Vroom! Speed Limit Increases Head Back to City Council, But Do They Have To?

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A trio of speed limit proposals head to the City Council Transportation Committee tomorrow.  The proposals total 5.4 miles of city streets that would see a limit increase. Half of those miles would see a dramatic increase from 35 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour. The areas due for an increase are:

A team of advocates including representatives from Los Angeles Walks, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and Ridazz, an online general assembly of concerned cyclists, is planning to lobby the Committee to hold back the limit increases.  Councilmen have begrudgingly passed similar increases in the past in an effort to support LAPD traffic enforcement.

“In order for Los Angeles to truly become a bicycle friendly city, the city needs put a moratorium on speed limit increases and address managing speeds by evaluating how our roadways are engineered. Roadway design & engineering influence travel speeds and we need to implement solutions on our roadways that are going to create safer streets that encourage good driving behavior instead of rewarding speeding by constantly increasing the speed limit,” argues Alexis Lantz with the LACBC.
State law requires that speed limits be set to the 85th percentile of free flowing traffic in order for police to use radar to enforce the limits.  Efforts to overhaul the law have consistently run into roadblocks for speeding traffic advocates such as the AAA and California Highway Patrol.   However, a law passed last year allows cities to “round down” if they believe that increased limits would create a dangerous environment.  All of these proposals were authored in 2010, a full year before A.B. 529 was signed into law.

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, authored by San Gabriel Valley Democrat Mike Gatto and passed last year,  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.

This new law seems especially relevant for Chandler Boulevard, where a ten miles per hour increase is planned for the street running next to the Orange Line busway and a set of bike lanes.  However, it’s possible if the city reviewed all of the increases under A.B. 529 that it could eliminate some of the increases and roll the other ones down to “just” five mile increases.  The Chandler Boulevard increase was slated for approval two years ago, but the Council rejected the proposal asking for “more study.”
While Lantz applauds this change, she believes L.A. can take the lead on reforming state law.  “While  the City of LA needs to dedicate resources in Sacramento to amend or better yet dismantle the 85th percentile rule that affects how speed limits are set in our communities in this state. While the work of Assemblymember Mark Gatto has helped in some regards it does not go far enough. Councilmember Krekorian also tried to tackle this issue when he was in the assembly,” she writes.  “While addressing this issue will make our streets safer for cycling and walking – it will also help to improve the safety of our roads for motorists as well. Too many collisions happen every day as result of speeding – raising speed limits doesn’t make our road safer for any user.”

Don Ward, one of the organizers of Ridazz, writes a personal story explaining why drivers shouldn’t be allowed to set speed limits based on their driving over what is safest for all users, a process Councilman Tom LaBonge referred to as “voting with their pedal.”

“When I think of the lunacy of setting 45mph speed limits on streets like Chandler or Kester or any of the other residential streets of LA I think fondly of my pops, a depression era man and pure fiscal conservative – may he rest in peace. He refused to drive more than about 25 miles per hour any where in LA. This would drive me absolutely bonkers,” writes Ward.

“To which he would chuckle and go into his spiel about the fact that he had carefully crafted his driving style in order to conserve gas, brakes and engine wear… In fact he was a scientist about it…. citing the Burbank traffic grid as the best suited for his methods. And it was true… I would see car after car race ahead of us at 40-50mph only to slam on the brakes for a red light that he eventually floated through on the green, passing those same impatient drivers who now revved their cars back up to speed only to repeat the same mistake again at the next light. “Those people are idiots” he would quip. “They’re wasting their money. Learn to time the lights sonny.” I miss my old man.”

  • Ubrayj02

    No, these speed limits do not have to be increased.

    The E&TS that the LADOT is using from the MUTCD allows for considerations of “safety”. The LADOT has used the number of car collisions per million trips to establish “safety” – but “safety” has various definitions in both legal history and lay speech.

    The City of LA can, I think, define “safety” for the purposes of doing an E&TS and avoid having to raise speed limits. The work of Eric Dumbaugh has shown what safe urban streets look like. LA can use this as a template for “safety” – and not the rural highway metrics the LADOT applies in an urban setting.

    Additionally, motorists drive at the designed threshold for speed on a road. In LA, most roads are designed for speeds 15mph above the posted limit. That is, most streets are made for cars to safely (for the motorists) speed! This is a signal that what is planned for (a 20 mph school zone) is being totally ignored, over-ruled, and destroyed by the engineers at the LADOT.

    If I were a city council member, or a professional planner, I would be pissed off. The legs of those who implement these excessive street designs need to be cut off (metaphorically speaking). Have we elected the DOT street plan implementation people? Are they emperors? Do we not elect our leaders, attend countless hours of meetings to establish our planning goals? How can we hand over our planning to a bunch of insulated technocrats and then throw up our hands when they come to us with this rubbish of speed limit increases?!

  • Ubrayj02

    In conclusion, reforming state law to address this issue is a total red herring. The real issue is a dysfunctional Department of Transportation that houses a bunch of retrograde pencil pushers in love with car throughputs.

