 38 km/h. This maximum speed was observed only 100 metres south of the playground. Clearly this average is much higher than the average speeds observed at the Greenway Park site, which contains a 15 km/h maximum speed sign. In fact, on the day of the testing on July 4, 2021, only one northbound cyclist was observed to be travelling below 30 km/h, and his speed was 29.7 km/h.

Results like these demonstrate that there are problems with how maximum speed signs are posted along the TVP in London, Ontario. While the City has refused to allow data such as ours to be used to advise them, there is no indication that they have data of their own which is of similar detail to help them detect such problems. There are cyclist counters positioned at three or four locations within the City. However such instruments are unlikely to detect the details of conflicts that exist on the TVP. For example such “dumb” counters cannot detect that cyclists frequently travel in both directions past a counter during a single trip. This means that the counters can indicate that many more riders are travelling through a location than they actually are. Only a detailed study from several video cameras, synchronized and located at strategic positions, can determine such details as cyclist speeds, pedestrian speeds and how various users interact with each other. These are the types of data that Gorski Consulting is able to extract using the procedures that we developed from our accident reconstruction activities.