Motor vehicle crashes have become the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States, killing over 30,000 people in 2010 alone. Many public health professionals have recently studied the correlation between motor vehicle speeds and death rates in order to highlight the danger this poses to the public. Several studies have demonstrated that the risk of death to a pedestrian struck by an automobile traveling at 20 mph is 6%. This increases to 19% at 30 mph (3 time greater than the risk at 20 mph) and further jumps to 65% (11 times the greater than the risk at 20 mph) for motor vehicles traveling at 45 mph. Furthermore these studies have shown that multiple factors contribute to the problem of unsafe traffic speed including roadway designs that encourage higher speeds, speed limits that are set too high, and speeding (people driving faster than the speed limit or too fast for road conditions) and have concluded that small traffic speed reductions can lead to fewer motor vehicle crashes, injuries, and deaths. In fact in 2014, a study by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health predicted that lowering the default speed limit on local roads from 30 to 25 miles per hour could prevent about 18 fatalities and 1,200 serious injuries each year in Massachusetts, as well as save about $62 million annually.
In recognition of the danger speeding vehicles pose to all roadway users, and in support of the Board's goal to create a multi-modal transportation network that encourages safe alternatives including walking and cycling for commuting and recreational purposes, the Transportation Board has implemented a Traffic Calming Policy and overseen several neighborhood traffic calming projects to increase safety and reduce motor vehicle speed. Since 1999 this has resulted in the installation of traffic calming devices including roadway narrowing, raised crosswalks, raised intersections, speed humps, neighborhood traffic circles, curb extensions, chicanes, enhanced crosswalk signage, and pavement markings throughout the Town.
However, localized roadway modifications are only one of the needed solutions to address the dangers presented by speeding motor vehicles. In order to achieve a safer roadway network for all users throughout the Town we must also have the ability to reduce and enforce speed limits in our dense residential neighborhoods and business districts. Currently Chapter 90, Section 17 establishes the statutory speed limit of 30 mph on roadways within thickly settled or business districts and in order for the Town of Brookline to establish a posted speed limit different from this it must comply with Chapter 90, Section 18 which requires town staff to conduct a multistep speed study in accordance with the "MassDOT Procedures for Speed Zoning on State and Municipal Roadways" 2012 manual to determine to appropriate and allowable speed limit, receive a positive vote from the Transportation Board for a petition seeking approval from MassDOT to post the speed limit, and then submit the request to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for permission to post. This is a time consuming process which restricts the Transportation Board and Town staff's ability to respond to the needs of our residents by taking time sensitive action to increase the safety of motor vehicle drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians in these areas.
Because current state law makes a reduction in the speed limit difficult to achieve, for the past several legislative sessions, the Transportation Board has joined with other local authorities and advocacy groups throughout the state to lobby in favor of various proposals to amend Chapter 90, Section 17 and reduce the statutory speed limit in these areas to 25 mph. On August 9, 2016, the Governor signed House No. 4565, inserting into Chapter 90 of the Massachusetts General Laws the above-quoted local option law as a new Section 17C. While the statutory speed limit would remain 30 mph, the new provision provides the ability to local authorities to either establish and post a speed limit of 25 miles per hour on specified roadways within thickly settled residential areas or business districts OR establish and post a speed limit of 25 miles per hour Town-wide on all thickly settled residential areas or business districts without having to comply with the provisions of Chapter 90, Section 18. The second option would require signage being posted at the Town boundaries.
The adoption of this local option law by Town Meeting would authorize this step, but not require it. By adopting this local option the Transportation Board, following at least one public meeting at which testimony from the public would be taken, could consider resident or other requests to install a speed limit sign of 25 mph Town wide or on specific roadway types as part of their authority to "adopt, alter or repeal rules and regulations, not inconsistent with general law as modified by this act, relative to pedestrian movement, vehicular and bicycle traffic in the streets and in the town-controlled public off-street parking areas in the town, and to the movement, stopping, standing or parking of vehicles and bicycles on, and their exclusion from, all or any streets, ways, highways, roads, parkways and public off-street parking areas under the control of the town" as part of their enabling legislation.
|Official Text of the Article
VOTED: To accept the provisions of General Laws Chapter 90, Section 17C which states:
17C "(a) Notwithstanding section 17 or any other general or special law to the contrary, the city council, the transportation commissioner of the city of Boston, the board of selectmen, park commissioners, a traffic commission or traffic director of a city of town that accepts this section in the manner provided in section 4 of chapter 4 may, in the interests of public safety and without further authority, establish a speed limit of 25 miles per hour on any roadway inside a thickly settled or business district in the city or town on any way that is not a state highway."