What IS the speed limit?
Have you ever noticed that few of the streets in Belmont have posted speed limits? What is the speed limit on Common St.? How about our residential side streets? From what I have been able to find (click on the links on the left if you want to see the references), since 1965, the speed limit on un-posted roads in settled areas in Massachusetts is 30 MPH.
If a road is not currently posted with a speed limit, we can't just petition the town to put up speed limit signs for either the default speed (30 MPH) or a slower speed. Lets say we all thought Hastings & Brettwood should be posted at a speed lower than 30 MPH. It is not only thickly settled, it is a residential neighborhood with lots of kids. Under the current laws & practice. The Town must hire an engineering firm to conduct a traffic study which looks at a number of factors and includes measurement of the "prevailing speed" of traffic actually traveling on the road. The appropriate legal speed limit is then deemed to be 85% of the prevailing speed. Here is how absurd this is. Common Street is clearly a road that is in a settled area. There is no posted speed limit on Common Street in Belmont. If an Officer with a radar gun were to clock you doing 37 MPH, you could get a ticket for being 7 MPH over the speed limit. However, if we wanted to post signs on Common Street informing drivers that the speed limit was 30 MPH, we would need to do a traffic study. For illustration purposes, lets say the study found that the prevailing speed was 44 MPH (I'd put money that it is over 40 MPH). The lowest they could set the speed limit would be 85% of 44 MPH or 37.4 MPH (round up to 40). This is why Belmont has chosen not to try to post more speed limit signs. The expense of the traffic studies and the risk that the speed limit would end up be higher rather than lower are not worth it.
There have been many attempts to give local control back to the communities without the encumbrance of the current traffic study practice. Any rational person would agree that the speed limit on Hastings & Brettwood should be lower than 30 MPH.
There is currently a Bill sponsored in part by our own Ann Paulsen that will significantly enhance local control. Without this Bill enacted into law, we have no chance of:
(1) getting a speed limit posted on our streets
(2) getting the speed limit reduced lower than 30 MPH
Abstract: HOUSE, No. 4318. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, July 9, 2001. The committee on Public Service, to whom were referred the petition (accompanied by bill, Senate, No. 1188) of Robert L. Hedlund and George P. Kelly for legislation to authorize cities and towns to set their own speed limits, the petition (accompanied by bill,
This legislation would allow cities and towns to set the speed limit for a local street without state approval. Currently, the Massachusetts Highway Department can set the speed limit on all roads and streets, and follows the practice of setting it at 85% of the prevailing speed, however fast. Bicycling, walking, and driving are all made more hazardous by this practice. This bill does not allow local control of speed on state roads, so cities or towns can't create unreasonably low speed limits to collect fines from those passing through. Rather, it allows localities to calm the traffic, improving safety on minor arterials and neighborhood streets.
If anyone understands the State House, let me know. The current status of the Bill is:
11/21/01 S Read second and ordered to a third reading -SJ 865
I have sent letters to Ann Paulsen, Senator Tolman and Birmingham urging them to move this legislation along to the third reading and ultimately to signature into law by Acting Gov. Swift.
Use the links below to send them email. I have included the text of my messages below.
Dear Mr. Birmingham,
I'm writing you to express my strong support for the swift
passage of bill H.4318 providing local communities with greater control over setting speed limits. I live in Belmont and historically the Town did not post speed limits on most roads. We now have a situation where there are major thoroughfares going through densely populated residential areas such as Common Street where traffic travels in excess of 40 MPH. It is extremely dangerous for pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers trying to enter Common St. from the many streets that feed into it.
When I inquired with the Town Traffic Officer about why there
were no speed limit signs on Common St. (as well as several other
streets that have turned into drag ways), I was told about the rules
that required the Town to do a traffic study prior to setting a speed
limit and that the speed limit would be set at 85% of the measured
speed. This would result in a posted speed limit on Common Street way in excess of what any reasonable person would deem to be a safe speed. I am a big believer that posted speed limits are one major factor in
traffic calming and enforcement. Towns need to be able to have local
control over speed limits when it comes to the safety of their
Please provide your support to moving Bill H.4318 through the
Senate in an expeditious way.