Bill would set new max speed limits—including 25 mph on ‘arterial roads’—for Baltimore’s streets and alleys

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Photo by Ethan McLeod

Legislation being introduced before the Baltimore City Council tonight would require the Department of Transportation to set new “general maximum” speed limits for city roads, capping legal speed limits at 25 mph for arterial roads, 20 mph for local roads and 15 mph for alleyways.

Councilman Ryan Dorsey’s (3rd District) bill seeks to calm traffic in favor of promoting pedestrian, driver and cyclist safety. The legislation, co-sponsored by nine other lawmakers, cites Baltimore’s abysmal ranking as the worst city for drivers in a recent Allstate Insurance report, its starkly higher crash rate compared to the rest of the state and the fact that speed limits are typically not enforced until “vehicles are traveling more than 10 m.p.h. above a posted speed limit,” among other factors.

Other large U.S. cities have cut local speed limits in recent years, the bill text notes. Among those are Seattle, which reduced its arterial road speed limit to 25 mph in 2016, New York City, which set the same threshold for most of its streets in 2014, and Portland, which recently capped the limit for local roads at 20 mph.

Complete Streets guidelines, which Dorsey and others are pushing for Baltimore to adopt as a road-design framework in another bill put forth last year and still being considered by the council, call for street designers to consider a max of 20 mph for neighborhood streets and include an option for limits as low as 5 or 10 mph for “shared streets and alleys.”

The text also nods to the statistic that around 30 percent of Baltimore’s households lack access to a car. It says they, along with tourists and others who frequently walk or use public transportation, “should be given paramount consideration in policy-making and environmental conditions.”

On his Twitter feed, the councilman has made a habit of highlighting how speeding drivers affect city residents and neighborhoods, including in his district.

“I think that it’s imperative for this city to do everything in its power to reduce and eliminate unsafe driving behavior because of both the concern for safety, as well as the degree to which crashes give auto insurance providers reason to impose such high premiums on Baltimore City residents,” Dorsey said in an interview Monday.

In a statement provided to Baltimore Fishbowl, DOT Director Michelle Pourciau said the agency’s “goal is to make city streets safer for all users of the transportation network.”

“DOT is committed to working closely with the City Council to ensure efforts to improve traffic mitigation solutions for everyone that lives and travels in the City of Baltimore,” she said.

Well-traveled thoroughfares like Belair Road, Charles Street, Cold Spring Lane, Hanover Street, Harford Road, Northern Parkway, Orleans Street and York Road are among the ones fitting the classification of arterial roads, per this map from DOT. Many of those roads have stretches with speed limits posted at 35 mph or more, and a number of them are monitored by speed cameras that don’t actually ticket you unless you’re caught driving at least 12 mph faster than what’s allowed.

The city is also cross-hatched with “collector” (Dorsey’s legislation refers to “minor collector” roads) and “urban local” roads that would be subject to the 20 mph change, per the DOT map.

Ragina Cooper Averella, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in an email that the organization recognizes speed limits as tools to “improve mobility, motorist safety and respect for the law,” but that before Baltimore proceeds with such a change to main roads, “we would hope that more research is conducted.”

“Lowering speed limits on main thoroughfares may not necessarily be in the best interest of traffic safety and congestion,” she said.

Averella also noted the presence of speed cameras throughout Baltimore. “We would certainly be concerned about motorists being cited due to artificially lowered speed limits on primary roadways.”

Asked about potential opposition from commuters who’d likely prefer for speed limits to remain the same (or even be increased) to speed up their commute times, Dorsey said, “I would assume that commuters tearing through our neighborhoods everyday on arterial roads like Harford Road, Park Heights Avenue, Edmondson Avenue and the like, that they’re gonna feel some kind of way about the safety and prosperity of Baltimore City residents being placed above their convenience.”

The legislation would allow for some wiggle room on general maximum limits. It offers a process for DOT to exempt any part of a city street or alley temporarily if the general limits Dorsey has proposed are found to be faster or slower than what officials consider to be “reasonable or safe.”

While an exception would last for six months to start, the director of DOT would have the option to extend it by asking for an extension at least 30 days before the exception expires. Thereafter, those rule changes would have to be changed or repealed by a new city ordinance, according to the introductory bill text.

Dorsey’s legislation goes to first reader at tonight’s Baltimore City Council meeting, which starts at 5 p.m.

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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  1. Baltimore is out to drastically increase the number of miles of main streets that become for-profit speed traps to enforce for profits. But enforcement for profits is 100% wrong, 100% of the time.

    The recent IIHS study in Boston proves the point. The default limit was reduced from 30 to 25 mph. In the carefully documented before & after data the mean speeds were 24.8 & 24.8 mph for a MASSIVE speed reduction of 0.0 mph. The before & after 85th percentile speeds were 31.0 & 31.0 mph for another MASSIVE speed reduction of 0.0 mph. Overall, the study surmised (but could not prove) that the average speed went down by 0.3% or about 0.1 mph – a number that any legitimate researcher would tell you was a mockery to claim it improved safety. What DID happen was a drastic increase in the percentage of drivers who were now defined as speeders from 18.2% to 46.9%. This is the sort of effect that IIHS insurance companies depend on to issue high premium surcharges to mostly safe drivers for profits with tickets that are issued to safe drivers for the “dastardly crime of actually driving very safely”.

    Baltimore is coming after your wallet and only the $$$$$$$$ count.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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