    The real reform is at hand:

    – “Safety” and neighborhood character are part of the E&TS. There is legal room to wiggle in the definitions of those terms and what they imply for the roadway when the E&TS is taken to court by a speeder trying to avoid a ticket

    – Design roads for people to drive 45 mph in a 30 mph zone and you get … people driving 45 mph. Duh! Our streets need to be designed for their planned limits, not a rural highway standard 15 mph above the posted limits. This is 100% in the hands of the locals, not the state.

    I hate this issue because the same stupid responses to the LADOT’s speed increases get trotted out, the same stupid “we gotta reform state law” non-solutions get mentioned, and the can gets kicked down the road. STFU about state law. There are avenues to amend this process available locally, and legally, that can address this.

  • Roadblock

    Joseph. We need you. Come out to the meeting dude.

  • Ubrayj02

    Been there, done that:

    The reality is … politicians in LA are busy collecting war chests for ad campaigns to actually govern responsibly. Citizens enjoy being deceived.

    These speed surveys are endorsed by the LAPD because they establish a baseline speed limit in a way that is “required by law” (though the LADOT chooses to ignore select portions of that law). When the cops hand out a ticket, the speed limit has to be backed up by a valid Engineering and Traffic Study (E&TS). The LADOT could do more, but why? They do things this way and nobody has cared for years. Or, if they cared, they couldn’t turn the issue into a political crisis because it always happens in consent items on an agenda for a shotgun splatter of streets in different parts of the city.

    Along with ignoring the guidelines in the MUTCD that allow a city to keep a lower speed limit by taking into account the existence of business or residential buildings, or by taking into account bicyclist and pedestrian safety, the LADOT is also ignoring a relevant section of the local law as well.

    Los Angeles Administrative Code, Division 22 Departments, Bureaus And Agencies Under The Control Of The Mayor And Council:






    22.481     Purpose Defined.
    Sec. 22.481.  Purpose Defined.

         (a)     The Department is established to function as and to provide a single City government focal point for the proper planning, coordination, direction, management and operation of the City’s various ground transportation and ground transportation related activities.

    The LADOT does no planning. LA has no transportation plans. The Planning Department regularly screws with private developers about issues of community character, but when it comes to the single largest public landholding, the right-of-way, which the city has exclusive dominion over, planning and community character go right out the window.

    Pardon me, but f**k public hearings, it is time for a lawsuit. A lawsuit is the only thing that matters to the pointy headed bosses writing the orders for the E&TS work the LADOT does. A lawsuit is the only way to curb the madness that is an out of control big city government like LA. 

  • Dennis Hindman

    Reviewing the City Council Transportation Committee agendas since January of 2008, I counted 36 requests for speed increases for the San Fernando Valley and only two for the rest of the city. There were also 4 requests for speed decreases in the SFV and 13 elsewhere.

    Why is the city wanting to put in new speed limit signs when the current signs are not effective?  We are arguing over something that most drivers do not even seem to notice. So why would putting up a new sign produce a different result? The LAPD officer at the Transportation Committee meeting  today essentially stated that their department is unable to control the average driving speed and yet we are led to believe that a sign with different numbers on it will be effective.

    It’s time to look for other methods that may be more effective in changing drivers behavior compared to law enforcement and signs.

  • Dennis Hindman

    LA must believe that replacing the 3 with a 4 will make the speed limit signs easier for drivers to see. Ah hah! That’s the problem, the number 3 is difficult to see.

  • Roadblock

    YAY for 120 days of delayed anger! What a meeting… the Beaurocrati must have sensed something was coming because all the big guns were there to witness the fumbling of both the LAPD officer and whomever that was that was chosen to rep the LADOT. In the audience? John Fisher, Jaime De La Vega, and Amir Sedadi. Why would they all come out? Neither the LAPD officer or the LADOT rep (new face, didn’t catch his name) seemed to have their stories straight.

    That 85th percentile law, best I can tell, is for enforcement by radar. What happen to working a little harder for that union protected job and check them speeds the old fashioned way sonny? You pick the intersection, you perch a motorcycle cop in someone’s driveway and you time the gap. Do this method until the knucklehead speeders learn their lesson and the average speed on the road then becomes enforce-able by radar once again. Bewm.

  • Ubrayj02

    If the LAPD write a speeding ticket, the person who got the ticket can contest it in court. If there wasn’t an E&TS done, and done properly, then the ticket is thrown out. This is done to protect motorists from being preyed upon by local police and cities using capricious speed limits to fine people. With a good E&TS, the LAPD have one less thing to worry about when trying to do their job.

  • Roadblock

    what is an ets? Joseph, most people don’t show up to court, they just pay the ticket. and most people who do show up to court, even if they defeat the ticket, lost an entire day of their lives that they will never ever get back. win on both fronts.

  • Ubrayj02

    An E&TS is an Engineering and Traffic Survey. These speed limit increases are E&TS’s. For a cop to use a speed gun to write a ticket, these need to be done in accordance with a state manual (MUTCD). Lawyers that get people out of tickets head straight for E&TS’s when arguing in court – either they are out of date, or there is some technicality, that makes the ticket invalid. The cops know this, and they don’t want to enforce the speed limits on streets without E&TS’s done and done properly.


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