Newest Attempt to Give Cities Power Over Speed Limits Gains Ground in Sacramento

It’s hardly a state secret that California’s speed limit laws are designed to increase traffic speed at the expense of communities and urban design. AB 529, a hot piece of legislation by Assemblyman Mike Gatto that already quietly cleared the State Assembly, seeks to give communities a little more leeway in setting local speed limits.  The Senate has yet to assign the bill to committee, but Senate Transportation Committee staff have told me they’re expecting it “any day now.”

While campaigning last year, Gatto says he was repeatedly asked to do something about speed limits, which has been a major issue throughout both Valleys and Glendale.  But Gatto didn’t need much urging to take up this issue, “I was born and raised in my district and I know there are speeding problems in the streets,” he told Streetsblog in an interview last week.

State law involving how speed limits tilted even more towards maximizing car travel speed in 2004, often times at the expense of creating and maintaining roads that are safe to live and walk on.  Before that, cities could set speed limits within a range of the speed at which traffic traveled on a street.  After the 2004 change in law however, cities have been forced to round up their speed limits starting at the eighty-fifth percent of car travel speeds, which some drivers treat as permission to drive even faster. AB 529 gives local governments the option to round speed limits down after a traffic survey, which will slow the process of escalating limits on roads unsuited to higher speeds.

In other words, speeders won’t have as much leeway to set speed limits under Gatto’s legislation as they currently do.  AB 529 isn’t as strong as past pieces of legislation, such as A.B. 766, then-Assemblyman Paul Krekorian’s “Safe Streets” legislation in 2009.  But that’s one reason that no groups are opposing AB 529, not even AAA.  While “Safe Streets” stalled in committee, A.B. 529 was unanimously passed by the Assembly.

Which isn’t to say that Gatto expects his legislation to be passed as smoothly in the Senate as it was the Assembly.  The Assemblyman expects “a little bit of a battle” in the other chamber, but does expect it to ultimately pass.

“I promised residents that I would do something about those who speed through our streets,” says Gatto, “and I will continue to work hard to address this problem.”

Supporting AB 529 are the Glendale Police Department, City of Glendale, Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), City of Santa Rosa, League of California Cities, and the City of Long Beach.  Gatto’s office supplied a fact sheet for the legislation, that can be found here.

  • Bob Davis

    But how many people will view this proposal as a way to increase revenue from speeding citations rather than a way to make streets safer?

  • marcotico

    Who cares?  Why is it not okay to make money off of speeders.  They are breaking the law?  What is this speeder’s rights coalition that seems to have such power!  Same with red light runners.  

  • Sprague

    Thanks for reporting on this sensible legislation that will lead to safer streets.

  • Anonymous

    This is huge.  We are trying to get the speed limit reduced from 30 mph to 25 mph in front of the Diamond Heights Shopping Center and the City is telling us they can’t because of statewide guidlines for rode types. 

  • @dcf2b6073145021fb5c805642b68cee2:disqus , please leave red lights out of this.  Traffic lights are often a primary reason why speeding exists in the first place.  Cities and towns that have demonstrated the ultimate in road safety and speed reduction have eliminated traffic lights entirely. Traffic lights give cars the right to go the speed limit through an intersection and they also encourage racing because drivers want to avoid red lights by speeding to make the green or yellow.  They create drag-strips through city centers, where intersections promoting yielding are much better (unless you’re in the “Speeder’s rights coalition”).

  • Blah

    Answer:  A big damn lot of dumb asses. That’s who.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Traffic lights can be timed to encourage low speeds

  • Anonymous

    This bill, if enacted, will reduce safety, increase accidents, and
    facilitate many more predatory speed traps operated for revenue
    purposes. It is a pure money grab proposal to help greedy cities collect
    revenue at the expense of safety.  Almost all posted limits should  be
    at the 85th percentile speed unless a hazard is present which is NOT
    visible to most drivers. Allowing rounding down from 44 or 43 mph to a
    posted 40, instead of correctly rounding to 45, will simply under post
    the limits in such areas. This will NOT reduce actual traffic speeds, it
    will just facilitate speed traps.  The Legislature is cynically trying
    to allow more cities to establish more speed traps to fund general fund
    deficits, at the expense of raising accident risks and damaging safety. 
    Anyone with common sense will contact their legislators to oppose this
    revenue-grab bill. The science is on our website.  James C. Walker,
    National Motorists Association,, Ann Arbor, MI 

  • The dude abides

    Nothing like a lobbyist to come on board and try to barf out some qusi science. Livable streets need slower speeds. Look what they are doing in Europe. James walker gets pais a lot of money to lie to you.

  • Anonymous

    For The dude abides:  There are only two ways to reduce actual travel speeds.  You can use enforcement but it must be close to 24/7 which most cities cannot afford to do on all the streets they would like to be slower.  Periodic enforcement will only increase speed variance, make traffic flow less smooth, and possibly raise the accident rate. Or, you can use speed bumps and other traffic calming methods to degrade the travel environment so drivers are not comfortable at higher speeds.  Speed bumps and similar methods have some negative consequences including interference & delay for emergency and delivery service vehicles, wear & tear on residents’ vehicles that drive there every day, possible increases in noise & pollution when some drivers accelerate between bumps and brake for the actual bumps, possible diversion of more traffic to nearby parallel streets that do not have bumps and may not be able to handle the increased volume, possible discomfort or pain for disabled passengers going over bumps, problems for street cleaning and snow plowing services, and – very importantly – the fact that traffic calming methods are totally inappropriate for main collectors and arterials that carry most of the commuting and business traffic.  It isn’t quasi science, it is simply the facts about how traffic safety engineering works.  James C. Walker  Please note that I am a volunteer, not a paid lobbyist.  I started studying how traffic laws and enforcement methods actually function as a freshman at the U of M in 1962-63.


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