Back in August, we published a post—and an op-ed in the Seattle Times—arguing that Washington cities ought to be able to lower speed limits on non-arterial streets without costly red tape. Moderate reductions in speed save lives and make streets safe—for kids, elderly, pedestrians, bikers, and drivers.
In the months since, a bill has emerged in Olympia, championed by State Representative Cindy Ryu and a host of co-sponsors. On Monday, the state house voted unanimously to pass the bill. King5 did a segment on it, featuring Sightline’s Alan Durning:
Next up, the bill faces the state senate, where a similar bill got caught in a committee last year. Let’s hope good sense prevails this year.
Hmm. I’d register strong opposition – I dug into the entire speeding/accidents complex of studies and data and came to the conclusion that lowering speeds has no beneficial impact (other than bringing money into city coffers that could be used for actual improvements – wider streets, dedicated bike lanes, better lights 😉
Care to quote any of that data?
Sorry, for some reason I didn’t catch this earlier. Just a quick quote off the top of google:
Essentially, if you dig into the data, it turns out that speed limits (and their enforcement) are poorly correlated with accident risk (while actual speed, of course, is). Furthermore, what matters most are distractions, ability to perceive traffic and difference from average speed. There’s a whole lot to be said for segregating traffic groups (compare for instance the results of the German highway system (no speed limits, lower accident rates than in the US) with the US (speed limits well below average speeds). One contributing factor is strict adherence to speed grouping (left lane reserved by tradition for high speed drivers, rightmost lane for lower speeds).
TLDR: introducing speed limits and adding enforcement increases fatal accident rates.
Lowering the speed limit ? lower speed of traffic.
From the Spokane Valley News Herald:
(regarding lowering the speed limit on a local arterial from 35 to 30)
“This latest revision should be the last stop in a winding road of study sessions and staff reports on the issue, with traffic engineers continuing to maintain the arterial is best suited for its previously posted 35 mph.
According to city traffic studies, the speed limit should be within 5 mph of the 85th percentile speed of 38 mph that most drivers are travelling on Mission Avenue now.
“We’re still recommending 35 mph,” said Neil Kersten, director of Spokane Valley Public Works. “The prevailing speed (of drivers) doesn’t change when we change speed limits.”
Kersten said Mission Avenue is wide and visibility is good in that area, which makes drivers want to go faster. “Artificially lowering” the speed, he said, will result in complaints, frustrated drivers and potentially unsafe conditions if some motorists attempt to pass others they feel are going too slow.
“The best way to change the speed is to change the feel of the road,” Kersten said. That can be done by narrowing the lanes, increased curbing and sidewalks, plus adding landscaped medians. That costs money – which currently isn’t budgeted – but the design work could be OK’d now, he said.
“It’s not just about numbers, it’s about people, neighborhoods and safety,” [Pete Miller, a resident of the area] said, adding that one driver had been clocked at over 90 mph on Mission Avenue. “Please reduce the speed limit.”
“If you think a person doing 90 mph through that neighborhood is going to slow down by lowering the speed limit by 5 mph, I don’t know what you’ve been smoking,” [City Council Member] Gothmann said. “It won’t happen.”
Residential areas need lower speed limits, and some teeth to those laws. The cars (especially SUV’s) barrelling through my neighborhood are going to nail someone some day. Give out more tickets! And here’s a novel idea; don’t allow them to pay speeding fines via credit card. Make it hurt a little.
Disagree. What all of the US needs is better city planning and thoughtful measures to increase satisfaction and decrease risk of all traffic participants.
The idea of “just have everyone share the same roadways and reduce speed to the smallest common denominator” has two flaws – it takes into account exclusively the needs of one of the possible participants (just think for a moment about sharing the roads with pedestrians and therefore reducing the speed limits to 1mph for both cyclists and motorists; ideally with real draconian penalties for enforcement) and is based on a flawed theory of road dangers (speed is the dial we can twist to impact security)
There are great examples about how to run serious bike traffic all over the world, and the argument that we can’t just remake the cities is flawed – change can be had slowly, steps at a time. And some changes, like all-around-green can be had at insanely low costs.
We’re not all on bicycles yet. Speeds in Residential Areas need to be low, I’m not talking about arterials. Since this post began in Feb., I have seen some very scary examples of jerks rolling right through stop signs without even a nod towards stopping. Evidently they are in one big hurry to get somewhere. Instead of all these quotes about nano-statistics, just take a look around. Speed kills.
I believe many city speed limits are unreasonably low at present. Unattentiveness and reckless speeding are dangerous. Driving at a reasonable rate is not.
Concerning energy efficiency: cars not running in top gear waste fuel.
I think several of the posters above have kind of conflated a few things. First, this bill only reduces the regulatory burden as regards non-arterials, so the whole Mission Ave article is actually not really applicable. Second, yes, some drivers will recklessly ignore speed limits. The thing is, when roads are truly dangerous to intermodal use – ie, when there’s lots of traffic – having 90% of the drivers be influenced by a lower speed speed limit means that no one is going to be able to drive dangerously fast. Lastly, no one is saying that no one should be able to go faster than the slowest user of a roadway, and I don’t think “me” truly believes it. What we can, and have a responsibility to do is ensure the safety of everyone who uses a roadway by keeping speeds slow enough that a bike lane is safely usable, and drivers approaching crosswalks are able to stop for pedestrians using it. That’s why it’s illegal to ride a bike or hitchhike on a freeway, and why residential streets have 25/20 mph limits. If there is a problem on a non-arterial, it shouldn’t take a comprehensive engineering assessment and year-long review to make an incremental change to these minor streets.
Agree with Van.
This bill would allow municipalities to lower speed limits on non-arterials (most non-arterials state-wide are 25mph) without the need to do extensive traffic studies prior to doing so.
It doesn’t mandate or require lowering speed limits on these non-arterials and it doesn’t speak to lower speeds (or raising speeds) on arterials.
I also agree.
I am most certainly not suggesting that anyone should be restricted to the speeds of the slowest traffic participant. I suggest the counterexample (restrict bicylists to pedestrian speeds) to demonstrate the fallacy in the argument.
The problem with ensuring that municipalities can play with local speed limits is that (a) they have a piss poor track record at not abusing that privilege (which is why the law restricting their ability to do so exists in the first place) and (b) allowing them to do so would do nothing for traffic safety. Whereas there are quite a few other measures that would do so in a big way.
Oh, and just to illustrate my point: the girl riding a bike with lights off without a helmet who cut diagonally across the roosevelt way/50th intersection two nights ago while I had a green light isn’t alive today because of the speed limits. She’s alive because I never take my eyes off the road, regardless of speed (I’ll trust you guys to find the reference to the recent studies citing driver distraction and inattention as the single major cause of accidents and explaining the surprising absence of speed as a significant factor all by yourselves)