Without police, a 25 mph residential limit could still be 50
Written by Michael Lewis on October 25, 2016
Just as traffic jams on main roads get worse, Miami city commissioners are to vote next month on whether to reduce speed limits in many neighborhoods to 25 miles per hour to make them safer.
That’s likely to be controversial – not the greater safety but the lesser speed. We’re all in a hurry to get somewhere important, and we’re often late precisely because the roadways that are supposed to get us somewhere quickly – think Dixie Highway – seem to be ever slower.
To make up for that, more of us are taking alternate routes through residential streets – the very targets of the city legislation, which is limited to those areas.
Miami isn’t alone in targeting cut-through traffic. Coral Gables next door is doing the same, moving toward a 25 mile-per-hour limit itself. New York City was the first in the nation to try it on a big scale, just two years ago. Now other major cities across the US are looking at doing the same.
Everyone is doing this in the name of safety of residents, pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers. They’re right in doing that. We all know that at lower speeds collisions are less likely to end in death – and at lower speeds collisions are less likely to happen in the first place.
So what is there to object to, other than the obvious one-time cost of making new signs listing 25 instead of 30 for a speed limit?
The objection is likely to be a further inconvenience to drivers already fuming about traffic. The lower limit from 30 to 25 means that instead of covering a mile in 2 minutes it would take 2 minutes and 24 seconds – or an additional 2 minutes every five miles.
That time loss is real but nearly insignificant when you compare it with the time it takes you to travel the same distance on a crowded major roadway where traffic might be actually moving at just 10 to 12 miles per hour at rush hour – and rush hours are getting longer and longer.
Those low actual speeds on major roads means that a neighborhood cut-through will be just as alluring to drivers facing a 25 mph limit as it would at 30 mph – it’s still far faster than main roads at rush hour.
So a lower speed limit won’t reduce neighborhood traffic, even if police tightly enforce the limits.
The tighter the enforcement, however, the larger investment in residential area policing the city must make to put enough officers on the streets. That would produce safer neighborhoods in ways other than traffic safety, an unexpected benefit. Crime would fall.
But before any city moves ahead on this, it should do its homework on how much extra policing will be involved to make sure that 25 mph actually means 25 and not 35 or 50. A 25 mph sign that nobody pays any attention to does no good, and for Miami drivers to slow down they need to know that they could really be ticketed.
The Miami legislation presented by Commissioner Francis Suarez now simply asks the Public Works Department to create a plan after the county gives the city permission to slow single-family residential street traffic to 25. It doesn’t mention asking police how many people it would take to enforce that plan.
We think it should be the other way around: plan first for how you’re going to do it, how many people that will require and how you’ll cover the cost of the number of added officers and patrol cars needed to do the job properly.
As noted, the signs will be cheap. But without law enforcement to back up the signs they become simply suggestions, not a real law.
A 25 mile per hour limit is smart. Just be sure before the vote that you’ll do it right.