Speed limit bill spurs debate over congestion, ticketing
By State House News Service | June 22, 2016, 6:43 EST
STATE HOUSE — As Boston officials seek to lower speed limits on their streets, one lawmaker cautioned Tuesday that the problem they are seeking to remedy could be a symptom of a broader “crisis” in transportation infrastructure.
The Boston City Council voted unanimously in April to lower speed limits on thickly settled or business district city streets from 30 miles per hour to 20, with the maximum speed in school zones dropping to 15. That proposal (H 4349), filed by Rep. Daniel Hunt of Dorchester as a home rule petition, is now before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation.
“Especially with the advent of different apps that show you side routes that only my dad used to know . . . the genesis of it is one of civic engagement, that the community wanted an answer for folks traveling down side streets at 40 miles an hour without enforcement,” Hunt told the committee during a hearing.
Statutory speed limits in Massachusetts are set at 20 mph in school zones, 30 mph in thickly settled or business districts, 40 mph on undivided highways and 50 mph on divided highways.
Hunt told the committee he believed the time was right to lower speed limits for cars as more cyclists, pedestrians, rollerbladers and runners are now sharing the roads.
Sen. Thomas McGee, the committee’s Senate chair, said the issue Hunt described is driven by a “lack of investment in transportation infrastructure,” bringing heavy traffic to neighborhoods that traditionally haven’t experienced it.
“This problem wasn’t here 15 years ago, because people weren’t zooming through your streets trying to avoid an hour and a half of traffic,” McGee said. He added, “They get on the streets of Boston, they’re not thinking about 15 miles an hour, they’re thinking about how they’re going to get home to where they were supposed to be 45 minutes ago. It’s going to continue to be exacerbated by our inability to get our hands around a major transportation crisis.”
McGee pointed to a report released earlier this month by the business group A Better City, which included a projection that there will be at least 80,000 more vehicles on greater Boston roads by 2030.
Dorchester resident Palma McLaughlin testified against the bill, arguing that people who speed despite current limits would not change their habits if the posted maximum were lower.
“Instead of people going 20 miles an hour, they’ll be going 28 miles an hour,” McLaughlin said. “What does happen is ticket revenues go up because people drive the same speed. The ticket revenues go up, so this could be an inefficient revenue bill, but it won’t lower the speed limit.”
Supporters of a drop in Boston’s speed limit have more than one chance of seeing it become law this session.
Last week, the House tacked on to a municipal government reform bill a Hunt amendment that would allow cities and towns to set speed limits at 25 mph in thickly settled or business districts and establish “safety zones” with 20 mph speed limits. The bill (H 4419) is now before the Senate.
Hunt said either measure would satisfy Boston’s needs, but urged the committee to advance the home rule bill in case the municipal reform bill stalls in the 41 days remaining for formal legislative sessions.
“We don’t care how it gets done or whose name is on it, we just want to make sure the quality of life for our constituents increases,” Hunt said.
Committee members said they could see advantages to making lower speed limits available to more communities.
“Part of the appeal of at least a municipal opt-in approach is that nevertheless, these local changes would be consistent around the state, so that the driving public would have some sense that each municipality didn’t have different local speed limits,” House Chairman William Straus said. “That wouldn’t work necessarily to anyone’s benefit either.”
— Written by Katie Lannan
Copyright State House News Service