The neighborhood safe speeds bill has unanimous, bipartisan support

20’s Plenty For Us from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

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.

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16 Responses to The neighborhood safe speeds bill has unanimous, bipartisan support

  1. Marcy says:

    Sanity & humanity in politics! Don’t see that too often. Amazing!!

  2. Gary says:

    Might even be a revenue generator for cities, add a few motorcycle cops, some new lower speed limit signs. And wa, la! Speed trap.

    Of course if they made the roads around schools 20mph, you wouldn’t need those “slow while school is in session” signs. It would just be 20mph all the time and folks wouldn’t speed sometimes and not others.

  3. Mark Jenkins says:

    I hope cities only use this judiciously. I’m not sure people realize just how slow 20mph really is. Trying to go that slow makes me drive more poorly, not better, due to needing to focus incessantly on going that slow. Steering also is unnatural when going that slowly on streets that were designed to accommodate higher speeds, which also makes it more difficult to drive more effectively. I’m concerned by the temptation cities will face to lower speed limits more frequently than is reasonable — or, worse still, arbitrarily — to be able to ticket more drivers to raise additional revenue.

    • another mother on a bike says:

      What are you talking about? No, I’m serious. What kind of streets would be more difficult to keep your car in control if you were driving 20mph?

    • Frequent Reader says:

      Maybe that’s because you’re used to driving fast? Driving slow in itself doesn’t make the car more unstable or make it harder to control it, and it will affect how fast you’ll be able to stop should you need to.

      From my perspective as a person who is at the age of 26 finally learning to drive, I usually go no faster than 20mph on residential streets unless I can see that traffic is backing up behind me (which almost never happens). Residential streets can be really dangerous, not so much for me in my protective car shell, but for kiddies playing outside, people walking their dogs, joggers and cyclists (all of which can be really hard to see behind things like landscaping and the mass of parked cars usually found on these streets). 20 is definitely plenty for most residential streets, and since people so often seem to treat speed limits as requirements to *not* go slower than the posted number, you know that 20 really means 25+.

      Anything not a bolded black (or cyan) line on these maps is technically a residential street with a limit of 25mph unless otherwise posted:

      North Seattle arterials
      South Seattle arterials

      You should be going almost as slow as 20mph on most of these anyway, just a 5mph difference from what it could be on some/many streets in the future (a delta that could very well one day make all difference should it allow you to stop in time and avoid hitting a cyclist, pedestrian or someone’s pet)

  4. leo Stone says:

    I have noticed the news , KING , KOMO, et all ,trying to push a Car vs Bikes agenda for some time now.
    While confrontation does ‘sell’ the news, it also is inflammatory and not factual.
    I would expect more from news companies, but have been sadly disappointed.
    We have too much riding on our streets becoming complete streets, too many lives lost, to see this work destroyed by out of control media.
    That rattling noise was Walter Cronkite turning over in his grave.
    Perhaps a new grave should be dug, to bury responsible reporting

  5. Cascadian says:

    I’m laughing at Mark’s comment above. Driving at 20 MPH does not make it harder to steer or pay attention to what’s going on. It means you notice things outside your car more, which is SAFER. If you have trouble driving at safe speeds then you shouldn’t be driving, period.

    If you are concerned that it will be hard to keep speeds down to 20 MPH because of how the streets were designed, then the solution is obviously to reconfigure the streets to encourage the safer speeds.

  6. leo Stone says:

    Steering also is unnatural when going that slowly on streets that were designed to accommodate higher speeds, which also makes it more difficult to drive

    Mmm, so at low speeds you lose your balence and your car falls over?

  7. R Roush says:

    Just got back from Glasgow, where there are street signs all over that say “20’s Plenty”.

  8. Josh says:

    I used to have a car that was hard to steer at low speeds — worn out front end meant it took a full turn of the wheel to make the smallest adjustment. At higher speeds, tire drag kept the car pointing roughly forwards. At low speeds, it was a constant battle.

    Maybe Mark’s problem is a car worn out by driving too fast over bad pavement?

    That’s something that should be fixed by a repair shop, not by setting higher speed limits.

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