City leaders to consider reducing speed limit on residential streets; more enforcement also planned

photo by: Kim Callahan

A handmade sign in East Lawrence at the intersection of East Eighth and New York streets, seen Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, reminds motorists to drive slowly through residential neighborhoods.

Story updated at 5:16 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020:

In response to concerns about speeding in neighborhoods, city leaders will soon consider reducing the speed limit on residential streets in Lawrence.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, Oct. 6, the Lawrence City Commission will consider adopting an ordinance to reduce the speed limit on residential streets from 30 mph to 25 mph, according to a news release from the city. The city’s Multi-Modal Transportation Commission is recommending the speed reduction following the results of a resident survey and a city staff recommendation.

The city conducted the survey earlier this year and asked residents whether they prefer the current 30 mph standard or would like to see the speed limit lowered to either 25 mph or 20 mph. About 57% of the 511 people who responded to the survey said they wanted to lower the speed limit, with those respondents roughly split on whether it should be 25 or 20 mph. The survey also let residents leave a comment, and several said regular speeding was creating safety issues.

“Some people go way over the speed limit in neighborhoods, putting playing children at risk,” one respondent said.

However, many respondents, regardless of whether they thought the speed limit should be reduced, said that the bigger problem is the lack of enforcement.

“People who speed will speed no matter what the limit is,” another respondent said. “Enforcing the limits would be a much better solution.”

City staff is recommending reducing the residential speed limit to 25 mph as part of a larger plan that will also include traffic enforcement. The recommendation to reduce the residential speed limit is part of the city’s shift last year to a different traffic management program for neighborhoods, which uses fewer speed bumps and other traffic control devices and instead relies more on traffic enforcement and education campaigns to improve neighborhood traffic issues. As the Journal-World reported in 2018, statistics show the number of traffic violations cited by Lawrence police has dropped by about 70% in the last decade, even as the city’s population has grown.

The budget of the Neighborhood Traffic Management Program for 2020 originally included $85,000 for speed enforcement in neighborhoods this year, but the enforcement plan has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Municipal Services & Operations spokesperson Josh Carson said that because the pandemic led to changes in traffic patterns, the funding for enforcement has been reallocated to other areas of the program. He said most of the funds originally allocated for enforcement this year will go toward engineering and installation of signage, and that the targeted traffic enforcement efforts in neighborhoods will begin early next year instead.

Specifically, Carson said the plan is for traffic enforcement related to the Neighborhood Traffic Management Program to begin around the same time that the city launches the program’s traffic safety education campaign, which is currently scheduled to occur in February 2021. Once enforcement begins, Carson said that police officers will utilize traffic data the city is collecting as part of the program to optimize officers’ time and efforts by targeting specific areas in neighborhoods at specific times for speed limit enforcement.

The standard speed limit for residential streets is 30 mph, though school zones are 20 mph, and a few neighborhood streets have speed limits of 25 or 20 mph, according to city maps. The release states streets with a speed limit less than 25 mph would not change with the ordinance.

City staff has estimated that reducing the speed limit would require the installation of approximately 1,000 new speed limit signs at about $100 each, according to the memo. The $100,000 cost for installation of new signs could be covered by funding already allocated to the Neighborhood Traffic Management Program budget for this year.


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