Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

State wants 55mph limit on Huron Parkway?

2. June 2007 • Murph
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The Ann Arbor News today reports that the State Police and MDOT are pushing for increased speed limits in many places, based on the idea that posting speed limits at the speed that drivers are already driving is safest. But safest for whom?

Matching speed limits with actual speeds “is the right thing to do, the fair thing to do,’‘ said [State Police Lt.] Megge, who disagrees with ticketing random drivers for doing what nearly everyone else is also doing.

Safety is also at issue, Megge said. Studies show that matching speed limits to traffic flow reduces crashes. Megge cites national studies dating to at least 1941 that prove drivers traveling at the slowest speeds are 100 times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers who travel with the pack – even if the pack is traveling above a posted limit.
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Megge took it on himself a few years ago to study speed laws in other states. Then he began pushing for enforcement of an existing Michigan law that sets speed limits based on the 85th percentile study – the speed the majority of drivers are traveling.

Under the new law, on roads where that study hasn’t been conducted, municipalities are now supposed to use a new law that measures the number of access points – driveways and intersections – in a half-mile stretch of road.

Ann Arbor officials are quoted as saying that other factors should be considered – such as sight lines – when setting speed limits. The local calculation would put Huron Parkway at 35mph – while the State law would post it at 55mph.

By contrast, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials’ safety advisories state that, “Speed, however, is always a factor in crashes. . . Speed limits that are set inappropriately high can also contribute to pedestrian crashes and injuries.” (emphasis theirs.) AASHTO notes that higher speeds mean more pedestrians hit, and that a pedestrian hit at 40 mph has an 85-percent chance of being killed; at 30 mph, the likelihood goes down to 45 percent. Pedestrian safety is not mentioned in the News article.

Nice to see that the State Police and MDOT think that decreasing rear-end vehicle accidents is a worthwhile tradeoff for killing more pedestrians.

  1. Plymouth Road, the site of A2’s best publicized recent pedestrian fatalities is not discussed in the article. Considering the very small number of access points on Plymouth, it would probably get a 55mph speed limit under the new calculation.

       —Murph.    Jun. 2 '07 - 06:27PM    #
  2. It’s true that setting speed limits at around the 85th percentile does decrease accidents among cars. Not to blame the victim, but I’ve also seen studies that indicate that if traffic is moving much faster than the posted limits, pedestrians still assume cars are moving at the speed limit. ie, people try to cross a road where they think traffic is going 35 when in reality it’s going 55mph and get run over.

    However, there’s no reason the state shouldn’t try to lower vehicle speeds using traffic calming. Huron Parkway is a classic example of a place where cars zoom along way above the speed limit and then stack up at the lights, esp. during rush hour.

    The road would probably move much more traffic at a higher level of service if there were a simultaneous implementation of both traffic calming and some roundabouts at the major intersections.

    The state will probably require a few pedestrians to die before THAT happens, though.

       —patrick    Jun. 2 '07 - 07:27PM    #
  3. By the state’s logic Washtenaw from Stadium to 23, where the speed limit is 45 MPH, should be 35 MPH during days and late evenings and 10 MPH during rush hours (5 MPH on Fridays and game days).

       —FAA    Jun. 2 '07 - 11:16PM    #
  4. The one that has me nervous is increasing the speed limit on North Main Street. That’s a pretty heavily used bike path, and it can even be tough for cars (ever try to make a left turn out of the New Center parking lot?).

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Jun. 4 '07 - 07:37PM    #
  5. This makes me a bit uneasy as well. As a biker and a pedestrian, I am not sure that increasing the speed limit is going to make the world safer for our kind.

    I am not sure we can have it both ways: a nice pedestrian and bike friendly community and a highway running through our neighborhoods. How do we decide what people want?

    Personally, I am for slowing down the cars because I think this community should be built for people, not for cars. But I am not stupid, I know people drive fast. I agree that it’s important to look into traffic calming devices and to work to show that a more people-friendly community is a happier community.

    Also, on an environmental front, doesn’t going faster burn more gas?

       —Nancy Shore    Jun. 4 '07 - 08:35PM    #
  6. Huron Pkwy. is leftover freeway ROW from when the state decided to move US-23 farther out. Certain sections are really overbuilt for the purpose they currently serve. I think that the people who actually live in Ann Arbor are making it clearer that they don’t want highways…it’s the people who commute 30-40 miles in to work here who distort the picture somewhat.

    It would be really cool if the city could procure a grant to reconstruct the divided boulevard section between Pfizer and the Huron River so that motorized vehicles could travel on a three lane space on one side of the current boulevard with the other side being reclaimed into a wider strip park with multiuse paths for bikes and walkers.

    It would cost us some money up front, but would slow people down in that area near the school (where many teens currently have to cross to catch the bus or walk/bike home), would give us more great park space (or more “prairie” if we wanted to continue the existing theme), and would ultimately end up costing us less to maintain.

    I do love the new wider multiuse paths on the hills between Huron River Dr. and Washtenaw though!

       —Ken A.    Jun. 4 '07 - 09:09PM    #
  7. Council passed a resolution on Monday night sponsored by Woods and Easthope. It basically told MDOT and the State Police to keep their hands off A2’s speed limit signs. Don’t know if it will have any effect on MDOT controlled streets but I appreciated it.

       —LauraB    Jun. 8 '07 - 08:41AM    #