The US is facing an epidemic and it's not Zika or Ebola; it is the surge in crashes and fatalities amongst people walking and bicycling. The trend is alarming. Even as communities across the US embark on Vision Zero Plans, we are witnessing a significant upswing in people dying for simply walking or riding a bike. The Cities of Los Angeles & New York have recently adopted Vision Zero Plans. While New York experienced an initial drop, in 2016 both New York and LA witnessed an increase in pedestrians and bicyclists dying in crashes. So far, 2017 is starting off even worse. If these trends continue in the two largest Cities in the US, the support for Vision Zero will fade quickly. One City bucking the trend is Seattle. The City of Seattle Vision Zero Plan dealt upfront with the number one cause of fatalities involving people walking and biking: Speed! To put it bluntly, speed kills. As the graphic below from the Seattle Vision Plan illustrates, a pedestrian has a 90% chance of surviving a crash involving a motorist traveling at 20 MPH. That percentage drops to 50% at 30 MPH and 10% at 40 MPH.
The City of Seattle embarked on an ambitious plan that reduced speed limits on all local and collector roads in Downtown to 20 MPH and established 25 MPH speed limits for arterials. The change was implemented quickly, at reasonable cost, and the benefits were immediate! There are not many multi-modal improvements local governments can implement that can be (1) done quickly; (2) relatively inexpensive, compared to more capital-intensive improvements, and (3) show immediate benefits.
For a Vision Zero Plan to a real impact, speed limits must be addressed as a first step. Several local governments through-out Florida have embraced 20 MPH speed limits to enhance walkability and bicycling. Central Avenue in Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida implemented 20 MPH speed limits, along with wide sidewalks, angled on-street parking, street trees, landscape and hardscape elements and changes in land use policies that are pedestrian and bicycle friendly.
Park Avenue in Downtown Winter Park Florida is one of the most scenic and walkable destinations in the State. Featuring posted speed limit of 20 MPH, brick streets, wide sidewalks, street trees and proximity to SunRail, Park Avenue serves as a great example of how to create a multi-modal friendly environment with the elements necessary to achieve Vision Zero.
Tarpon Springs has embraced Vision Zero friendly speed limits within its Downtown. Main Street has a 20 MPH speed limit with a digital sign illustrating to motorist how quickly they are traveling. The lower speed limit has enhanced the safety of people on bikes and walking crossing Main Street on the Pinellas Trail.
The City of West Palm Beach has implemented Vision Zero Friendly speed limits on residential roads south of Downtown. The City has taken advantage of the lower speeds by repurposing road right-of- way to add traffic calming features, bio swales, chicanes, neck downs, speed tables and landscaped curb extensions.
The University of Florida has established campus wide speed limits of 20 MPH. The University, one of the largest Public Research Universities in the US, has a significant number of students and faculty that walk, bike, ride transit and drive scooters to access and travel through-out campus.
Boston, Austin and Portland have tried to establish 20 and 25 MPH speed limits within their respective Cities. However, Massachusetts, Texas and Oregon, like many States throughout the US, require State Legislatures to grant statutory authority to local government and State Departments of Transportation to implement Vision Zero friendly speed limits less than 30 MPH. Portland is making progress on a bill going through the state legislature to allow the City to lower speeds to 20 MPH on local streets.
The State of Florida has some of the most proactive laws in the US regarding establishment of speed limits by local governments and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). Florida Statute 316.183 establishes maximum speed limits that maybe set by local governments and FDOT. Florida Statute 316.189 grants local governments the ability to establish maximum 20 and 25 MPH speed limits on roadways under the local governments ownership. The Florida Legislature, through Florida Statue 316.187, also grants FDOT with significant discretion on the establishment of speed limits on non-limited access State Roads. The establishment of speed limits are required to be based on a technical analysis. Florida Statute only establishes minimum speed limits for the Interstate Highway System. Local governments can establish speed limits as low as 10 and 15 MPH on roads under their ownership.
Speed limits in and of themselves are only part of the solution. Redesign and repurposes of roadways with an emphasis on safety for all modes, as well as enforcement and education, are all components of a Vision Zero Plan. However, for any Vision Zero Plan to be truly successful, speed limits must be addressed and exploring speed limits of 20 MPH is a great place to start. Look for my next article coming soon where I will highlight Vision Zero appropriate speed limits that could, based on obtaining necessary approvals, be applied to a variety of areas within a community both within the US and in Europe, Canada and elsewhere.
Jonathan B. Paul, AICP is the principal of NUE Urban Concepts, LLC specializing in creative and innovative land use, mobility, parking and funding strategies and can be reached at email@example.com.