Residents on Berkeley Street have put up signs to warn drivers to slow down. (Daniel Archuleta

A quick decision by the City Council reduced speed limits throughout the City at their Feb. 9 meeting.

Council took 15 minutes to approve a package of speed limit alterations based on state mandated rules. Most of the changes resulted in lower speeds but an increase in speeds along Marine was a concern for the council and residents.

Speed limits are set locally but the speeds are determined by a state mandated formula and every street in the state is categorized by Caltrans. State defined “local” roads have a default limit of 25 miles per hour (mph). Enforcement of that limit does not require posted signs or a specific survey. All other roads default to 55 mph, and while a municipality can lower those limits at will, doing so without a state approved speed survey prohibits the use of radar/lydar by police and effectively undermines any attempt to enforce the rules.

Speed surveys are conducted on a rotating basis every five to seven years depending on road conditions and changes. A survey determines the speed of flowing traffic and then sets the limit to the nearest five-mile increment (rounding up). Agencies can lower that limit by at most 5 mph.

The most recently scheduled survey was in 2013, however some streets were accidently included in that report by mistake. In addition, residents of the Sunset Park neighborhood asked for revisions to speeds in their area after the conclusion of the 2013 survey citing particularly narrow streets.

The action taken this week removed the 10 mistakes from the municipal code, altered speed limits on some narrow streets and also allowed they City to make refinements to some streets that were surveyed but not altered last time. The new survey resulted in some reductions, but also a pair of increases on Marine and 4th Street.

Councilman Ted Winterer said residents along Marine wanted the speed lowered and asked if there was any way to deviate from the state law.

Traffic engineer Andrew Maximous said the revised survey required the 30 mph limit, but the City can install crosswalks, stop signs, speed feedback signs or other measures to try to lower speeds in the area. He said reducing the speed below 30 mph would limit police to pacing speeding vehicles but the length and configuration of Marine makes pacing practically impossible.

Councilman Kevin McKeown suggested a “Hail Mary” pass of reclassifying the street as “local” thereby dropping to the default limit of 25 mph. However, those classifications are set by the state and while residents might consider roads like Marine, Dewey, 11th, 14th or 17th as “local” the state defines them differently, requiring adherence to the survey system.

In passing the motion, McKeown asked staff to research the Caltrans classifications to see if the City can request its streets be reclassified.

“The important part is for us to find a way to be less shackled to the state rule,” he said.

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...