Imagine If People Really Drove the Speed Limit

It’s amazing how easy it is to be a radical when you talk about changing any aspect of car culture in the United States.

Take today’s featured post from the Streetsblog Network, from Newton Streets and Sidewalks. It is aptly titled "A Modest Proposal":

2656429501_a7e39ca21f_m.jpgPhoto by The Truth About via Flickr.

For the last year or so, when I drive, I have been consciously driving at the speed limit on Newton roads. Not at the assumed safe-from-a-speeding-ticket speed limit plus 10 mph, but right smack
dab at the speed limit. So far, it does not seem to have a meaningful effect on trip time within the city. And, when I go the speed limit, everyone else behind me goes the speed limit.…It would be a nice statement of support for our neighborhoods and recognition of the impact speeding traffic has if the mayor would institute and mayoral candidates would support a policy that all city-owned vehicles and all city-contracted vehicles (school buses, plows, &c.) are to be driven at the speed limit.

Not within a reasonable margin above, but right at or below.

It’s an idea that is staggering in its simplicity and power. Imagine taking it further: Imagine a city leader who would challenge all citizens of a municipality to drive at the speed limit. Imagine a city leader who would drive at the speed limit him or herself.

Radical, right? Especially when law enforcement officers in many jurisdictions don’t think that speeding is really speeding. And especially when you look at how dramatically fatalities go up when pedestrians are hit by drivers going over 25 mph.

Other goodness from around the network: Cap’n Transit looks at a new report about the high cost of urban highways; Matt Yglesias contemplates the rotten culture of state DOTs; and Portland Transport wonders if you can really feel good about riding an elecrtic bike.

  • Boris

    This assumes that a given posted speed limit is appropriate for the stretch of road it’s on. At best, it is an approximation. Most speed limits haven’t been changed in many years, and are calculated using a decades-old formula that doesn’t take into account factors like weather, the capabilities of new cars, and the presence of pedestrians or bikes.

    I drive slower now than when I started driving, for a variety of reasons, the biggest one being safety. I even suspect Mayor Bloomberg is not fixing city roads on purpose, since the potholes discourage fast driving (and driving in general). I would support this “policy” if I had an SUV, but since I have a sedan with a pothole-unfriendly suspension I’m often passed or honked at for going too slow.

  • And, when I go the speed limit, everyone else behind me goes the speed limit.

    If only this were true… In my experience, most drivers behind me do obey the speed limit, but more than I would like pass me on the right (which can be a problem for bikers who are using that lane). You also see a lot of extended middle fingers on passing drivers’ hands.

  • Well, you have to have some sort of posted limit — would you prefer higher limits everywhere?

  • You also see a lot of extended middle fingers on passing drivers’ hands.

    One of the reasons I don’t drive is because it turns me into that kind of person–which is exactly the opposite of the kind of person I strive to be.

  • Boris

    The best is to have no posted speed limits, but set up the conditions appropriately so that drivers are either afraid of speeding (cobblestone city streets) or allowed to speed while safely removed from others (autobahn).

  • People drive far too fast on the Grand Concourse– I’d love it if we could just get down to the limit– It’d be a lot safer here in the Bronx.

  • James

    Does the author of the article own a car? Driving the speed limit on a single-lane road in this area will get you run off the road. Drivers will eventually cross the yellow line to pass you if the opportunity arises and will be tailgating you the entire time. Newton, MA is not New York and the driving culture here is different than it is in New England. Here, a city leader could drive the speed limit all day and it would not make one iota of difference in motorist behavior. Drivers will do whatever they can get away with, which in the NYC area is much more than elsewhere due to sheer population density versus the amount of available traffic enforcement.

    IMO, positive change needs to start with a realistic assessment of the situation. Appeals to motorists’ better natures is not it.

  • allowed to speed while safely removed from others (autobahn)

    The autobahn is fun but the crashes that do occur tend to be characterized by spectacular amounts of carnage.

  • iso

    In my experience, most drivers behind me do obey the speed limit, but more than I would like pass me on the right (which can be a problem for bikers who are using that lane).

    If you are going to drive slower than prevailing traffic, you should be on the right. It’s common courtesy and is safer for everyone, including the bikers you mention.

  • Imagine is every motorist actually stopped at a red light. In NYC alone 250 million motorists run red lights every year. Speeding is not the only problem, although it likely contributes to red light running.

  • It’s a wise suggestion to increase enforcement of speed limits. But if you take a “good citizen” approach of enforcing it yourself, as Mitch points out, you will be the target of everyone’s hatred. It’s also true that this won’t work in a big city like New York.

    Why not push for more extensive deployment of accurate speed cameras like those used on Britain’s motorways? There are signs posted to indicate speed cameras are in effect, and violators are mailed tickets shortly after the sensor picks them up. You can use optical character recognition on the plates as well.

    If small municipalities used these as an enforcement mechanism, it would certainly lead to reduced speeds and by extension reduced fatalities. It would also increase revenues from fines.


Seattle Moves to Lower Neighborhood Speed Limits to 20 MPH

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 […]

Designing City Streets to Suit 47 MPH Drivers Is a Recipe for Failure

Gravois Avenue is an important commercial street in St. Louis that also happens to be designated a state highway. It’s currently slated for a redesign, providing a huge opportunity to make the street work better for walking and biking. But unfortunately the highway-like mentality of state transportation planners persists. Alex Ihnen at NextSTL reports that Missouri DOT is using highway design […]

Boston Wants to Lower Its Speed Limit to 20 MPH — But Can’t

Twenty is plenty in Boston, according to its elected officials. The City Council voted unanimously this week to lower the default speed limit on most residential streets to 20 mph — and not for the first time. Speeding is the number one complaint council members hear from residents. And on Boston’s narrow streets, packed with pedestrians, […]