Would 5 Miles Per Hour Make A Difference?

Thomas Breen photoTwo Alden Avenue neighbors offered different takes on how to slow down cars on their street — while lawmakers tried to figure out how much control they have over how fast people can legally drive in town.

The two-hour trip down Transportation Policy Road took place Tuesday night at a hearing at City Hall of the Board of Alders’ Public Safety and City Services & Environmental Policy committees.

The hearing concerned a proposed bill by Beaver Hills Alder Richard Furlow to explore the best ways to calm traffic and possibly lower the speed limit on city (as opposed to state) roads from 25 to 20 miles per hour.

“When I was growing up in the area,” Furlow said during his opening testimony at the hearing, “we were able to play on the street and ride our bicycles without one concern about being run over by a distracted driver. I think that [a 20 mph limit] is important because it’s going to assist with traffic calming, which needs to happen in three ways: police enforcement, driver education, and lowering the speed limit.

2 Views On Alden

While much of the public testimony at Tuesday’s hearing was in support of the push to lower the speed limit, two neighbors from Alden Avenue in Westville offered conflicting views on Furlow’s proposal.

“I think part of making New Haven a livable city is making it a walkable, runnable, bikeable, and also a drivable city,” said Jim Owen, a retiree who has lived in New Haven for 44 years. “If New Haven wants to get serious about decreasing speeds, it’s not going to make a whole lot of difference how fast the speed is on a one-way street like Burton Street, because it’s one block long and people aren’t likely to be driving more than 25 miles per hour on it.”

“On Alden Avenue, and even on Edgewood Avenue, it’s not realistic to have a 20 mile per hour speed limit,” he continued. “You almost go to 20 miles per hour without pressing on the accelerator. If we can afford to hire enough policemen to enforce the speed limits, then I think their priorities should be in the areas where people are speeding the most, and where we have the most accidents.”

Up next was Data Haven executive director Mark Abraham, who also lives a block away from Owen on Alden Avenue.

“New Haven is very, very behind the curve,” Abraham argued. “Many cities are establishing blanket 20 mile per hour speed limits on residential streets. The Seattle City Council just voted to set 20 mile per hour speed limits on 2,400 miles of its city streets a few months ago. Paris is currently at 40 percent 20 mile per hour streets, and they’re going to 80 percent in a few years. And in Edinburgh, they found that, with 20 mile per hour speed limits, the number of kids biking to school jumped from 3 percent to 22 percent. Most importantly, if you go from 25 to 20, a person hit is twice as likely to survive. It’s really important for children in New Haven to have that same benefit.”

The City Can Change the Speed Limit. Kind of.

Despite the general enthusiasm for lowering the speed limit among the alders and the public, notwithstanding Owen’s testimony, alders learned during the hearing that they may have less authority than they realized to change speed limits.

On the one hand, Corporation Counsel John Rose provided a memorandum citing state law that identifies the Board of Police Commissioners as the city’s traffic authority, and thereby the local entity that had the necessary power to set speed limits.

Transit chief Doug Hausladen noted that all requests by the city’s traffic authority in regards to changing speed limits must be submitted to the Office of the State Traffic Administration (OSTA) for review and approval.

“That seems like a bit of a Catch 22,” said committee co-chair and Quinnipiac Meadows Alder Gerald Antunes said. “If the state statute says we can change it, why do we have to go to them for approval? If we set it, and they deny it, then where are we?”

According to an OSTA Frequently Asked Questions documented provided by Hausladen, the city’s traffic agency is recognized by the state as a Local Traffic Agency (LTA), which has the unencumbered ability to set speed limits on private roads, but only an advisory capacity for determining speed limits on local, public roads.

During the meeting, Police Commission Chair Tony Dawson said he was formally granting Hausladen’s department permission to take the lead on submitting speed limit change requests to OSTA, and then to let the Board of Police Commissioners know the results of those requests.

