What does speed have to do with vibrant communities?

On January 18, MAPC hosted a packed house for Slow Down! Speed Reduction Strategies for Vibrant Communities. The room was filled with bicycle and pedestrian advocates, local planners and public works staff, public health professionals, transportation engineers, elected officials, and local law enforcement. You can view all of the powerpoint presentations from the event below

Better health and greater wealth

After a welcome from MAPC Deputy Director Joel Barrera, Wendy Landman of WalkBoston kicked off the event with a presentation entitled “Good Walking is Good Business.”

Wendy at Slow DownWendy showed how slower traffic speeds translate into more walkable, bikeable neighborhoods and fewer miles traveled by car; the associated increase in walking and biking improves health and lowers health care costs for families, employers, and the Commonwealth. People who drive less also spend less on transportation costs, so they have more disposable income—and they’re more likely to spend it at local businesses in walkable, bikeable neighborhoods. Finally, people increasingly want to live in places with lower speeds and better walking and biking facilities—especially young professionals and families, and aging baby boomers—meaning that lower speeds can lead to higher real estate values.

Reduction in crashes and injuries

Scott Bricker of America WalksNext, Scott Bricker of America Walks talked about local and statewide efforts to lower speeds from around the country, including the state of Oregon, which allowed lower speed limits (20 mph) on all low-volume neighborhood streets; and New York City, where neighborhoods can opt-in to 20 mph zones. Scott showed many examples of neighborhoods posting their own unofficial speed signs to demonstrate that people prefer lower speeds. People prefer lower speeds for a reason: lowering speeds to 20 mph reduces crashes by 42%, and reduces fatalities and serious injuries by 46%.

What should MA do?

Dr. Rune Elvik of the Institute of Transportation Economics in Oslo, Norway, spoke next about how speed limits affect actual traffic speeds. As expected, lowering speed limits leads to a decrease in the average actual traffic speed—and raising speed limits leads to faster traffic. However, actual speeds decrease only a fraction of any decrease in the speed limit. For example, lowering the speed limit by 5 mph is likely to cause a decrease of only 1.8 mph in the actual speed of traffic. For this reason, it is important to use other methods of traffic calming, such as speed bumps, narrower lanes, and other physical changes to the road design.

Neil Boudreau from MassDOT talked about how speed limits are determined in Massachusetts, and the specific challenges faced by rural communities. Neil discussed a variety of strategies for lowering speeds even outside of urban areas, such as roundabouts, vehicle-activated speed displays, and different types of street markings intended to visually signal to drivers to slow down. Context is important—rural communities may not be able to lower speeds everywhere, but traffic calming in town centers, school zones, and other specific areas can make a big difference.

speed limit sign 25State Representative Denise Provost gave an impromptu summary of the speed limit legislation she has filed. One bill aims to lower the prevailing speed limit on certain local roads from 30mph to 25 mph. See the bill text (PDF)

Another other bill enables municipalities to create “senior safety zones. ” These would  be similar to school zones,with designated areas where the speed is posted at 20 mph. These areas could be around senior housing, hospitals, nursing homes, and community centers. See the bill text (PDF).

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-Jessica Robertson, MAPC Transportation Coordinator