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Bicycle Alliance: Why the Neighborhood Safe Speeds Bill should pass

We have written several times in support of HB-1217 (now SHB-1217), which passed the House with unanimous, bipartisan support 92-0 last year before dying in a Senate committee. The Neighborhood Safe Speeds Bill would simply give municipalities the option of lowering the speed limits on lower-traffic and residential streets to 20 mph. Today, an expensive and time-consuming engineering study is required to do so, making it all but impossible (and wasteful!) with today’s constrained budgets.

The bill is not explicitly about bikes (despite what errant TV reports might want you to think), but slower speeds on residential streets would make those streets safer for people biking (and kids playing, neighbors with mobility issues crossing the street, garbage collectors picking up trash, dogs making a run for it out the front door, etc, etc). Slower speed limits could also be a tool used as part of a neighborhood greenway, which aims to turn certain residential streets into family-friendly routes for biking and walking.

At its heart, this bill is about giving cities the choice to make the streets where people live and play just a little bit safer. It’s not revolutionary or radical (like some of my dream bills), but it’s a modest, reasonable and seemingly bipartisan attempt to make the streets we all live on a little safer. What’s not to like about that?

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From the Bicycle Alliance:

Fresh from the holiday break, the State Legislature is slated on January 9 to head into its sprint of a 60-day legislative session. The Bicycle Alliance of Washington will be lobbying on behalf of bicyclists statewide with its list of legislative priorities for 2012. At the top of that list includes continuing legislation from 2011 – substitute house bill (SHB) 1217: the Neighborhood Safe Streets Bill.

Sponsored by Representative Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline), the legislation counts 17 co-sponsors and last year it passed 92-0 in the House of Representatives. The Neighborhood Safe Streets Bill’s supporters include a growing list of cities, organizations, and individuals from across the state.

This legislation paves the way for local governments  – specifically cities and towns – to make safer streets and neighborhoods by allowing them the authority to set speed limits to 20 miles per hour on non-arterial streets. It does not mandate any change, it simply provides cities and towns the local control to do so.

The BAW also lays out all the different things the bill can do for municipalities:

  • Provides more local control. SHB 1217 is fundamentally a neighborhood speed safety bill that puts local governments in charge of non-arterial speed safety and takes the state out of the business of setting speed limits. Letting local governments decide safer maximum speeds is an approach that Idaho and British Columbia both take.
  • Offers a safety tool in the local government toolbox. SHB 1217 offers an important tool for public and roadway safety. It can be accompanied with additional engineering and design to create safe neighborhood streets for all residents, particularly children and the elderly.
  • Economic Development. Providing localities the authority to reduce speed limits in appropriate areas is an effective way to reduce speed limits near shopping districts, parks, and other areas their residents, elected officials, business leaders and other stakeholders deem important. Calmer streets provide more attractive places for business driven by foot traffic.
  • Removes additional study costs and red tape currently required by the state. In a time of tight budgets, this bill removes a traffic and engineering hurdle that costs cities money and takes scarce staff time to administer.
  • Promotes reduction of chronic disease and the growing obesity crisis. Public and private medical costs of obesity for our state are now estimated in excess of $3 billion. SHB 1217 can help ensure that neighborhoods provide spaces for safe physical activity and active transportation – both of which are on the decline compared to previous generations.
  • Benefits Washington’s Safe Routes to School program. Safe neighborhood speeds help to promote walking and healthy activity in our communities. Lower speeds adjoining (but not formally linked) to existing school zones could help promote walking and biking to schools. This is likely to help reduce the epidemic of chronic disease related to obesity and lack of physical activity.
  • Reduced speeds save lives. The chances of dying from a collision with a motor vehicle at 20 miles per hour is 5% compared to the 45% chance of death in a similar impact at 30 miles per hour. Slower speeds can be particularly important on non-arterial streets where we live and play.

And, of course, if you want to get involved with this and other transportation legislative campaigns this year, Transportation Advocacy Day is January 31. Details:

Attend Transportation Advocacy Day on January 31! Join us for this all-day event on January 31 at United Churches in Olympia as we educate state policymakers on the issues and advocate for solutions. To RSVP, go directly to our partner, Transportation Choices Coalition, RSVP page: http://transportationchoices.org/action/transportation-advocacy-day-2012

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5 responses to “Bicycle Alliance: Why the Neighborhood Safe Speeds Bill should pass”

  1. Doug Bostrom

    What I found surprising about this whole business is the notion of 25 or 30mph somehow being appropriate in all situations. What I’m disturbed by is the limitation of this legislation to non-arterials; it’s blindingly obvious that streets such as 15th Ave alongside the UW or for that matter University Ave. itself are impossible to navigate with due care during much of the day while traveling at 30mph; there’s simply not enough time to process all the dynamics of those scenes while moving at 44 feet per second.

    The description of the legislation also subscribes to the erroneous belief that higher speed limits increase the vehicular capacity of a roadway, untrue in the presence of frequent intersections.

    It would be nice if our legislation was formulated using 21st century empirical data, not 20th or even 19th century assumptions in the face of ignorance.

  2. Gary

    I’m betting that the desire to limit this bill to non arterial’s is to prevent the creation of speed traps which have only one purpose, the collection revenue from passing motorists. Think of the city of Gold Bar, if they put a 20mph speed limit on route 2, and you drove at 40, you’d get a reckless driving ticket. For that you can get your car towed as well, adding to your misery.

    That’s not to say that a lower speed limit through cities isn’t appropriate but when we’ve built roads that have a “feel” for a speed limit much higher than the posted limit we are just setting ourselves up to have this law removed.

    1. Doug Bostrom

      I dunno. I live on 35th Ave. where the speed limit is 30mph; casual clocking shows most cars moving past our place somewhere between 35 and 45, nary a police officer to be seen.

      I was thinking to myself this morning while being tailgated through a school zone that speed limits maybe ought to be treated as a negotiation process, bargaining. Open w/20mph on the sign, expect to settle on actual speeds ~30….

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        I was thinking about that, too. After all, if we are looking for 20 mph speed on residential streets, shouldn’t we be arguing for a bill that lets cities post 15? After all, anything clocked at 5mph or less over the limit can be pretty easily thrown out of court.

        But maybe the city can’t say they are posting lower than the desired speed, since that could be used as an argument in traffic court. I have no idea.

  3. NoahFect

    In other news, no study anywhere has ever shown that setting unreasonably low speed limits has ever improved traffic safety for any road users.

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