Seattle Moves to Lower Neighborhood Speed Limits to 20 MPH

Image: City of Seattle
Image: City of Seattle

Seattle is getting serious about reducing the threat of lethal motor vehicle speeds.

The city is moving to lower speed limits on neighborhood streets from 25 mph to 20 mph later this year. On big arterial streets, the city will determine speed limits on a case-by-case basis, but the default will be reduced from 35 mph to 30 mph, and on downtown arterial streets it will be 25 mph.

Seattle DOT Director Scott Kubly and council members Mike O’Brien and Tim Burgess announced the proposal yesterday. The new rules need to be approved by the City Council.

Mayor Ed Murray promised to lower speed limits last year as part of Seattle’s Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. So far the city had been testing slow zones around schools. The blanket speed limit reduction would be much more comprehensive, affecting 2,400 miles of neighborhood streets.

The advocacy group Seattle Neighborhood Greenways led the campaign for lower speed limits, rounding up support from a variety of community groups. The city’s proposal is “really good,” Seattle Greenways policy director Gordon Padelford told Streetsblog.

“They’re looking to do 20 miles per hour blanket immediately,” he said. The approach on arterial streets, he said, will be “more systematic” and “thoughtful.”

Padelford said there’s strong community support for the measure. Neighborhood-level chambers of commerce, in particular, have advocated for the change.

“When you have safer streets that’s better for businesses, that’s better for the atmosphere in the whole neighborhood,” he said.

The goal isn’t to just change the speed limit signs. Seattle Greenways is asking the city to “sign, design, and engineer” for 20 mph on all neighborhood streets. According to the Seattle Times, that may include road diets and other types of redesigns.

Every year, traffic violence claims the lives of about 20 people on Seattle streets, and 150 suffer serious injuries. About half the victims are killed while walking or biking. Speeding-related fatal collisions have increased 20 percent downtown in the last four years, according the city.

“We hope that people that currently don’t feel safe walking or biking around will feel more comfortable after the changes,” said Padelford. “It’s going to help create a more livable Seattle.”

  • Kudos to Seatlle. In Chicago any mention of speed reduction meets with fierce opposition…

  • thielges

    I’m be curious to know how the opposition to the 20MPH speed limit is framed. The most obvious downside is that it will require a little longer drive time. But any journey in a car should only travel a few blocks on neighborhood streets before reaching an arterial which presumably will have a faster speed limit. So the delay should be insignificant.

  • I’m curious how this will square with Washington state Vehical code 46.61.400.(2).a. which defined the maximum in residential streets as 25 unless otherwise posted. Does this mean that Seattle will install a 20MPH speed limit sign on every residential street in the city?

  • SDGreg

    Arterials should have the lower speed limits too for the safety of all users. Only highways (only roads with no one biking, walking, etc.) should have higher speed limits.

  • dat

    They’re gonna screw up traffic! THEY’RE GONNA SCREW IT UP!!! (Spittle flying)

  • Pedaltothemetal

    Who cares what the speed limit is. I’ll drive as fast as I want anyway. Good to see Scott Kubly is regurgitating the same BS Gabe Klein littered Chicago with. Does Scott have an original idea of his own? I don’t think so.

  • Nadine Freeman

    Changing speeds will have NO affect if pedestrian traffic/mindset doesn’t change. Currently, peds walk when the don’t walk sign is blinking and the “countdown” is exhausted. By the time they all decide to stop crossing, you have an irritated driver, in more of a hurry, trying to get one vehicle through the light, during rush hour. Furthermore, when a light isn’t available, more peds walk whenever and wherever they want without any regard for traffic flow. Many will walk slowly and/or stare down the driver; in what appears to be a challenge that, ultimately, snarls traffic more. And then, this doesn’t address those peds that cross anywhere they want (middle of the street and cutting off the crosswalk); which makes all traffic adhear to whatever pedestrians wish to do. Slowing traffic may help mitigate excessive harm to people in the streets, but will they ever be held accountable for their actions??

  • Cittaslow

    Great move Seattle! Fantastic to see you doing this. Speed is the main safety issue on our streets. Now make sure that you redesign more streets to discourage speed in the first place. Design is more powerful that signage.

  • Aaron Campbell

    I’m disappointed with this change. Granted, I live in Bothell, not Seattle, but I regularly commute both on a bike and in a vehicle.

    The more concrete disadvantages are commute time (yes, surface street commuting is significant for many people), and worse gas mileage; both of which lead to more pollution. But besides that, this feels like taking away the freedom because we are unwilling to allow any basic risks (and freedom always involves some risks). And it’s punishing all drivers for the faults of certain unsafe drivers and careless pedestrians.

    And, keep in mind that there will still be unsafe drivers who disregard the speed limit and careless pedestrians who walk down the street playing Pokemon. And quite possibly more of both after lowering the speed limit.

  • Very good significance has explain by this blog about people road accident. But our responsibility is that we have take serious about this issue. Big vehicle easily get hurt road people. So, i think this way can reduce the road accidents.

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