A year ago, the city bumped up the speed limit along Fourth Street, west of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, from 30 mph to 35 mph.
Crews installed new signs. Neighbors complained.
And the average speed of drivers indeed climbed — from 30.7 mph before the change to 30.8 mph after, according to city speed studies.
“By my math, changing the speed limit for this half-mile section of road has saved eight seconds per trip,” said Steve Braswell, president of the Pinckney Neighborhood Association. “Those eight seconds are not worth the additional concerns.”
Yet despite the neighborhood’s efforts, the 35 mph limit stands.
Last month, city commissioners rejected the neighbors’ request for a reduced speed limit, relying on the data collected by city sensors and analyzed by the city’s traffic engineer.
The stretch of road hasn’t seen an increase in accidents or any other traffic-related problems since the speed limit was changed.
“I don’t think we’ve created a problem — a problem statistically,” Mayor Mike Amyx said in June. “If statistics do change — and, heaven help us, I hope they don’t — but if there are changes, then we can look at something else.”
Bob Bechtel, a hospital volunteer, made the original request to increase the speed limit from 30 mph to 35 mph. His reasoning: similar streets elsewhere, particularly Monterey Way as it runs along Dad Perry Park, have 35 mph limits, so why not Fourth?
David Woosley, the city’s traffic engineer, analyzed the request much like he does with all others: by consulting maps, reviewing city codes, compiling information about other speed limits and conducting formal traffic counts and speed studies in the area.
He recommended that the limit indeed should be raised to 35 mph from 30 mph, from McDonald Drive to Maine Street. Traffic Safety commissioners agreed.
City commissioners concurred, but only from McDonald to Michigan Street. That way the new speed limit would stop at LMH, and avoid reaching deeper into the neighborhood, an area where on-street parking is allowed.
Months later, Bechtel understands how nearby residents might be concerned about the increased speed limit. He, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing the limit on Monterey Way lowered to 30 mph, and actually had hoped that his initial request would have led to that conclusion.
“In my mind, there are a lot of roads I’d like to see reduced speed limits on,” said Bechtel, who lives south of Dad Perry Park. “But that wouldn’t be popular.”
Braswell, who has lived a half block south of Fourth Street for 26 years, understands the inherent conflicts between traffic and the residents. Drivers want to get to the destinations quickly, while neighbors expect to be able to enjoy their homes safely.
So far, Braswell concedes, the data show that the higher speed limit along Fourth hasn’t made much difference. The average speed remains relatively unchanged. The change hasn’t led to any accidents.
But worries about pedestrian safety remain, he said, and that’s why residents will continue to monitor the situation.
“Our whole thing is, we want to encourage people to drive slower through residential areas,” Braswell said. “We want people to drive a little slower, not a little faster.”
And for now, drivers are moving a little faster: on average, 0.1 mph faster.