Last year, freshman state Representative Cindy Ryu sponsored a bill that won wide, unanimous and bipartisan support. HB 1217 would allow municipalities to bypass red tape when lowering speed limits on non-arterial streets (such as residential streets).
The House voted 92-0 to approve the bill, but it went on to die in the Senate’s Transportation Committee, which cited other priorities.
Ryu said she was likely to run the popular bill again this year, and road safety advocates are making it one of their top priorities this legislative session.
One part of HB 1217 that makes it so appealing is that it has no price tag and no mandates. If anything, it would save cities money if they wanted to lower the speed limit on select low-traffic streets by cutting through expensive and time-consuming red tape and studies required under current state law every time a speed limit is lowered.
The law has no mandates. It simply gives municipalities more choices. If a municipality does not want to lower speed limits, it does not have to. But given the life-saving power of slowing speeds just a few miles per hour, many communities throughout the state would love to slow cars on streets near children, the elderly and other more vulnerable road users.
The law would not apply to busy arterial streets.
Today, all residential streets in Seattle have speed limits of 25 miles per hour unless a sign designates otherwise. A person struck by a car going 30 miles per hour has a 40 percent chance of dying. When the speed drops to 20 mph, the chance of dying drops to 5 percent. And, of course, collisions are less likely to happen in the first place at slower speeds.
Beacon Hill’s Willie Weir wrote recently about the power of neighborhood streets free of speeding traffic. It’s a vision for our neighborhoods that most people can get behind, except maybe that one grumpy neighbor who spends his time yelling at kids to keep off his grass.
The bill has come up in the news recently after Mayor Mike McGinn voiced his support for the bill ahead of the city’s Road Safety Summit, scheduled for October 24 in the Bertha Knight Landes Room at City Hall. A time for the summit has not yet been announced.
And when he mentioned the bill, the news media jumped all over it. KOMO did a decent report over the weekend, but others, like King 5, tried to turn the subject into some kind of “bikes vs cars” issue.
“The city’s latest move to drop speed limits appears to some as another attack in the war on cars,” reported King 5.
Huh? Are they even talking about the same bill, which did not even find a republican to oppose it? When did allowing cities to bypass some red tape in order to slow cars to less deadly rates on residential streets where children play become a “war on cars?” That is beyond absurd and, honestly, a little maddening.
Also, when did this bill become all about bikes? It is being pushed by the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, and bicycle advocates are very likely to be in support of a bill that makes it easier to calm traffic. But this bill is about safe neighborhood streets. This is not about bicycles only. It’s about slowing down those few people who drive far too fast past your driveway, endangering you and your neighbors to save 1-2 seconds.
Safe neighborhood streets make it safer and easier for families to walk or bicycle to neighborhood destinations and transit stops. In Seattle, the ability to lower speed limits would be a great tool when creating neighborhood greenways, which are designed to have slower-than-usual traffic in order to make it easier, safer and more fun for residents to walk and bike around their neighborhoods.
No matter your politics or how you feel about biking, nobody wants people speeding down the streets where they and their families live. Just a few days ago, a 73-year-old woman went to the hospital after she was struck by a car at 18th and Main in the Central District. Stories like that are unfortunately far too common.
The fact that several media outlets decided to turn this bill into a bicycle project just shows how thirsty they are for a “cars vs bikes” story, even if one does not exist.