D.C. Mayor Bowser Wants a 15 MPH Speed Limit

Photo: District DOT
Photo: District DOT

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser wants to establish 15 mile per hour zones in parts of the capital and raise the fines for speeding. But advocates say the city isn’t doing enough to stop people from dying.

There have been 27 traffic deaths in D.C. already this year. That’s an increase of three over last year, despite the mayor’s stated commitment to Vision Zero policies that aim to gradually eliminate traffic deaths altogether.

Under Bowser’s latest initiative, the maximum fines — for going 25 mph over the speed limit — would rise to $500. Ten other traffic penalties would also be increased, according to WJLA in Washington.

But at a hearing this week, advocates testified for six hours that Bowser is not doing enough to change the streets themselves.

“It is very evidently not a priority for the Mayor’s Office,” said cyclist Alex Baca of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, who broke her jaw and sustained dental injuries in a crash last year.

She added that Vision Zero has been little more than a “marketing effort” by City Hall.

“You’re not seeing DDOT really do anything that looks like Vision Zero in a measurable fashion,” she told Streetsblog.

For example, the city hasn’t moved to implement its Move D.C. Plan, which calls for 343 miles of bike infrastructure, 75 of which were to be protected bike lanes. In just one instance, a two-mile protected bike lane through the Shaw neighborhood has been delayed for nearly two years. The city has been changing and refining designs since 2016 related to pushback from churches over on-street car storage — often referred to as parking.

And the District Department of Transportation, according to the Washington Times, has failed to abide by the 2016 Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Amendment Act, which required the agency to gather information about traffic collisions so planners could make informed decisions about where to initiate safety interventions.

Thursday’s hearing was full of people who shared stories of having their lives altered by injuries suffered on the streets of the District. A representative of George Washington University Hospital testified that the facility has treated 700 people for traffic-related injuries in just under two years, according to the Washington Times.

Baca says the Mayor’s speeding reduction policies are a good start, but she doesn’t feel confident they will be enforced. Changes to the city’s streets are really needed to reduce speeding more than enforcement, she said.

“We’re at a point in D.C. where we could do so much more,” she said. “There’s a political appetite for it, but it’s just not happening.”

20 thoughts on D.C. Mayor Bowser Wants a 15 MPH Speed Limit

  1. They don’t properly enforce the speed limits they already have. But if they do lower them without redesigning streets to encourage people to drive more slowly, People will continue to speed.

  2. DC runs most of their traffic enforcement programs as for-profit rackets with deliberately improper posted limits and incorrectly timed traffic lights – both scams to produce more tickets to safe drivers for more profits from safe drivers. NO ONE objects to enforcement for safety that targets unsafe drivers, but targeting safe drivers for profits is larceny.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  3. The IIHS just released a study in Boston that proves the speeds do not change. Boston lowered the usual city limit from 30 to 25. The mean speed before the change was 24.8 mph and after it was 24.8 mph for a MASSIVE decrease in actual speeds of 0.0 mph. The 85th percentile speed before the change was 31.0 mph and after it was 31.0 mph for a MASSIVE decrease in actual speeds of 0.0 mph. Overall they suggested but provided no data that the average speeds went down by 0.3% or 0.1 mph for a change (if even true) that is absolutely meaningless.
    Changes in posted limits without engineering changes to the roads that would reduce the actual speeds are done for one and only one reason — to artificially define more safe drivers as violators open to enforcement for profits. But enforcement for profits is 100% wrong 100% of the time.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  4. You need to read the actual report. The travel speeds did NOT change. The NMA loves this study from the IIHS because it proves the traffic safety engineering principle known for over 75 years that posted limits have almost no effect on the actual travel speeds – if the roadway environment remains the same.

    The 85th percentile speeds before and after the change from 30 to a 25 limit were 31.0 mph with NO change. Note that 30 is the closest interval to 31.0, so 30 is the correct and safest limit to post to likely produce the fewest crashes.

