Coming Soon to a Street Near You: Speed Limit Increases!

4_9_09_daily_news.jpgPhoto of Zelzah Ave. in Granada Hills, one of four roads that will be seeing a speed limit increase in the near future. Via Daily News

Yesterday, three-fifths of the City Council Transportation Committee met to discuss the proposed speed limit increases for four stretches of roads in the Valley.  Sue Doyle of the Daily News does a great job describing the issues surrounding the limit increases, how the city pleads powerlessness even as crashes mount in the areas around the effected areas. 

However, there was even worse news than just an increase in danger for valley residents, we can expect similar changes to be coming to streets throughout Los Angeles.  Responding to a question from Councilman Bernard Parks about why all these changes are being focused in the Valley, LADOT’s Alan Willis responded that the Valley is just the first place to see their streets re-evaluated under state law and the rest of the city will undergo a similar revue in the coming years.

In other words, just because you don’t live in the Valley doesn’t mean you won’t be seeing speed limits go up in your neck of the woods.

While the City Council has expressed anger over the state law, and has vowed to get it changed, it’s also been over eight months since this issue first came up at the City Transportation Commission and so far, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no legislation introduced at the state level that would change the requirement that speed limits be set at the eighty-fifth percentile to allow use of radar.

While we wait for the City Council to pick up the phone and call their state legislators, there’s work you can do to protect your streets.  If there is a road where people are constantly speeding, call the police, your neighborhood council and your elected reprsentatives and demand that the speed limit be enforced.  The reality is that no matter the sign, people are going to drive as quickly as they can unless there is a consistent enforcement effort.  If you don’t want a local speed limit raised, then work with the police to get people to stop speeding before the LADOT comes to measure the speed on the streets nearest you.

  • KateNonymous

    I continue to be mystified by this stupid law, which appears to have been written by–what, a coalition of drag racers?

  • Glenn Bailey

    This is a dysfunctional process with an idiotic outcome for Zelzah Avenue. It is two lanes in each direction for only two miles, then narrows to one residential lane each to the north and south for less than a mile and before it dead ends in both directions. California State University, Northridge, Granada Hills Charter and Academy high schools front Zelzah along this two mile stretch, as do numerous religious institutions. School zones are 25 miles per hour while children are present so the City now expects many motorists, including many young college students, to drive 40, then 25, then 40, then 25, then back to 40, all in less than two miles??? Idiotic!

    Now the police department says, raise the speed limit and we’ll enforce it. Why didn’t they enforce the 35 MPH speed limit? They’ve had at least seven years to obtain compliance and, according to the Department of Transportation’s so-called Engineering Report, have failed to do. So now the speeders are forcing the speed limit to be increased, and if the past is any predictor of the future, another increase will be in the offing by 2013. Idiotic!

  • angle

    This situation makes a great case for traffic calming measures that would help keep motor vehicle speeds in check without requiring constant police monitoring and enforcement.

  • What a failure of Government, this whole debacle. Mourn the dead, offer rewards to catch hit and run motorists, then raise speed limits to enshrine reckless driving as acceptable.

  • The LADOT is lying about their hands being tied on this. The state law that describes how to perform a traffic study of this kind (an E&TS) clearly states the following:

    “When qualifying an appropriate speed limit, local authorities may also consider all of the following findings:
    1. Residential density, if any of the following conditions exist on the particular portion of highway and the property contiguous thereto, other than a business district:
    a. Upon one side of the highway, within 0.4 km (0.25 mi), the contiguous property fronting thereon is occupied by 13 or more separate dwelling houses or business structures.
    b. Upon both sides of the highway, collectively, within a distance of 0.4 km (0.25 mi) the contiguous property fronting thereon is occupied by 16 or more separate dwelling houses or business structures.
    c. The portion of highway is larger than 0.4 km (0.25 mi) but has the ratio of separate dwelling houses or business structures to the length of the highway described in either subparagraph a or b.
    2. Pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
    -E&TS guidelines from pg. 114 in the MUTCD”

    The LADOT has no standards (that I’ve seen) relevant to pedestrian safety except when it comes to removing pedestrian access to speed up cars. What sort of lunatics are running things at that joint?

