I just discovered that I can petition to have the speed limit on my street in Ogden changed. Apparently all I have to do is fill out some paperwork and they’ll “consider it.” These folks don’t know it yet, but we’re going to become very good friends. How good depends on how well they consider it.
I’m not going to stop with my street, either. When you cycle everywhere, you quickly come to realize that there aren’t too many driving problems that can’t be fixed by simply lowering the speed limit. Motorists generally disagree, but if they looked at their average speed over the length of their trip, they’d be shocked to discover just how far below the posted speed limit it likely is. In many cases, it’s not much faster than walking.
Interestingly enough, the same data show that it’s sometimes possible to get where you’re going more quickly if you slow down. Stop and go traffic is the real problem, and if you slow down a little you stop a whole lot less. That translates to a higher average speed over the length of a trip.
The real problem with traffic congestion isn’t speed limits set too low. It’s car-centric development patterns that require people to drive everywhere. Some people want to go north and south while others want to go east and west. We can’t all go at once, so we start and stop. If we change the development model and move commercial development closer to home, people will drive less. Less driving results in less traffic. Less traffic leads to less congestion.
It’s not surprising that Jan and I chose to purchase a house on a traditional grid in a traditional city with development sprinkled throughout instead of lined up along the freeway way out on the edge of town. It’s inspiring to see that all around us people are choosing the same thing. It’s as if a collective lightbulb has gone off in the minds of millions of Americans. We don’t have to live in a suburb with curvy cul-de-sacs far from where we work and shop. That was a choice. This is a better one. This choice allows us to bike more and drive less. This choice allows us to look at speed limits differently than we did before.
On a residential street lined with houses full of children who play in yards, the speed limit should never be more than 25 mph. When it is set higher, you’re making a deal with the devil. You’re saying that you’re willing to accept a little carnage, paid for with the lives of children and other vulnerable road users, if it allows you to get where you’re going a little more quickly.
Think that’s harsh? During my recent stay in Utah, two more children were run down by motorists. In both cases, it was deemed a completely unavoidable tragedy. That’s nonsense…nothing more than a lame attempt to defend the status quo. Avoiding it is really very simple, but it requires a change of heart and a change in how we perceive our place in the greater world.
That’s part of the reason why so many jurisdictions are aggressively lowering speed limits. New York has lowered them city wide. There’s a broad push in the Twin Cities to do the same. This is an idea whose time has come. Speed kills, and reaching a destination a few minutes quicker is a sad excuse for putting human lives, especially those most vulnerable, in peril.