The Definition of Speeding Shouldn’t Be Relative

Streetsblog Network member blog Greater Greater Washington has been ramping up coverage of crashes that result in pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities (they’ve got a new safety beat reporter, Stephen Miller), and in a recent post they highlighted the car-centric thinking of local law enforcement:

545214901_43c7f41ebb.jpgPhoto by sirwiseowl via Flickr.

DC police officer David Baker thinks pedestrians aren’t paying enough attention,
writes Michael Neibauer in the Examiner. They cross the street while listening to iPods or checking their Blackberries, contributing to crashes like those on Connecticut and Nebraska. He’s probably right.

Still, Baker’s quote shows one small sign of the auto-oriented thinking so endemic in our society (besides Neibauer using the common but dangerous term "accidents" to refer to 15 pedestrian deaths):

Some vehicles do speed through that busy crossing, Baker said, but most average 34 to 7 mph. The speed limit there is 30 mph.

If most cars go 34 to 37, that sounds like most vehicles are speeding. Sure, they’re only speeding a little, and I admit I often go 34 to 37 on roads like Connecticut. Still, let’s be clear: most vehicles are speeding.

As the recent study by Transportation Alternatives shows, speeding is a huge problem in New York as well. How can we change attitudes like the one expressed by the police officer above? Through advertising campaigns like the ones in the UK and Ireland? We’ve been talking about this a lot lately, but it’s worth bringing it up again: If even police officers like the one quoted above don’t think speeding is speeding, how are we ever going to get anywhere in our efforts to slow people down?

More from around the network: Hugh Bartling says urbanists are liking new Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan; Discovering Urbanism looks at the appointment of Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión as director of the new Office of Urban Affairs; and just for fun, Austin on Two Wheels posts a Miller ad that uses a fun bike ride to sell some beer.

  • If cars are going 37 mph in a zone with a 30 mph, they’re going more than 20% over the limit. Is that “speeding a little?” What’s the threshold for speeding a lot?

  • da

    Wow! Pedestrians walking along, behaving as if their lives were not endangered by vehicular traffic! Checking their blackberries no less! How alarming!!!

  • Kaja Geis

    Keep in mind also that speed limits are supposed to represent the safe maximum speed most of the time; and they don’t. That’s why drivers don’t respect them.

    Moreover, drivers know that the road itself speaks to them about how fast they should be traveling. And the roads are themselves scream “fifty!” half the time.

    A more just society might do away with speed limits, recommend cruising speeds w/ variances on highways, and strictly enforce _reckless driving_ bans on urban areas, with tightly built surface streets that physically prohibit speeding.

    Putting big signs up that say “30mph!” ’cause there’s houses coming up, with fourteen-foot lanes and ten-foot shoulders and nice banked curves, ain’t gonna do nothin about speed until it’s too late.

    I live on a Brooklyn side street, and speeding is physically impossible due to the need to execute a 90deg turn to enter my street. It’s perfectly safe, you could play stickball in the street most days.

    Another way of putting this: Cops in America don’t ever ticket you for reckless driving, they bust you for exceeding the speed limit; and they mostly do it in places where traveling extremely fast is _proper_, say on highways, freeways which were designed for 75mph traffic but then tamped down to 55mph artificially by Federal laws before many of us were born.

    There is no necessary correlation between exceeding a posted limit and being reckless, and even less correlation between who the cops ticket and who should be de-licensed. When’s the last time you saw a cop give a shit about someone rolling through a red light, overtaking on the right, cutting over a sidewalk in an extremely wide turn?

    Four miles over the limit, though. That’s two points on your license!

    Surface-street redesigns are the way. The Upper West Side project will show America how.

  • Kaja Geis

    I don’t mean to dismiss TA’s science that peds die more at 40mph than 30mph, pardon, if that’s not clear in the above.

    No driver expects to hit a pedestrian anyway (what ped expects to be hit?), and so there’s no credible threat to decrease their speed. Needing to swerve to follow the sharply turning road will work much better, won’t require enforcement, and won’t seem like fascism to the drivers.

  • Rational Plan

    Just reading the comments on here and elsewhere just shows the pro car attitude of most Americans. Official attitudes seem to be pedestrians are just larger types of road kill and it was their damn fault for being in the road. The UK is experiencing a large scale push to make speeding as socially unaceptable as drink driving has become. Excessive speed kills pedestrians. There has been a large scale program of down grading urban speed limits and in local residential streets the aim is to lower speed to 20 mph. Accidents are not accepted as things that happen, they are due to some one not taking ‘due care and attention’ which is punishable offence. Causing death while doing this is a jail-able offence. Some one was recently convicted for killing a pedestrian, even though they were going the speed limit because the road was narrow and view obstructed therefore it was judged they should have slowed down. Police generally treat accidents as scenes of crime and fault will be attributed to someone where possible.


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