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posted by: teachermama on March 22, 2017  9:12am

Lowering the speed limit is a great move!  Compelling testimony regarding the policies of other big cities.  Also, a thank-you to our neighbor, Jim Owen.  I have a feeling he follows the speed limits, and takes care when he drives.  This is why, for responsible citizens like himself, a drop from 25 seems insignificant. 
The problem is that many drivers are not so cautious or law-abiding, or that they are using electronic devices.  So Owen is right- it _shouldn’t_ make a difference.  But we live in front of a 4-way stop sign… and people zoom up to it, rolling through “slowly” from speeds much higher than 25.  If this move weren’t necessary, and if it weren’t supported by good evidence, cities around the world would not be adopting it.  I do wish, as he does, that people would just slow down on their own!

posted by: Noteworthy on March 22, 2017  10:46am

Nothing should be done with the speed limit. Where there is consistent speeders, or more importantly accidents - step up enforcement. Lowering the speed limit without enforcement is pointless - lowering it to make life more miserable for drivers is not the right thing either.

As for yet another tedious comparison to Seattle - the city of all things Max Leftie - please, no more comparisons to nutty cities. If you love it so much, move there. Otherwise, let’s just have reasonable rules, reasonable expectations - and a nice city in which to live without taking your personal views and using them like a wet blanket to force others to comply with your views.

We do not have an epidemic of pedestrian hits or deaths. So let’s keep it real, honest and reasonable.

posted by: 1644 on March 22, 2017  11:40am

1. The poll should have an option for “depends if I am driving or walking.”
2. Is the problem really people driving 25 mph?  Has New Haven ever tried enforcing the speed limit it already has?  Or any traffic laws?
3.  Will the 20mph be enforced for by cyclist as well?  It is quite possible to exceed 20 mph on a bicycle, so will will have even more bikes weaving in and out of slower moving vehicular traffic?
4. I can’t speak to Seattle, but Edinburgh, even the New Town, was laid out long before the automobile or streetcar.  Scotland, and the UK in general, have few stop signs, let alone four way stops, as the British, having tried and rejected revolution, have great respect for the laws of the state.  Also, one cannot get an unrestricted driving license until age 19, after two years with a “provisional” and then “probationary” license.

posted by: Paul Wessel on March 22, 2017  12:26pm

Legislation is cheap.  Enforcement is expensive. 

This proposed ordinance is a good opportunity to engage the Police Department in the conversation. 

Good questions to ask include:  How do you enforce speeding now?  How frequently and with what resources? Can you give us 5 years of data on speeding violations? What impact do you believe lowering the speed limit will have?  How else might we reduce speeding in New Haven?

posted by: Brian McGrath on March 22, 2017  12:43pm

Westville has two traffic problems.
1. There are too many 4 way stop signs. Safety is achieved by allowing the main through streets to have the right of way and stopping the smaller cross streets. This consistency lets people drive safely. Motorists will not stop at stop signs they instinctively know are motivated by knee jerk political decisions made by Aldermen and Traffic Commissioners wishing to satisfy a few (consistent) complainers instead of following the State practice manual and sound engineering principles. The Traffic Commission should repeal a few dozen of these signs.
2. The City zoning ordinance prohibits any shrubs or fences in the 25 foot triangle at all corners. Westville has hundreds of these locations. No one can see what is coming on the cross streets. This has led to hundreds of accidents over the years. LCI never enforces this law. What’s their excuse? Worse yet, a previous Alderman, in her typical knee jerk move to satisfy some complainer who DID get an enforcement letter amended that ordinance to allow shrubs on the corners up to 2.5 feet high. What a farce. Those same shrubs are now 6 feet. What did you expect? This ordinance amendment should be repealed immediately. Enforcement of the shrubs would reduce nearly all fender benders at the intersections to nil. Section 28 Corner Visibility. To make it easy for Alder Furlow—-simply change the words ” two and one-half feet ” back to ZERO as it should be, except in Seattle or Paris. Then call LCI and complain about your neighbors bushes.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on March 22, 2017  1:25pm

I think it would make sense to reduce the speed limit in conjunction with traffic calming. I doubt that reducing the limit, in and of itself, would have much impact on actual speeds. But drivers may obey lower speed limits if they are accompanied by engineering changes.

posted by: robn on March 22, 2017  1:33pm

This is a waste of time because New Haven will continue to NOT have the financial capacity to enforce speed limits (unless the state legislature changes the law and allows us to keep traffic fines….this should come first.)

posted by: LookOut on March 22, 2017  2:11pm

let’s hold off on any talk of changing limits or adding engineering changes until we enforce the laws that we have.  If we enforced speed limits, stop signs, traffic lights, and insurance requirements (tickets for lack of insurance), the streets of New Haven would become unrecognizable from what they are today (in a positive way).  Adding laws is only a bunch of hot air until there is enforcement.

