As Josh mentioned earlier today, I went on Ken Schram's show on KOMO (1000AM) this afternoon to talk about Mayor Mike McGinn's support for legislation that would allow cities to lower the speed limit on non-arterial roads (smaller streets in neighborhoods, as opposed to highways like Aurora or busy streets like First Ave.) without going through expensive speed and traffic-engineering studies.
The proposal has gained new attention (if not momentum) recently because of comments by McGinn expressing support for the measure, which passed the state house unanimously last year but stalled out in the senate transportation committee. The proposal wouldn't, as some have implied, actually lower speed limits; instead, it would merely give cities the option of lowering limits on 30-mph streets to 20 mph.
Civil libertarians like Schram may bristle at the notion that the government has the right to tell you how fast you can drive ("moving at a crawl" is how an outraged Schram described driving at 20 mph on the radio today), but the fact is, they do. And better that the local government be responsible for determining speeds on local streets, rather than letting those big government bureaucrats in Olympia decide what's best for Seattle ... right?
Anyway, beyond the local-control argument for letting cities set their own speed limits, there's simple physics: Hit a pedestrian or cyclist with your car at 20 mph, and they're likely to survive. Hit someone at 30 mph, and they stand about a 55 percent chance of staying alive. Hit them at 40 mph, and their survival odds shrink to 15 percent. Speed limits aren't about making your life as a driver less fun; they're about protecting you and the people---including, yes, vulnerable street users like cyclists, pedestrians, and people in wheelchairs---from death and injury.
Put in real terms: If the driver who hit and killed cyclist Michael Wang had been going 25 or 30, instead of an estimated 45, chances are, he'd be alive right now. Lives like Wang's---and the nine other cyclists who've been killed by cars in Washington State this year alone---seem to me of more intrinsic value than a driver's right to speed down neighborhood streets and get to their destination a little faster. (And remember, there's always Aurora or I-5 if you really want to cruise pedestrian- and cyclist-free!)
Last year's bill sailed through the state house and died in the senate, in Mary Margaret Haugen's (D-10) notoriously cyclist-unfriendly transportation committee. This year, it's one of the top items on the bicycling lobby's agenda.
Footnote. If bike advocates really want to pass this, they should throw Mayor McGinn overboard. As Schram noted, "This somehow went below my radar last year"---maybe because the unpopular "cycling mayor" was nowhere near it.
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