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Today, Seattle speed limits dropped to 25 downtown, 20 on every minor street

arterial-speed-limit-change-mapDid you feel it overnight? A strange feeling that even though the street outside your window looks the same as before, there’s something different about it?

OK, probably not. But something did happen: The speed limit was lowered by five miles per hour.

Proposed by SDOT’s Vision Zero team at the urging of safe streets advocates (props especially to Seattle Neighborhood Greenways’ Gordon Padelford) and passed unanimously by the City Council, Seattle has lowered default speed limits across the whole city. All minor “non-arterial” (typically residential) streets now have a 20 mph limit. All busier “arterial” streets have a limit of 25 mph unless otherwise noted.

Because most arterial streets outside of downtown and some nearby central neighborhoods have their own set speed limits (usually 30, though sometimes 35 or higher), this change only affects those streets noted on the map above.

But these central Seattle streets are in areas with very high numbers of people walking and biking. Since speed is among the biggest factors in how serious someone is injured in a collision (or whether that collision happens at all), this speed limit change is an important step towards keeping our city’s residents healthy and safe.

Of course, simply changing a handful of signs at the city limits is not going to change people’s driving behavior overnight. The speed limit changes need to come with physical safer street designs that make driving the safer speed limit feel more natural and comfortable.

The good news is that the city’s Vision Zero team knows how to do this. Their safety record is very impressive when they get the green light to take action. They need the political leadership in the Mayor’s Office and the budget leadership on the City Council to really go out and work their (very scientific and carefully studied) safe streets magic on more streets more quickly.

The City Council will have opportunities to increase and prioritize safe streets funding when they restart budget deliberations after the election. There’s so much work still to do.

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14 responses to “Today, Seattle speed limits dropped to 25 downtown, 20 on every minor street”

  1. Joseph Singer

    So, is the Seattle PD going to enforce the new speed limits? Currently people speed on E Madison St and can’t stop for signals at 12th Ave.

    1. Skylar

      Agreed, I’m not going to “feel it” until SPD actually starts “feeling like” doing their job. Yes, I know they’re understaffed, but somehow other cities manage to fund an actual traffic division whose job isn’t just to direct traffic occasionally. When they do traffic “enforcement”, it’s often to the benefit of motorists and detriment of everyone else (see any marathon or football game).

    2. Law Abider

      Nope. And until they do, Vision Zero is just Zero Vision.

      Seriously even if SPD devoted 5% of their current patrol hours to traffic enforcement, accidents would drop significantly and we would be well on way towards Vision Zero.

      Instead, we get this do-nothing law so that the Vision Zero people can pop their champagne cork and pat themselves on the back.

  2. Erik

    A 25 mph limit is safe enough but not enforced enough so the Clowncil passes a feel good law that won’t be enforced either. The highly biased and one sided Seattle Bike Blog is of course all for it.

    1. Tuck

      Would you like some cheese with your whine? Oh my gosh, the bike blog is one sided towards…biking!!! If you hate this blog so much why are you reading it?

      1. Anthony

        What?! let me get this straight, you don’t like someone complaining about wanting to actually be safe and KNOW that the new rule/law would be enforced? Where exactly is your fantasyland brain at? I see it must be Disneyland. Go and ride your bike there and have Disney cops back you up, they probably do a better job than the SPD at protecting us anyhow.

        Talk about being a whiner, I guess you think everything is fine and we should just let a bunch of car-crazed government paid employees decide what is best for people on bikes. Yeesh, that really solves things now, doesn’t it?

        And a big NO about it being all for biking, this blog often strays from cycling because for one its advice is so poor at times one wonders how this became the self-proclaimed BIKE blog of Seattle when it only covers a minuscule section of cycling. It practically tries to avoid mtn biking unless you are facing a dangerous criminal on the trail, then the advice is to stop off-roading or some other silly thing that doesn’t equate in the real world.

        Now I’m going to do my daily 22 mile ride home and wonder at how you manage at work when people have problems. I guess they just need to suck it up, right???

  3. RossB

    As someone who lives in a Seattle neighborhood with few sidewalks, I’m most excited about the 20 MPH residential limit. The great part about it is that it is really easy to remember, and folks have been pushing for it for years (20 is plenty).

    I think it gets a lot more confusing on the arterials. By default they are 25, but which ones are higher? Streets like Aurora and Lake City Way are obviously different, and anyone who drives on it knows to check for a speed limit sign. But what about 15th NE or 15th NW? I can’t help but think that people will drive way too slow on some streets, or get a ticket on other streets. I hope Seattle does a good job of posting limits on streets (even arterials that are 25 MPH). Speaking of confusion — is there a map somewhere that shows which streets are not default? In other words, what are the streets that allow over 25 MPH?

    1. Law Abider

      Most major arterials have speed limit signs. A few off the top of my head: Westlake (35), Greenwood (35), 15th NW (30), Leary (30).

      This law is really only going to affect the minor arterials, like 24th Ave NW, 32nd Ave NW, etc, that I don’t recall having speed limit signs.

      I always chuckle when I hear the “20 is Plenty” campaign. It was clearly not intended for my neighborhood (Ballard). Most residential streets here, if you’re doing 20, you feel out of control and it’s incredibly dangerous.

      1. RossB

        Yeah, that’s the irony. The streets that have sidewalks (e. g. Ballard) also have curbs (of course) and cars that park next to them. This means that a car has only a skinny lane to pass through. Cars drive slowly because they have no other choice.

        On the other hand, in a lot of neighborhoods, there are no sidewalks, and people park well off of the street. This means that there are two lanes that cars can use, which means they can go a lot faster. So someone who walks on the side of the road, with no sidewalk, actually has cars driving buy at a faster speed. Families out for a little bike ride don’t have a sidewalk to leverage, and just have to live with the possibility that someone could be driving way too fast. This change is most welcome.

    2. AAlex

      I see very few cars going more than 20 on residential streets, at least in the areas I frequent.

      The 3-tier system this effectively creates makes sense:
      20 for non-arterials
      25 for minor arterials
      30+ only for major arterials

  4. Hey Tom,

    This is great news for cyclists everywhere! I’m curious to see how this will impact other municipalities throughout the country. Also curious to see if any cyclists will be ticketed for speeding, hah!

  5. Dave

    Is there a map that includes the rest of Seattle showing the affected arterials – or better showing the ones that are exempted?

  6. MikeG

    Hopefully most of the residential streets aren’t wide enough to encourage speeding. I don’t think that is the case for most of Seattle’s residential streets, so the lower speed limit should be observed (at least for residential streets).

  7. foo

    why not 15 or 10? That would be safer. More revenue from fines too.

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