Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The case for lowering neighborhood speed limits

For years, this website has promoted the organizaton, "Keep Kids Alive, Drive 25". In fact, the creator of this website served as one of the St. Louis area contacts for the program. Keep Kids Alive is a fine program, and STL Rising will continue to serve as a local representative. However, for the city of St. Louis, we believe an even further reduction in speed limits on neighborhood streets is worth a look.

STL Rising proposes reducing the maximum legal speed on neighborhood streets to 18 miles per hour. We propose 18 mph as a universal, city-wide standard for neighborhood streets. If this seems extreme, let's examine some of the thinking behind the idea.

The city of St. Louis is endowed with thousands of miles of streets layed out on a fine urban street grid. When it snows, most neighborhood streets are not plowed. Besides the cost, the reason neighborhood streets are not plowed is that they are too narrow. Snow would be piled over the cars. So instead, drivers must navigate the ruts of snow and ice out of their neighborhood. The consolation of this situation is that no driver is never more than two blocks from a plowed street. This same situation would apply to a program of reduced speed limits.

If speed limits on neighborhood streets were reduced to 18 miles per hour, no driver would be more than two blocks away from a wider, busier, street with speed limits of 25-35 miles per hour. The net result of the change awould be a negligible delay in people's drive times, but a huge increase in neighborhood quality of life.

Slower travelling cars on neighborhood streets means quieter streets. It means safer streets, and it means more peaceful neighborhoods. A universal speed limit would be easy to understand - it applies to all neighborhood streets.

An ordinance could be passed that unless otherwise posted, all streets in the city limits of St. Louis have a maximum allowable speed of 18 miles per hour. This approach makes it possible to avoid the cost of changing posted speed limit signs. If a block wanted to install their own 18 mph speed limit sign, they would have the option of paying for the cost on their block.

St. Louis has a fantastic street grid, great for walking, lined with beautiful matures tree lined streets, and which presents our wonderful historic neighborhoods. Why not take advantage of this natural asset by making our streets even more friendly and safe by lowering speed limits on neighborhood streets to a max of 18 miles per hour?


Jon said...

Absolutely Absurd.

Why not lower the speed to 7mph to assure that no car can outrun an elderly woman. You know - for safety's sake. Also - unlike 18mph - 7mph isn't simply an arbitrary number pulled out of thin air by a yuppie.

Maybe ban moving vehicles on wheels with engines? Maybe institute a requirement that all vehicles with 4 wheels or more be required to be pulled by an animal. Oxen or Horses are fine - so long as the horses wear blinders and no more than 1 horse and 2 oxen can pull the vehicle.

Bicycles may only have a maximum of 10 speeds, and a tire width of at least 1 inch. No racing bikes should be allowed on the city streets.

Skateboards should be banned city-wide. They're uncontrollable and have no brakes at all! In-line skating must be restricted to the highways.

Also, highway speed limits should be lowered to make them pedestrian friendly. 25mph - no more. After all, highways go through neighborhoods (in fact, 2 highways run through my own)!

Oh, and don't forget to install speed cameras on every. single. steet. in the city to catch runaway oxen and horse-drawn carriages, as well as bicyclers going over the utterly arbitrary speed limits.


Because other Americans are all too stupid to have any idea of what's a reasonable speed. But not you.

Rick Bonasch said...

Based on his previous comments here, Jon's made it clear that he doesn't like his freedom behind the wheel impinged:

STL Rising post on speed cameras

"Jon", thank you for reading and remember that anonymous comments are welcome.

Just as a note, consider this. A wise person once told me, "You own your car. You do not own the road."

If neighborhoods and communities want to enforce stricter standards on their streets, they have the right to do so.

Jon said...

Neighborhoods have every right to do this.

Wise people are also aware that there are consequences to certain actions.

I have lived in Europe for a good number of years, and have witnessed first-hand some very good and very bad traffic engineering. All have had the same intended results: "to make the streets safer and quieter". After all, that's a noble cause.

But reality needs to be taken into account.

For example - has it occurred to you that people are actually trying to... i dunno... GO places on these roads? Your bright idea to decrease the speed of vehicular traffic to a joggers pace is pretty obviously out of your personal issue with vehicles in the first place.

Last time you wanted the city to pay for speed cameras on every single street. This time you want them to lower speed limits to 18mph. I have zero doubt in my mind that you'd prefer them to ban through-road traffic in neighborhoods entirely. I have seen your argument taken to its logical end with my own eyes, and have seen the negative toll its taken in cities which have implemented them. In Germany, they have examples of both extreme approaches. From your "let's regulate everything in defiance of the very reason for streets in the first place" approach, to removing every single street sign in the city.

Although I could go through and detail how both approaches succeeded and failed, the fact is that it's irrelevant to you, as your goal is to do away with those pesky automobiles in the first place.

Although you prefer to dismiss my comment as if I advocate removing speed limits, signs, and road striping, I merely try to point out your lack of rational thought on the subject.

