Thursday, July 1, 2010

Call to action -- lower speed limits

Be prepared to make a call!

Representative Kay Khan showing her value to the city and state has co-sponsored a bill to lower the prevailing speed limit to 25 MPH (from 30 MPH). That change will affect all roads without a specifically set speed limit and allow municipalities (like Newton!) to lower the speed limit on most roads without the cost, headache, and ultimate futility* of a state waiver.

This is a no-brainer. Call/e-mail/visit Chairman Vincent Pedone, House Committee on Bills in Third Reading. Contact info below. (House Committee on Bills in Third Reading? If I'd ever finished a Kafka novel, I'd probably say that sounds Kafka-esque!)

Thanks, Kay!

Here are the deets:

House Bill #4728

An Act Relative to Speed Limits

Lead Sponsor: Representative Denise Provost, Co-Sponsor: Kay Khan and others

How this bill changes existing law

  • Currently, speed limits on local roads are not set locally. Lowering a speed limit on a local road below 30mph requires state approval (MGL Ch. 90:18), and is based on a study of actual speeds of vehicles using the road.
  • Local petitions to lower speed limits currently must be made road by road, case by case, and the community bears the cost of each speed study.
  • H.4728 would lower the prevailing speed limit – the presumed speed limit “unless otherwise posted” – on local roads, in commercial districts, and densely settled residential districts, from 30mph to 25 mph.

Why lower the prevailing speed limit in urbanized areas from 30 mph to 25 mph?

  • At 30 mph, almost half (45%) of pedestrians struck by an automobile are killed; 50% are injured, leaving 5% that escape death or injury.
  • Lower speeds encourage yielding to pedestrians, watching for bicyclists, and increase the reaction time for drivers to respond to road conditions.
  • For every 1 mph reduction in speed, there is a reduction in vehicle collisions by 5% and a larger reduction in pedestrian fatalities.
  • Consider: A 10 mph reduction in the speed from 30 to 20 mph; Pedestrian-automobile accident fatalities drop from 45% to 5%.

Where is this bill now?

H.4728 was reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Transportation and House Ways & Means. The bill, which has the support of Highway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky, is currently in the House Committee on Bills in Third Reading awaiting further action.

Call or Write TODAY to:

Chairman Vincent Pedone, House Committee on Bills in Third Reading
Room 20, State House, Boston, MA 02133
Telephone: (617) 722-2410

*Here's how I understand it. If you want the speed limit lowered in your neighborhood, you petition the city to petition the state. If the city decides to petition the state, a speed study is done and an 85th percentile speed determined. The 85th percentile speed is the speed above which only 15 percent of drivers drive. Here's the irony. If the 85th percentile speed is above 30 -- which might be the case if people are zooming down your sleepy residential street -- it works against you. The 85th percentile speed is presumed to be a safe speed, so there's no reason to lower the limit.

High prevailing speeds are a reason not to lower a speed limit. How 'bout them apples?!


Anonymous said...

Better than California. From what I understand this says, is that if the 85th percentile is higher than the speed limit, the speed limit cant be lowered. In CA...the speed limit must be raised to match it!

There is logic to this line though:

"The 85th percentile speed is presumed to be a safe speed, so there's no reason to lower the limit."

People drive at what they feel is safe. Engineer a road for 40mph and sign it at 20mph, and EVERYONE will speed. Want people to slow down? Plant a tree in the middle (or use some other obstacle, or gravel)

Sean Roche said...

Nope. Not better.

In Massachusetts, the state won't lower speed limits if the 85th percentile speed is higher than the present limit.

Adam said...

Anonymous has some very good points. I do believe that in Mass. a higher 85th % (rounded to the nearest 5mph?) can actually lead to a higher speed limit, at least in theory. The irony Sean cites is actually an important lesson and goes to the heart of traffic calming. It's generally roadway design that needs to be changed to impact speeds. Arbitrarily setting lower speed limits without massive enforcement could lead to broadly ignored speed limits and actually be counter-productive. I'm not saying I'm against this bill, I'm just skeptical.

There have been countless efforts like this that I've seen over the past 10 years. What makes this bill different and why did the others fail? IIRC, one proposal was to let each town set its own limits (for all streets in the town, I think) That may make sense given different design characteristics and conditions in various towns, but may have failed because it does not result in consistent and expected rules across the state for drivers.

I'm not sure if this is still true, but a little trivia: which roads are/were exempt from the 85th % procedure? MDC/DCR roads.