From 2010 to 2019 a pedestrian or cyclist in Rochester was hit by a car every 9 days on average. We are averaging more than 1 fatality per year. These are the reported numbers, there are probably far more collisions that are not reported. Just this year a pedestrian, likely crossing with priority at a legal unmarked crosswalk on 7th street NW was killed.
Those of you who know me best know that the safety of vulnerable users of our roadways has been a priority of mine for more than a decade. The City of Rochester fought for years to have the ability to set our own speed limits and finally received that authority last year. The result of successfully lowering automobile speeds in neighborhoods will be less serious injury and loss of life. For years I have worked with the Urban Land Institute Health Corridors Initiative, and I am passionate about health & safety in our neighborhoods.
Just 13 percent of pedestrians die or suffer severe injuries when struck by a vehicle traveling at 20 mph, compared to 40 percent at 30 mph and 73 percent at 40 mph. In Rochester, we have seen a number of pedestrian deaths related to the combination of speed and multiple lanes heading in 1 direction.
Every state around Minnesota has a default speed limit of 25 MPH in cities. Minneapolis and St. Paul have already implemented changes to a mix of 20 MPH & 25 MPH minor and major streets. Here is a good summary of how this worked in Minneapolis. The Rochester proposal is similar in that the low volume neighborhoods streets would mostly be 20 MPH while the busier neighborhood streets would be 25 MPH.
In 2018, speeding in neighborhoods was identified and the most serious public safety concern in Rochester. As the father of 2 girls, I hear what the community is saying. For me this is about their safety. I believe that these types of decisions should be made by trained professionals and not popular opinion. I believe the public does have a right to be heard and to have their points considered and their questions answered. There is a subset of people who want to go as fast as they possible can through neighborhoods and that is why we need these laws. I would not allow the public to vote on how to design the load bearing portions of a bridge. I would want engineers to do this for the very same reasons as they should use their expertise to build a street system to preserve life.
Speed limits are not the answer to lower speeds in neighborhoods, but rather an important part of the equation. Lower speed limits allow engineers to design roadways for lower speeds. 2020 saw a major sewer project in Kutzky Park. The new streets along with the boulevard trees and pedestrian bump-outs area a good example of how to design a neighborhood street that people will naturally drive at closer to 20 MPH. Even if we don’t get all the way to 20 MPH on neighborhood streets it is important that we allow engineers to design to this speed going forward.
Another part of lowering speeds is enforcement. We do some enforcement today, but it is largely complaint based and not particularly effective. We can tell people to drive 30 MPH, but if the roadways is designed like a 40 MPH roadway people will drive that way (I’m looking at you 23rd Ave, Manor Park Dr. & 3rd Street). Lower speed limits do have a positive effect on enforcement from the stand point that people who try to get away with driving 7-10 MPH over the legal limit will have to base that gamble on a lower speed limit.
One of the biggest myths about lowering speed limits is that commute times will change substantially. In cities, this is really not the case as the number of stops, starts and the percentage of trips that still occur on faster county and state highways lead to the figure not changing much. What we are really talking about is the beginning and ends of trips which only constitute a couple miles of a typical trip. This sounds like a big deal until people realize that this will add 78 seconds to a trip.
In addition to the safety benefits, lower speeds also contribute to less pollution, less harmful climate changing emissions, and higher economic activity along commercial stretches.