October is Pedestrian Safety Month where safety groups roll out tepid safety messaging and do a modest amount of short-term traffic enforcement in a handful of Michigan cities. This approach certainly hasn’t led to reduced pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries, which have actually increased over the past decade.
What is much more effective than education or enforcement? It’s engineering — building Complete Streets that can self-regulate motorists and reduce speeding 24 hours a day. This is critical since vehicle speed largely determines the degree of injury suffered by pedestrians and bicyclists in crashes. (Vehicle design is a significant determinant as well.)
If there is any doubt that Detroit has speeding problem, just consider Detroiters’ overwhelming demand for speed humps to slow motorists on residential streets. This demand has led Mayor Mike Duggan to shift $11.5 million in road funding to install significantly more speed humps in 2021 — perhaps more than any other major U.S. city.
I’m not sure there’s been any innovation in this city that has been received with more enthusiasm than the speed humpsMayor Mike Duggan Press Conference, September 16, 2020
|Year||Speed humps installed||Resident requests|
Of course speed humps only work on streets were speed limits are 25 MPH or less. Other streets require different Complete Street designs to reduce speeding, e.g. bike lanes, bumps outs, narrower travel lanes, street trees.
Reframing bike lanes as speed humps for bigger roads is invaluable. Bike lanes help reduce speeding and increase safety for everyone, not just bicyclists.
Another issue we’re working on is how speed limits are set in Michigan.
One major reason the auto industry wrote the “Rules of the Road” in the 1920s was to have higher speed limits and restrict other users, predominantly pedestrians, from using these roads. Higher travel speeds gave motorist a clear advantage over other travel modes and helped sell more cars.
Michigan’s speed limit laws still reflect this history with minimums limits for speed limits and by having the 85th fastest motorist under ideal conditions determine the speed limit — not traffic experts or local governments. This leads to higher speed limits that don’t consider road design, crash history, local land use, and pedestrian and bicyclist use. What’s equally bad is that when roads are reconstructed, they are designed to accomodate the speed limit rather than what is appropriate and safe for the local community.
One local example of this is W. Fort Street near Schaefer. It used to have a 35 MPH speed limit. The Michigan State Police measured the 85th fastest motorist at a bit over 40 MPH, so they raised the speed limit to 45 MPH. They didn’t consider that the neighborhood to the south crossed the road to get to Kemeney Rec Center and park on the north. After the speed limit changed, 8-year-old Brandyn Starks was hit and killed while crossing the street to get to the park.
We’re part of a stakeholder group that’s helping shape current legislation (HB 4733) to provide a modest amount of flexibility in setting speed limits. This change is very much inline with recommendation from the NTSB and many other national organizations. We look forward to providing future updates on this bill.
What about 20 MPH speed limits?
There is a push in many cities around the world to reduce residential speed limits from 25 MPH to 20 MPH. This change is being promoted to help reduce pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries. Recent studies show that lower speed limits do reduce motorist speeds.
However, Michigan law prohibits setting Detroit’s residential speed limits below 25 MPH through January 2024. The Michigan State Police will be doing motorist speed studies on these local roads across the state. We anticipate they will more likely want to raise this 25 MPH minimum rather than lower it by 2024.
Of course, if the legislature takes no action before that time, residential speed limits could be set based on the 85th fastest motorist…