Lower neighborhood speed limits require tougher policing
Written by Michael Lewis on February 12, 2019
As county officials work to speed traffic flow on major arteries, local officials are pulling the other way to slow traffic on residential streets.
These aren’t two engines trying to pull the same train in opposite directions. Improved arterial flow could – at least in theory – reduce the growing tendency of frustrated drivers to cut through residential neighborhoods when main roads jam up.
But that’s theory, and on our drive we have to get somewhere faster than traffic allows. Many of us cut through neighborhoods to do it.
So we come to this week, as a county commission committee considers measures that would allow two localities – the City of Miami and Miami Shores – to reduce the maximum speed on residential municipal streets from 30 miles per hour to 25. That speed reduction would be following the path of Coral Gables, which has already done it.
Municipalities don’t shoot from the hip and just ask for speed reductions. First they do traffic studies. Then the county’s transportation officials review a formal municipal request to cut speeds.
In the case of the City of Miami, the county Department of Transportation and Public Works denied the city’s request to lower speed limits in three areas from 30 to 20 miles per hour but did agree to 25 on all residential municipal streets – which leaves out arterials, collector roads and the county’s rights of way but still covers a significant swath of roadway.
The city estimates it will have to post 2,500 new 25-mile-per-hour speed limit signs at a cost of $1.25 million. Coral Gables underestimated its cost at $145,000 and is now up to $190,000 for 166 signs. At that pace of $1,145 per sign, the City of Miami would pay almost $2.9 million for signs.
But those costs will be minor if they achieve their purpose of safety and tranquility in neighborhoods. Safety applies to residents, pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers, all of whom are at far greater risk of fatalities as motorists’ speeds rise.
But there are other costs beyond signs.
One is the slight inconvenience to drivers. If they follow exactly the limit on residential streets, a drop from 30 miles per hour to 25 adds two minutes for every five miles of driving. But would that extra few minutes be enough to deter commuters on jammed arterials from cutting through neighborhoods?
The other cost is enforcement of the new lower speed limits. Coral Gables eased into the reduction by not ticketing drivers who exceeded 25 miles per hour in neighborhoods for the first months of the change. But officers still had to be present to monitor traffic and warn speeders.
How many officers would the City of Miami have to add to monitor neighborhood speeds – or would drivers be left mostly to the honor system to obey the new lower limits? This community, as long-time residents know, has a spotty record of obeying what seem to be minor speed limit infractions when nobody is looking.
Enforcement will be the key to success. With no enforcement, as we’ve said before, that 25 limit could turn into 40 to 50 actual miles per hour. To get most drivers to slow down they have to know that they really might be ticketed and fined for exceeding the new lower limit.
Back in 2016, when the City of Miami was voting at lowering the limit to 20 or 25, a resolution from the city commission asked the administration to develop a plan to lower the limit “upon Miami-Dade County approval.”
That approval now appears imminent. After this week’s committee consideration a full county commission vote would be needed. Then the ball will be in the city’s court to make the lower limit work.
That plan must include immediate enforcement and can’t wait for any additional traffic officers to be hired or trained. If it isn’t enforced from the outset – at lease with warnings, as Coral Gables did – those 2,500 new 25-mile-limit signs are just going to be costly window dressing.
The residents want the lower limits. Safety would increase. Soon, serious and costly policing will be vital to make it work.