Sunday, March 13, 2011

City to Oppose 20 mph Residential Speed Limit

At City Council Monday night, Council will look at its legislative committee's recommendations. One in particular is especially troubling, and may perhaps be based on an incomplete understanding of the reasons behind the bill.

One of the most interesting and promising legislative concepts this year is in House Bill 3150 and Senate Bill 344. It would permit cities to calm traffic and enact a residential speed limit 5 mph lower than currently posted. The goal is to create a 20 mph zone on certain residential streets.

We do this already, for example, with school zones, going from 25 mph to 20 mph.

The Federal Highway Administration notes that fatalities among people walking and struck by a car go from 40% to 5% when auto speed goes from 30 mph to 20 mph. 20 is a lot safer!

The City proposes to oppose the bills, nevertheless, and its reasons don't seem very public-spirited.
Passage of this bill would allow the City of Salem to set its own speed limits. However that would potentially create pressure on City staff and the City Council to set speeds based on citizen perception and not necessarily what the appropriate speed limit should be for a certain street. It could result in instances of "spot" speed zones or inconsistent application of speed limits within the City. In addition, it would create a potentially heavy workload for City traffic engineering staff and could involve a considerable amount of City Council time and energy in order to consider each speed limit ordinance. Staff recommends that the City oppose this bill, despite that it might give the City more authority, in order to sustain the objective and deliberate system in place currently.[italics added]
With neighborhood associations looking for traffic calming, and with the updates to the City's walking and biking plans, this would seem to be an especially useful tool, and it's not clear why the City does not welcome it.

(For the rest of Council items, see here.)


Brandon Filbert said...

I suspect part of it is the concern that pressure/advocacy groups would whip up hysteria, as well as the default view that auto traffic is the first priority, and that 20 mph is just too slow for people to put up with. As a cyclist and motorist, I can understand both points of view. However, it would help if the city decided to develop (perhaps they already have?) a system of identified study areas, based on "citizen perception," where some sort of trial-basis for determining a slower speed could be beneficial for the well-being of everyone on the road, as well as a neighborhood's "feel." Being proactive here would help a good deal. Again, perhaps that is already going on and I just don't know about it.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

As written, the proposed law wouldn't let "just any" street be so designated for 20mph; it would require that the street have traffic calming in place that benefits people on foot and on bike. So it's not just about putting up signs, but it's also about engineering and treatments.

More importantly, it's about taking a street that could be good for people on foot and on bike, and making it better. Neighborhood streets that are already identified as "good for cars" would likely remain that way.

So the law already is constrained as regards the eligible streets - and the city's concern about "hysteria" as you put it would be misplaced.

Probably most significant is the still prevailing ethos in Salem that car traffic always gets priority. Even the whiff of bike and foot priority seems to make folks nervous!

Let your city councilor know you are interested in and support the law - or some version of it!

Thanks for stopping by!