The 20’s Plenty bill is just too polite for this year’s legislature

We reported earlier this week on the quiet death of HB 1217, which would have given municipalities the power to lower non-arterial speed limits to 20 mph. Taking a cue from similar campaigns elsewhere, I have dubbed the bill the 20’s Plenty bill.

After passing the House, the Senate chose not to take it up this year, leaving it to die in committee. I spoke briefly with freshman bill sponsor Cindy Ryu of Shoreline about it.

“It was a great bill idea,” she said. “I had a lot of fun putting it together.” Once in the Senate, however, leaders chose to prioritize other transportation bills this year, such as the Vulnerable Users Bill and complete streets bills.

Currently, Washington road speed limits on most residential streets are set at 25 mph, and cities must conduct labor-intensive impact studies in order to change those limits. This law would simply allow cities to lower limits on non-arterial roads to 20 without needing a big study every time. A study would still be necessary for raising limits.

I understand why this bill would have been low-priority. Compared to the other good pedestrian and bike bills making their way through the legislature this year (let alone all the other issues at hand), the 20’s Plenty bill probably isn’t the most important. As they should, leaders are going after the bills with the most teeth and with the most to gain.

Changing speed limits is not an extremely effective way to slow down drivers. Traffic calming designs are consistently the best way to do this. That’s why it makes sense to prioritize the complete street bills. HB 1700 was placed on the Senate floor calendar a few days ago, and it’s ability to help municipalities create safe, efficient streets is far greater than simply lowering the speed limits.

But yet, there is something I like about the 20’s Plenty bill. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s so reasonable, modest and polite. It doesn’t make any mandates, and it doesn’t have a price tag. If cities don’t want to change their speeds, they don’t have to. It simply cuts out one piece of red tape in order to allow cities to say: There is no reason to drive faster than 20 miles per hour on a neighborhood street.

Passing a city-wide neighborhood street speed reduction could be a great opportunity for a city to discuss the importance of slower speeds on pedestrian safety. The odds of a pedestrian being killed by a motor vehicle moving 20 mph is about 5 percent. At 30 mph, the odds jump to 40 percent. at 40 mph, the odds are near 85 percent. Cities could also go neighborhood-by-neighborhood with the message, starting community discussions about safe driving on residential streets. Seattle has very few speed limit signs on neighborhood streets, so costs to change signs should not be very high.

Ryu said she would likely run the bill again next year. These times are just too harsh for a meek little bill like this one, it seems. Maybe next year will be different and it will get its turn to say, “Excuse me, Governor, but I’d like to be signed now if you have a minute, please.”

About Tom Fucoloro

Founder and Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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