Better World Club

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Speed Limits Are So 20th Century!

AAA of California Blocks Bill to Stop the Increase of Speed Limits in Residential Areas

We're Talking Residential Streets Here

Everyone likes to get where they're going safely, quickly, and with as little hassle as possible. In general, speed limits are set to protect the safety of people and their property while expediting traffic flows in accordance with reasonable driving patterns. And -- again in general -- the setting of speed limits near the speed of a majority of reasonable drivers (on a given stretch of road under normal conditions) would seem to be sufficient for those goals.

But reasonability should also dictate special conditions for roads near homes, schools, or businesses, especially when those roads are regularly trafficked by non-motorists (children, pedestrians, cyclists, horse cops, private security patrols on Segways, etc). California State Automobile Association (CSAA) doesn't seem to think so.

On February 25, 2009, California Assembly Member Anthony Portantino of Pasadena introduced Assembly Bill 564. The bill sought to revise the definition of "local street or road" so that all smaller roads giving access to residential properties in California could be exempt from traffic surveys that would allow for speed limits on those roads to be raised above 25 mph. (You can read the bill here. But it's not very exciting, so maybe just trust us on this one.)

In most cases -- in California and across the country -- new speed limits are set at the 85th percentile of speed found in a relevant survey, a standard intended to maintain regular traffic flows on roads with speed limits below state established maximum limits. Maintaining flows at the speed of most drivers makes sense on roads with few driveways or intersections that are used only by cars traveling at middling speeds.

But on roads with other types of traffic, setting speed limits at the speed of most cars and trucks doesn't promote safety or encourage non-motorized transportation. California already enforces stricter speed limits in school zones and exempts them from traffic surveys or speed limit increases. AB564 would have extended those enforcements and exemptions to all residential roads that were one or two lanes, under 40 feet in width, and were interrupted at no more than half-mile intervals. In other words, streets where you'd likely encounter pedestrians (including children) or cyclists (maybe also including children), as well as frequent driveway traffic.

CSAA was AB564's principal opponent. Better World Club member Felicia Williams, who acted as Transportation Commissioner for the City of Pasadena while the bill was before the California Assembly, discussed battling the auto club on the issue with KA.

According to Williams (a bike commuter), CSAA representatives were frustratingly pro-auto (surprised?), arguing only that speed limit signs have nothing to do with actual driving speeds and that setting limits too low would make criminals out of everyday drivers, never considering the safety repercussions for multi-modal transportation. In addition to sending public affairs staff to testify against the bill, CSAA also disseminated anti-564 materials to other membership groups throughout California. The bill was ultimately defeated.

The Automobile Association of Southern California publishes a pamphlet entitled 'Realistic Speed Zoning, Why & How' that makes plain how little regard AAA has for non-motorists in its consideration of speed limits. We can't help wondering why and how an auto club would want to get involved to deny localities the ability to strengthen their own safety regulations. Maybe AAA's public affairs people just need to slow down and get a more realistic picture of their neighborhoods.

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