I've readily pointed out in the post you linked to that speed limit signs are already disobeyed because most drivers seem to drive about the same reasonable speed. McCausland was my example. It's not that drivers communicate this to each other. They just all seem to drive about the same speed on their own. I hardly ever see anyone going 30mph on that road. I also hardly ever see anyone going over 40mph on that road. What's (not really) interesting is that just a few blocks north of I-64 where McCausland turns into Skinker, those drivers stick to the same 35-40mph speeds. Even though the speed limit has increased and enforcement has stayed the same, drivers continue to drive the same speeds as on McCausland.

I-64 between Big Bend and Hampton is another example of this. The center and right lanes consistently drive slower than the posted speed limit since that's what many drivers have felt is reasonable.

My point being that drivers will typically drive at what THEY deem to be a reasonable speed - speed limits be damned. Sometimes they'll go faster. Sometimes they'll go slower. Arbitrary speed limits will not change human nature. Sorry to be the voice of reason.

Rick Bonasch said...

Jon -

Did you read the part where it said the maximum distance from an 18 mph neighborhood street to one with higher speed limits is only 2 blocks?

As far as speed cameras go, the technology allows for them to be easily portable.

As far as banning through traffic, you are incorrect in your thinking of me.

My view is the opposite. I love having traffic dispersed throughout the street grid.

In fact, I am an advocate of converting as many city streets to two-way as possible.


Anonymous said...

jon, i think you make some good points, but when you throw out gratuitous slurs like "yuppie" your "voice of reason" loses credibility.

i have to agree that i don't think lowering the speed limit from 25 to 18 will change people's behavior. civil people will check their speeds; self-centered people will not. regulating every block is not the answer (nor is it achievable). the long-term answer, i think, is to get more people out of their cars and into alternate forms of transportation, and to design traffic-calming streets a la the south grand makeover instead of 4-lane free-for-alls through the centers of neighborhoods.

Chris said...

People drive the speed they feel comfortable; nothing will change that except flashing lights in their rearview mirror.

Tom B said...

I think this is a great idea. Have any of you drove through the Monsanto campus off Lindbergh/Olive? Their speed limit signs read 17mph & I think the other like 22mph. I believe it acts not so much like a rule but an attention getter. I noticed it right off the bat when I was delivering there.

Anonymous said...

Or we could try a novel idea-parental responsibility for keeping kids out of streets and leave the speed limit at 25.

Rick Bonasch said...

I see the benefits of this a few ways.

First, for those drivers wishing to drive at a slower rate of speed, they would have fewer drivers tailgating on their bumper and glaring at them when they drive past.

Second, I think this is a good way to promote the organic flexibility of our historic street grid. Here we could have probably 70 percent of our city reduced to an 18 mph speed limit, yet no driver is more that 2 blocks from a 25-35 mile per hour street.

Third, I agree with Tom. This would serve more as an attention grabber. People would notice and many would slow down.

Not everyone, but it would make a difference, and it does give us something positive to talk about and it wouldn't cost anything.

Rick Bonasch said...

In reply to Anonymous at 5:07 am:

This idea is not just to make streets safer for kids that might run out into the street.

There are a lot of city streets that are barely wide enough for a car to drive down, with cars parked on both sides.

With all the possible door openings, and minimal space between cars, there are literally hundreds of potential conflict points per block. Yet even in this situation, the speed limit is still 25 mph.

25 mph is way too fast in a situation like this, but it's legal.

Broken mirrors and drivers hitting opening car doors are a common problem. Reducing the speed limit to 18 mph would reduce the frequency of these accidents.

And remember, no one would be more than 2 blocks from a faster street.

The delays caused by lowering these speed limits would be negligible.

Now, for people driving across town, cutting through neighborhoods, it would slow them down (or not). If they were speeding, they'd be speeding for more blocks.

Do we want to make life easier for drivers cutting through neighborhoods?

I don't.

Anonymous said...

What other places say:

Motorists who found the 18 mile-per-hour speed limit acceptable grew from 27 percent before the streets were calmed to 67 percent after the program began...Receptive residents along the streets grew from 30 percent before to 75 percent after.

The safety effects of the 20 mph zones have been enormous for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike. ...As a result, the 20 mph zones really work, silencing skeptics who claimed that Londoners would just keep driving as they always had.

Anonymous said...

This is an insane idea! Just stupid! We have more important things to do, like work on increasing the population.

Rick Bonasch said...

Anon at 4:56 am, you are right. We do need to increase our population. That increase will help to do things like pay the pensions of firemen and police officers for one thing.

So how do we get more people to move in? The suggestion I put out there is a way to do something positive for community life (read the results of the London study), and also gives us a message to work with about the benefits of our historic, traditional street grid. Remember, no one would be more than two or three blocks from a higher speed limit street.

So, since you don't like this suggestion, but want to get more people to move in to the city, what ideas do you have on how to do that?

No fair just shooting down other suggestions. We need ideas. What do you suggest?

What's doable and financeable?


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