Could this be the rule, not the exception?

New changes to state law would make it much easier for Newton to lower speed limits.

One of the changes to come out of the flurry of last-minute legislating on Beacon Hill allows cities and towns to reduce a street’s speed limit to 25 MPH without getting state approval. Previously, state law required approval for lowering the speed limit below 30 MPH. Additionally, the legislature created a new law that allows municipalities to create 20 MPH “safety zones,” again without requiring state approval. 

The speed limit on secondary roads in Newton, except where posted, is 30 MPH. Lowering the speed limit is a perennial request for neighborhoods looking to reduce the negative impact of car traffic. The equally perennial city response has been:

  • The city can’t lower speed limits without state approval
  • State approval is generally granted only if the 85th percentile of current traffic speeds is below 30 MPH, which obviates the need for a lower limit
  • Lower speed limits don’t do that much — on their own — to reduce traffic speeds

The new law takes care of the first two points. The Newton City Council should immediately and forthwith take up a bill to reduce the city speed limit to 25 MPH on secondary roads.

Notwithstanding my suggestion, the third point still stands. Lowering speed limits does not, generally, lower speed, not without a level of sustained enforcement that is simply not practical. Motorists drive the speed that’s comfortable, which is why speed-limit compliance is so low. Roadway design determines the speed of traffic. To slow traffic, we need to make changes to the physical roadway: speed humps, chicanes, tighter curb radii, &c. 

But, lowering the city speed limit on secondary roads to 25 MPH, now authorized by the state, is a good statement of the city’s priorities and values. We want safer streets. We want streets that can be enjoyed for many uses. We want slower traffic.