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City of Sacramento Reduces Speed Limits Near Schools to 15 mph

Yesterday the Sacramento City Council lowered speed limits near city schools to fifteen miles per hour.

"We don't have enough opportunities to take actions like this," City Councilmember Steve Hansen told Streetsblog. "Cities can be hamstrung from taking commonsense steps to make our streets safer. Any opportunity we have to push back on the 85th percentile rule, we should take."

The "85th percentile rule" is the way current law requires that speed limits be set, a backwards method with the sole goal of preventing speed traps rather than improving safety. The rule tends to force cities to raise speed limits if they want to enforce them, and makes it very difficult to lower them.

Except in school zones. The California Vehicle Code allows a local jurisdiction to establish a speed limit as low as fifteen miles per hour:

    • when children are present
    • on local residential streets, within 500 feet of a school
    • when the maximum speed on nearby streets is thirty miles per hour
    • and when the road is no more than two lanes wide.

"Lowering speeds near schools is another big step towards our Vision Zero goal," said Hansen. "Addressing vehicle speed is one of the clearest ways we identified to reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries. I'm proud of our Public Works Team for this big win for our kids."

Sacramento has a high rate of traffic-related injuries, and--according to the California Office of Traffic Safety 2016 rankings--the highest number of speed-related injuries and deaths in the state. The city's Vision Zero plan specifically calls out high speeds as a major factor in traffic-related injuries and fatalities.

A NHTSA study--one of many such--found that fatality and serious injury rates increase substantially as travel speeds rise. It's bad enough when a child is hit by a vehicle traveling less than 20 mph, but once a vehicle's speed reaches 21, the rate of serious or fatal injuries doubles.

Statewide, school zones generally have a 25mph limit, unless otherwise indicated. The Sacramento City Council's action will add new 15-mph speed limit signs on 225 street segments near 124 city schools.

Jennifer Donlon-Wyant, an active transportation planner with the city of Sacramento, was part of the team that submitted the proposal to the city council for approval. “The city of Sacramento is committed to implementing our adopted Vision Zero actions," she said, "and will take bold citywide actions like reducing our speed limits in all eligible school zones to 15 miles an hour.”

Morning drop-off times can bring heavy traffic to schools. One of the Vision Zero plan's long-term goal is reducing the amount of vehicle traffic, and one way to get there is to make it safer for everyone who is not in a car. Reducing speed limits is the first step.

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