Simple Question: Has anyone seen a car pulled over for running a red light in the past 3 years? (I wonder if I’m driving in the wrong neighborhoods)

posted by: westville man on March 22, 2017  2:50pm

As I have repeatedly posted on this topic-  the only place in Westville I have seen the speed enforced is on Chapel between the park where no one lives.  They sit at the Bowl and nail folks going 35-40.  They go 35- 40 through the stop sign at my house!  Never any enforcement.
BM- my observations are that stop signs at least slow people down.  At Willard/Yale and Central- where Central has the right of way (with a flashing light) and W/Y has a stop sign,  there are numerous accidents each year.  This seems to rebut your “main through Street” theory as i understand it.
Speed humps work-like they do in upper Westville.  Put some in…..

posted by: anonymous on March 22, 2017  3:25pm

“Adding laws is only a bunch of hot air until there is enforcement.”

Chicken, egg.  In reality, there won’t be enforcement until laws are changed.  Lower the limit to be in line with what most other cities are doing, starting with the quieter side streets, and only then will neighbors be able to come together and effectively advocate for the enforcement and traffic calming that they want.

posted by: robn on March 22, 2017  4:14pm

Couldn’t agree more with KM and WVM. Physical traffic calming elements like speed humps, speed tables and corner curb extensions slow traffic more that threats of tickets. However, the latter would be a nice arrow to have in our quiver…if the state would only let us keep the revenue. Lowering the speed limit from 25 to 20 will allow officers recording pedestrian death to add 5mph to the speeding violation but it will not inhibit incorrigible drivers who will continuing to drive at deadly speeds.

posted by: Nathan on March 22, 2017  9:35pm

Hard to believe there hasn’t been a single comment pointing out the issue of dangerous pedestrian behavior in the city.  Crosswalk - why should I walk to the corner?  Walk signal - what walk signal?  Oh, that solid red NO sign?  Take five minutes and observe pedestrian behavior at major downtown intersections and the problem will become clear - and it has nothing to do with 20 or 25 MPH speed limits.

posted by: William Kurtz on March 23, 2017  1:29pm

“Hard to believe there hasn’t been a single comment pointing out the issue of dangerous pedestrian behavior in the city.”

Dangers are more properly attributed to their sources and the source of danger on crowded city streets is careless drivers.

What’s really hard to believe is that we continue to excuse all manner of ‘minor’ moving violations: rolling stops, last-second ‘yellowish’ light running, short phone conversations, quick texts, driving 7-10 miles per hour over posted speed limits.

For decades, transportation policy has favored the rapid movement of people in cars to the complete exclusion of the rights and needs of everyone else. Meanwhile, improved automobile technology means that drivers are increasingly insulated from the costs of their own mistakes, while more vulnerable users bear the risks of their actions as well as everyone else’s.

The contortions it took to clear a prominent attorney of wrongdoing for killing an elderly woman in Wooster Square tell you everything you need to know:

Dogolo a retired city government clerk, was “crossing diagonally and was not within the unmarked crosswalk at the moment of the collision,” according to a release Wednesday from police spokesman Officer David Hartman.

“The pedestrian had only stepped one pace over the double yellow line when she was struck. The driver would not have perceived the pedestrian as a threat until she stepped over the line.”

I am all for more aggressive enforcement of speed limits and other traffic laws but we’re not going to ticket our way out of this. For that matter, changing the law isn’t a panacea, either. Real engineering solutions and a substantial shift in attitudes about driving are needed as well.