Through the Cracks: Governor Signs Speed Limits Bill A.B. 529

Last Friday, Governor Jerry Brown signed A.B. 529, legislation authored by San Fernando Valley Assemblyman Mike Gatto that gives local government some discretion in setting speed limits on local roads.

Not anymore. Photo: Freaky Humor.com

“I promised residents that I would do something about those who speed through our neighborhoods,” says Gatto, “I am proud to have delivered that promise today, and proud to know that our local authorities will be given another tool to protect the safety of drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists in our communities.”

Until 2004, speed limits were set at the 85th percentile of driver speed on a section of road rounded to the nearest 5 mile increment.  A.B. 529 allows municipalities to round the posted speed limit down no matter how the 85th percentile is to a higher limit.  For example, if the 85th percentile of drivers is driving at 39 miles per hour, and the municipality considers a 40 miles per hour speed limit too high for that stretch of road, it can “round down” to a 35 miles per hour limit.

While other legislation designed to help municipalities fight rising speed limits has faced fierce opposition from powerful speeding traffic supporters such as the AAA and California Highway Patrol, this legislation enjoyed unanimous legislative support and AAA and CHP remained on the sidelines.  The only opposition came from advocates who believe that extended yellow light times are the key to traffic safety because Gatto’s legislation also allows shorter yellow light times. 

One of Gatto’s key supporters was the City of Glendale, which also backed stronger legislation offered by Paul Krekorian in 2009.  Supporting changes in state law that would allow municipalities to resist speed limit increases is a component of the city’s groundbreaking Safe and Healthy Streets plan.  The city used Glendale Police Officers as lobbyists in Sacramento to push the legislation from a safety standpoint.

Captain Carl Povilaitis of the Glendale Police Department testified in Sacramento in favor of the legislation. “AB 529 will improve traffic and community safety by giving communities more flexibility in setting speed limits,” says Povilaitis. “That’s good for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.”

Glendale also showed how rising speed limits are bad for local economies, and not because it means the police can issue fewer tickets.  Wayne Ko, traffic engineer for the city of Glendale, notes that 44% of Glendale’s locally set speed limits would have been forced upward in the next year before A.B.. 529 passed, resulting in the city having to replace 44% of their expensive metallic signs.