League of Michigan Bicyclists

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Set Speed Limits with All Road Users in Mind

Michigan bicyclists are concerned about recent legislation that modifies speed limit standards in Michigan and requests that bicyclists be included in all future speed studies and, furthermore, that the safety of all roadway users and the context of the roadway and community become critical factors in developing any new speed limit standards.

SB 894, SB 895, SB 896 (Casperson), SB 897 and SB 898 (Jones) were introduced on 3/27/14 and referred to the Committee on Transportation.

Speed-Kills-Graphic webSB 894-898 look to expand the use of the 85th Percentile methodology in setting speed limits across Michigan. The concept is rather simple: the speed limit of a road is set by determining the speed of 85% of drivers. In other words, it sets speed limits to not exceed the fastest 15% of drivers, regardless of posted speed limits or context of the roadway or community. This method allows drivers to set speed limits vs. transportation professionals and often rewards speeders by legalizing their actions through increased speed limits. The 85th Percentile ignores the fact that our roads are already engineered with speed limitations in mind.

One of the biggest problems with this overly simplistic 1960's methodology is that it is based solely on the speed of automobiles and does not account for other legal users of the roadway such as bicyclists. As proposed by these bills, speed studies conducted by MSP would do not consider bicyclists to be part of the "free-flow of traffic," even though cyclists have a legal right to use the road and are considered to be part of traffic under the Michigan Vehicle Code.

Faster speeds put bicyclists and pedestrians at greater risk. As automobile speeds increase, the injury and death rates of bicyclists involved in crashes with automobiles increases exponentially. Bicyclists already experience disproportionally higher injury and death rates than other roadway users despite the fact that they account for less than 1% of all traffic crashes. In Michigan, bicycle deaths increased 35% between 2012 and 2013 according to the Office of Highway Safety Planning. The seconds a driver saves when traveling 10 mph faster must ultimately be weighed against the resulting decrease in public safety.

The current bills also ignore context of the roadway, the surrounding environment, pedestrian traffic, transit, and the views and needs of the community. The State of Michigan and nearly 100 communities across the state have embraced Complete Streets, a design principal that takes the safety and comfort of all road users into consideration. SB 894-898 are in direct conflict with local Complete Streets efforts and hinder placemaking and economic development opportunities.

Many questions remain unanswered regarding SB 894-898:

  • Will bicyclists and pedestrians be included in future speed studies?
  • Are our existing crumbling roads and bridges in adequate condition to safely accommodate higher speed traffic?
  • Recognizing that transportation funding is woefully inadequate to even meet current needs, is it appropriate to create an unfunded mandate with the 85th percentile while telling communities the only way to lower speeds is through expensive roadway design changes?
  • What will the cost be for the thousands of new signs and physical roadway changes needed to accommodate these proposals?
  • Are children safer when the school speed zone time is reduced to no more than 30 minutes before and after school, considering many children participate in extra curricular activities.
  • Is it appropriate to reduce penalties for speeding when excessive speed is a factor closely linked to traffic deaths and crashes?

Last updated: 5/9/14


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