    Maybe we can set up an exchange with the LADOT: they give us streets that don’t kill us and in exchange we let them line up a set number of Angelenos each year and gun them down. That way, we get safe streets and they get the body count they want.

  • Tom Rubin

    Let’s not confuse a GOOD state law with questionable implementation.

    It has been widely accepted for decades that, in terms of safety, the proper procedure is to follow the “85th percentile” rule — the speed limit should be set at the speed where 85% of the vehicles are at or under the speed limit.

    Most people automatically drive at SAFE speeds, at speeds that they are comfortable with for the driving conditions that they observe. Unfortunately, many governmental bodies have — mistakenly — believed that lowering speed limits leads to safer driving, when, in fact, the opposite is often true. Consistency of speed is a prime factor in road safety and setting speed limits too low means that there will be far more passing movements — due to the small number of people who actually follow the speed limits — and having too wide a range of vehicle speeds on the same road is a detriment to safety. There are many documented cases where an increase in posted speed limits has led to REDUCTIONS in collisions, injuries, and fatalities.

    There are, of course, a number of factors that have to be taken into account before simply doing a speed survey and using the results to post the speed limit. The speed limits must be understood to be applicable to properly maintained roads when there are not adverse weather conditions, such as rain, snow, ice, or fog. During peak hours and other heavy use periods, congestion will often make exceeding — or even reaching — the speed limit a practical impossibility.

    Other factors that should be considered — as Umberto Brayj points out above — are line of sight limitations, the number of vehicles entering and leaving the road and the number of entry/exit points, pedestrian traffic, and land use along the road. The way that this process should work is that the speed survey is the starting point, but that qualified and experienced transportation engineers (or others that have demonstrated their competence in this area) review the other factors and make professional judgements.

    The law is set up for that process to occur. However, the local governments must make effective efforts to comply with the spirit of the law, which begins with having a well-staffed, well-qualified department to perform the necessary work. This is often difficult, particularly in times, like now, of fiscal shortfalls.

    I am not familar with the specific conditions for all the roads being discussed above. While I can name any number of streets, roads, and freeways where my own experience tells me that the speed limits are set unsafely LOW, the conditions that are described appear to provide sufficient arguments to convince me that a qualified expert should review the facts, including spending time on-site, prior to any speed limit increases in those particulars.

    From my own long experience, both as someone who has been in the surface transportation business for over three decades, spending a fair amount of that time on safety matters, and someone who has been driving for over four decades, if you want to get people to obey the speed limits, properly setting speed limits is, absolutely, the first step. People will simply ignore the speed limits when they are set too low, regardless of the amount of enforcement — so, unless the purpose of enforcement is to generate revenue to balance the government budget, the superior use of scarce sworn law enforcement traffi safety assets is NOT speed enforcement (with the very obviouis exception of those who are above the 85th percentile and/or otherwise driving unsafely), but concentrating on REAL safety issues — which, interestingly enough, should include those who are driving unsafely SLOW.

    To give you an idea of how far out of line some California speed limits are, I often drive between the Bay Area and SoCal on I-5 trhough the Central Valley, where the speed limit is posted at 70 mph, and I drive my vehicle at a calibrated 70 mph — and count the times I am passed and that I pass. I have yet to find that my 70 mph speed is even in the tenth percentile; indeed it is not uncommon to drive for more than an hour at 70 mph without passing another car. Does it appear reasonable to conclude that 90+% percent of the auto drivers are driving so unsafely that they should be ticketed?

    Let’s set the speed limits where they should be set to maximize public safety for all who are using the road — including truckers, cyclists, and pedestrians — AND properly reflecting the conditions for each specific road.

    Perhaps properly setting speed limits, and other traffic regulations, will actually lead to people respecting the laws as wise and proper, rather than as something that is so far out of reality as to be ignored as a matter of course.

  • To that end, then, the residents should be advocating that the city install traffic calming devices, such as chokers, bulbouts, etc. I’m sure high speed traffic prevents residents of that street from backing out of their own driveways, so putting devices to reduce traffic to 25 mph would be a win win for drivers and pedestrians in the neighborhood.

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