Chicago is considering lowering speed limits, but should it do it?

Research shows that lower speed limits in dense urban areas save lives, but it’s not just about changing road signs.

Speed ​​limit in Chicago Speed ​​limit in Chicago

To kick off the month of May, the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety held a hearing to determine whether the city should consider dropping its current speed limit on arterial roads.

As of this writing, the speed limit is currently set at 30 miles per hour within the city limits. In more and more neighborhoods, especially the high-income residential areas of the North Side, you’ll definitely feel some sensations if you go too fast. For what? Speed ​​bumps seem to be multiplying there. Some are so big that if you hit them with a car or bike that you’ve lowered (or worse yet, has a hanging exhaust), you’d better be operating at a crawl.

Now, if you’re on a bike and the parked cars and other vehicles on the street you’re on allow it, you might be able to get around the speed bumps and miss them completely. Even if you do, they still had the desired effect of slowing traffic. This is, after all, their stated reason for being.

But what about lowering the citywide speed limit?

To be clear, discussions within the Chicago City Council are preliminary at this point. No orders have yet been presented for review. But First Ward Alderman Daniel La Spata is leading a group of City Council members who want their colleagues to seriously consider passing legislation to support the plan.

The considerations mentioned include five times greater chances of survival for pedestrians if a car hits them at 40 km/h compared to 35 km/h, as well as improved reaction times (for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians) at lower speeds.

Metropolitan Planning Council Senior Director Audrey Wennink also told the Chicago Sun-Times that “if cars are traveling at a speed of 20 to 25 mph, it takes 85 feet to stop the vehicle. But at 30 mph, it’s 120 feet.”

Although there are a number of other factors at play in this example (how good/well maintained are the brakes? Are the tires in good condition?), the example still stands. It’s nice to have concrete numbers, but deep down, most people can probably understand that it’s easier to respond to something in a timely manner when you have enough time to react. This is something the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has long advocated for.

It’s not the first major city to consider this move, and it won’t be the last

Many transportation researchers and organizations have long discussed the benefits of lowering speed limits in urban areas. When population density is high, more people move and move in multiple ways within the area. In less populated areas, where homes and businesses are further apart, you are much less likely to encounter other people on the road, so it is usually possible to go faster and safer.

Few years ago, Vice motherboard Editor Aaron Gordon made a powerful and compelling argument for lowering city speed limits to 20 miles per hour. He cited examples of cities that have already done so, including New York and Edinburgh.

To be completely transparent, I did not start reading this article expecting to agree. But as I mentioned before, I also grew up in Chicago. Specifically, I grew up as a pedestrian and transit user, and became an occasional bike commuter when I got a little older. I didn’t learn to drive or ride a motorcycle until I was an adult.

When you spend most (or all) of your time in a city walking, taking public transportation, and maybe biking every once in a while, you have a very different outlook on things than you do. have as a driver or cyclist on the same roads. Once I learned to drive, and did it in the city, I began to understand why driving in the city is so frustrating. That is, unless you do it after hours, when most of the city is asleep or working third shifts.

Traffic jams, stop signs every block or two, increasingly massive speed bumps, unexpected potholes, random pedestrians who suddenly wander in front of you, cyclists who can’t decide in what direction they want to go (and don’t). constantly making hand signals to tell you), and many more are just some of the frustrations that go hand in hand with city driving or motorcycle riding.

Where Gordon’s argument works well is in his consideration of the bigger picture. According to him, it is not just about changing the speed limit signs. If you can drive 30 mph for five seconds, but then have to brake and crawl for the next 15 minutes because you’re faced with a nasty snarl of traffic, what’s the point?

The urban engineering and road design choices of the past combine with the fantastic capabilities of our cars (and bikes) to trick us into going faster than perhaps we should, given the current road environment that we we borrow.

One way city planners can encourage drivers to respect the posted speed limit is by scheduling street lighting accordingly, so that good behavior is rewarded with as many green lights as possible and smoother traffic flow. This won’t always work if things get too congested, but a smoother, less interrupted flow of traffic at 20 mph isn’t infinitely preferable to going 40 for two blocks and then barely reaching both numbers for the next one. half hour?

What about human nature, you ask? The University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies conducted a study in St. Louis Park to assess and document driver behavior before and after a speed limit change.

Probably not surprising news, the analysis showed that drivers did not immediately adapt their behavior to the new reduced speed limits. Several possible reasons were mentioned, not the least of which was unfamiliarity with the road. If you’re used to driving at X speed on a street you’ve been on for years, you might not even notice the new signs right away.

Still, proponents of proposals like the one currently under consideration in Chicago say every slowed MPH counts for something. That even if speed limit reductions are not perfectly implemented by everyone (which will not be the case, because we are humans), they will still result in positive change.

Speeding will still occur, but if speeding is reduced due to the lowered speed limit, it could still lead to potentially safer outcomes, as well as fewer injuries, deaths and accidents in general.

This seems like a result that most people should be able to get behind.

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