While debates on a proposed major development and the bungled hiring and firing of a public relations director, the City Council also quietly made a step towards becoming a more progressive city. The Council voted unanimously, and with little debate, to reduce motor vehicle speed limits on a half-dozen stretches of roadway.
The staff report, which includes a list of the streets that will see reduced speeds, can be read here.
Because state law restricts how much cities can control speed through limits, decreasing speeds on streets is more of a reaction to current traffic patterns than an attempt to slow down existing traffic. Los Angeles officials have been raising limits throughout high-traffic streets in the San Fernando Valley despite the opposition of community groups and local politicians. Conversely, lowering speed limits on residential streets has become a hot issue in New York.
There are certainly benefits to lowering speed limits. A study on the impact of lowering speed limits in London over 20 years showed an overall decrease in traffic fatalities, even on streets that did not have limits lowered. At “How We Drive,” Tom Vanderbilt explains, “…the introduction of 20 mph zones was associated with a 41.9% (95% confidence interval 36.0% to 47.8%) reduction in road casualties, after adjustment for underlying time trends…The reduction, they also note, was greatest for young children.”
And that’s what Santa Monica is hoping to achieve. Creating safe streets is important. Lowering limits is just a means to an end.
“It is not that we are looking to slow down traffic; rather, the improvements we’ve made on certain street segments – traffic calming measures (curb extensions, medians, etc.), buffered bike lanes, on-street parking – cause motorists to recognize that our streets are the types of places where you shouldn’t drive too fast,” Sam Morrisey, a traffic engineer with the City, wrote in an email to Next.