Reducing Speed Limits

Reducing Speed Limits

This page is all about reducing speed limits in residential areas and feeling safer using active transportation in your community

At the end of May, Cycling Nova Scotia posted a questionnaire asking Nova Scotians their thoughts on what Active Transportation (AT) should look like in the province. We received over 500 responses and compiled them into six key themes. See our past blog post summarizing the responses here. One of the key themes was “AT Priority in Street Design”. Included in this theme, respondents highlighted the need to decrease speed limits. 

Nova Scotia is currently in the process of creating a provincial-wide Active Transportation Strategy. The strategy is set to be released this year and Cycling Nova Scotia has been engaging with the province on its creation. This document is a huge deal and shows the province is dedicated to providing residents with active transportation. We currently don’t have many details about the strategy’s specifics, but it’s great to see Nova Scotia heading in the right direction. 

Why Active Transportation?

There are many forms of transportation but vehicles tend to get the most attention. Why is that? Cars are expensive, cause harm to the environment, and aren’t always the safest or most efficient way to get to your destination. Yet somehow communities and municipalities keep prioritizing infrastructure around cars. There needs to be a shift towards more alternative modes of transportation. Active transportation can be whatever someone makes it: walking to work, cycling with friends, or simply taking a stroll around your neighbourhood. 

Increased AT creates a positive domino effect. A study out of Simon Fraser University examined health-related cost-benefit ratios of planned cycling infrastructure investments in three mid-sized Canadian cities (Halifax, Victoria, and Kelowna) between 2016 and 2020. The researchers used a tool created by the World Health Organization (WHO) to quantify the physical health benefits of cycling and walking on a large scale. The data found each city highly benefited in reducing premature deaths and stopped thousands of tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere. 

Why Speed Limits?

Decreasing speed limits can be an effective, affordable, and quickly implemented tool to increase safety within densely populated areas, like villages, towns and cities. People should feel safe and comfortable walking, cycling or rolling in their communities, but high speeds can pose a threat and discourage them from choosing active modes of transportation. 

In Nova Scotia, the provincial Motor Vehicles Act (MVA) states the default speed limit is 50 km/h for streets, unless posted otherwise. Research suggests that this speed limit is not an acceptable speed for populated areas. 

The graphic below from HRM demonstrates how much speed makes a difference in pedestrian fatalities. A vehicle going 50 km/h has an ~80% of fatally injuring a pedestrian in the event of a collision. At 40 km/h, the probability drops to 40%. A 10 km/h reduction can dramatically reduce danger and save lives.

The significant impact of a 10 km/h reduction, is difficult to ignore. Municipalities across Canada have acknowledged this benefit and have been reducing their speed limits, including HRM. Since 2019, 23 communities have completed or are pending completion of reducing speed limits from 50 km/h to 40 km/h.

What can we do?

Community members

The good thing is you don’t need to have all the answers, you can leave that up to your municipality. But if you want to see change, you do need to reach out to your local elected officials to let them know you want to see it happen. 

In the past, there has been talk of trying to reduce the provincial 50 km/h default speed to 40 km/h, but not much has been done about it recently. For realistic change to happen, multiple municipalities across Nova Scotia would have to raise their voice and express concern to the MVA. The Province of Nova Scotia needs to see there is a demand for safer streets for large change to happen. 

It’s not all doom and gloom; you can make a difference. Try gathering members in your community and then extend to your town or municipality. Make noise and show the elected officials in your area that safe AT in residential areas matters to you! We’ve included a template at the end of this post that you can email to your local councillor to show them that decreasing speed limits is something you want to see more of.

Council or municipal staff

The Nova Scotia MVA will consider speed limit reduction submissions from a Local Traffic Authority on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis. The criteria for reducing the speed limit are as follows:

Traffic calming infrastructure is another method to decrease vehicle speeds and increase AT safety through urban design. This type of infrastructure focuses on installing physical measures on streets to decrease vehicle speeds by altering driver behaviour.

Email Template

Live in HRM? Find your district councillor here.

Live in Cape Breton? Find your district councillor here  


Click here for the auto-filled email template


Dear [name of councillor], 


My name is [insert name] and I live in [insert neighbourhood or community]. I am emailing to show my support for reducing speed limits. 


As someone who relies on Active Transportation, street safety is a major concern of mine. 

In 2008, the World Health Organization (WHO) shared the probability of fatal injuries for pedestrians colliding with vehicles. A vehicle going 50 km/h has an ~85% of fatally injuring a pedestrian in the event of a collision. At 40 km/h, the probability drops over halfway to about 35%. A 10 km/h reduction can dramatically reduce danger and save lives. 


The Motor Vehicles Act sets the default speed limit at 50km/h and makes it difficult to lower the limit.


As a resident of [insert community], I am concerned about the high speed limits. I would feel much safer in my community if the default speed limit was lowered to at least 40 km/h. 


What will you do to create safer streets in [insert neighbourhood or community]? Are there plans to reduce speed limits and if so, what actions are taking place to support these plans?


Please consider recommending a change in the Motor Vehicles Act to support a lower speed limit.  


I look forward to your response. 



[your name]

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