Earlier this month, the city of Boston announced it would be reducing its default speed limit to 25 miles per hour. This is good news...sort of. It suggests a sincere appreciation for the dangers posed by cars in urban areas, as well as an awareness that lower speeds mean fewer fatalities. These are all good things. An article on Boston.com quotes Mayor Marty Walsh as saying:
“We know that lower speed limits are an important tool in reducing fatal and serious crashes and creating safer streets for people of all ages and abilities who are walking, driving, and bicycling,” Walsh said in a statement. “A lower speed limit in Boston would be a major early accomplishment for our Vision Zero goal: bringing the number of traffic deaths and serious injuries to zero by 2030.”
But a lower speed limit is still a band-aid solution. It's like trying to prevent a kid from eating out of the cookie jar by putting a sign on the jar that says "Cookies are off limits." But the jar is still easily accessible. And Mom and Dad aren't going to be standing by it every minute of every day to make sure the kids don't eat any cookies. Signage and enforcement are not true nor lasting solutions. They are temporary, cross-your-fingers ways to address a problem that can only really be solved by designing our streets to discourage and prevent speeding.
There is a more heartening aspect of this story, though—the way in which Boston was able to lower its speed limit. From the Boston.com article:
Walsh’s announcement follows the approval of state legislation that gives municipalities the authority to lower default speed limits. Previously, cities and towns seeking to change the speed limit had to study vehicle speeds in the area with the state Department of Transportation.
Giving municipalities permission to set their own speed limits is a step in the right direction. If there's enough will in a particular city to make streets safer and get cars driving slower, why should a traffic study be required by the state? If a city wants to encourage pedestrian activity and grow its local economy by slowing cars, it shouldn't need permission from the state to do that. While speed limits are not a lasting solution to speeding, local control over streets is a helpful move.