    Setting improper speed limits in urban or rural setting is wrong 100% of the time – and usually done to create predatory speed traps to enforce for profits – a vicious racket no one should tolerate for any reason.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  5. Zendrive recently learned that 88% of drivers are distracted by smartphones while they drive. So 12% is an upper bound on the number of safe drivers. Therefore the vast majority of this revenue is in fact coming from unsafe drivers!

  6. When the 85th percentile speeds of 31.0 mph before and after the change are exactly the same, so are the up to 15% above 31.0 mph. In most cases, the vast majority of the cars above the 85th percentile speed are in the next 5 mph interval – up to 36 mph in this case.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  7. To know if those zones are primarily for safety or primarily as for profit rackets, we need to know what days and hours they are enforced as school zones. Anything more than on only school days for one hour before and after school (and at lunchtime if kids are allowed off the grounds) makes them for profit rackets.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  8. Agreed. You will get far more safety improvements with engineering than can ever be obtained by enforcement.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  9. I agree that distracting driving is a huge contributer to accidents but I can attest that cyclists in DC are the some of the worst that I have ever encountered. And please do not get me started on vespas and the people on those scooters (which should absolutely not be on the roads at all!) 99.9% of these people do not follow the traffic laws while I’m commuting to DC everyday! If you weave in and out of traffic you risk getting injured! I’m absolutely fed up with this anti-car attitude. Especially now that the average person can’t afford to live in DC or in a suburban area near the raggedy metro! I’m all about improving roads for everyone’s safety but not at the expense of those of us in cars.

  10. To equalize things and improve roads for everyone’s safety, cars will need to give up a little of their superiority. It might mean a longer light cycle for side streets, so pedestrians have time to cross, or narrower lanes so drivers feel they should drive more slowly. It might mean a little less street parking or one less car lane, to make room for bike lanes. With cars being unfairly and wrongly catered to for so long, it might seem like you are giving something up, but it’s only what you never should have had in the first place.

  11. The thing about speed limits is that many drivers ignore them. That’s the driver’s fault.

    Speed limits on a wide straight road (that encourages speed) might be set at a certain speed because it is lined with houses, driveways and businesses. People shouldn’t have to hear the excess road noise from speeders and should be able to back out of their driveways safely.

    The street could have a skinny little sidewalk right next to a traffic lane where people walk to and from school or the store, and people wait at bus stops. There can be kids on bikes headed to baseball practice. There are valid reasons to have lower speed limits.

    I see excessive speeders all the time on the arterial streets around DC. Drivers think they get to drive as fast as they want, and get angry when they are behind someone who is driving the speed limit. Just because a road is wide and straight and looks like it’s engineered for high speed is not an excuse to speed.

  12. AAA, the IIHS, courts, and government officials who get to spend the money from for-profit enforcement rackets LOVE you attitude – it keeps them in business with lots of profits flowing in continuously.

    Anyone who does not know, or lies about, the fact that posted speed limits have almost no effect on travel speeds (+ or – 3 mph) knowingly or unknowingly supports the for-profit speed trap racket industry.

    The ONLY way to reduce actual travel speeds is to re-engineer the road so that (for example) the slowest 85% of the drivers who formerly felt safe and comfortable at speeds up to about 40 mph – now that slowest 85% feel safe and comfortable only at speeds up to about 30 or 25 mph, depending how degraded the re-engineered environment is the drivers.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  13. I agree that the way to reduce speed is to create a road where people tend to naturally drive at the desired speed. The fact that a road goes through a built up residential or commercial area with pedestrian traffic and all that entails won’t slow most people down, no matter the speed limit. So a lower speed limit won’t help. But while we wait for the roads to be redesigned, I don’t mind the speed limits (in built up areas near schools where people walk and live). But where I live, they barely enforce them anyway, so it really doesn’t matter.

  14. Many places, including DC, lower the speed limits knowing they will not affect the travel speeds in a vicious, predatory method to create lucrative speed traps for profits. It is a racket.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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