Arlington slows down

Speed Limit 25

The default speed limit town wide will drop to 25 miles per hour, from 30, on May 1, after a vote by the Board of Selectmen. Will it make a difference?

The new limits will apply generally to roads in town that do not have a posted limit. Route 2 is not affected.

Also probably not affected are state roads with “thickly settled” speed limits posted, including stretches of Mass. Ave. in East Arlington. Ironically, these signs were probably posted to slow traffic down.

After May 1, the town will join Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston in a zone of contiguous municipalities that have adopted the slower statutory limit.

With its 5-0 vote on February 27, the Board of Selectmen exercised new powers granted to Arlington by the Legislature and Town Meeting.

Massachusetts cities and towns have long sought greater control over local speed limits. Last August the Legislature allowed a 25-miles-per-hour option as part of omnibus municipal modernization legislation that included other reforms, all at local option. Town Meeting accepted the law in October.

Under the new law, the Selectmen may establish a 25-miles-per-hour limit “on any way that is not a state highway” if it is “inside a thickly settled or business district.” All of Arlington meets the criteria for being thickly settled.

A different part of the modernization act, also accepted at Town Meeting, allows the Selectmen to establish 20-mile-per-hour safety zones around playgrounds and schools. The Board has not designated any safety zones as of this writing.

The Board set a May 1 start date to allow time “to make changes and additions to signage and launch a public information campaign.”

Why do this? In pedestrian crashes, in which a car strikes a pedestrian, the likelihood of serious injury, and of death, increases with speed. The increase is dramatic between 25 and 30 miles per hour.

However, will this stricter speed limit cause drivers to drive more slowly? We are not the most law-abiding people when it comes to traffic. (Present company excepted of course; I am talking about all those other crazy drivers.)

As my readers know, I think that drivers take their cues mostly from road conditions and from other drivers, not from street signs. That’s why the physical design of the street is so important. But signage, and also enforcement, help set behavioral norms. The Selectmen’s action sets the stage for both.

Update: the Town has posted this notice about the change on March 31. The report of the Selectmen’s Transportation Advisory Committee that recommended the change is also online. It includes a description of the scope of the new speed limits under the law.



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