Reducing speeds & reaching your destination without fear of death

…it is greatly appreciated.


 Screengrab from a America Walks & Safe Routes to School presentation: Slowing Drivers Down


Why does a community need to live with increased risks so someone can race to stop sign or red light? 
Slowing us down when we are driving needs to be a primary goal every-time a community re-constructs a neighborhood street.

America Walks’ report, “Why We’re Stuck at High Speed, and What We’re Going to Do About It” (PDF) is recommended reading for neighborhood groups, parents, and traffic engineers concerned about public safety in our public rights of way. In it the three types of speed, as seen by traffic engineers is described, all of which we have discussed here from time to time.

  • Operating Speed – observed by reviewing how fast we are actually comfortable driving on a street. If we are comfortable at 10 over, that may be the operating speed. The infamous “85th percentile” relates to the operating speed.
  • Design Speed – traffic engineers typically design streets to accommodate speeding, rather than limit it. If the street is a 25-mph zone, it could be designed to “forgive” 35 to 40-mph. Some places, it may be argued that a street is designed to encourage 10-15 over.
  • Posted Speed– pretty much the least important of the three because it is ignored so often. Speeds signs do very little to impact driver behavior and lack of enforcement compounds the problem. It takes a special circumstance for someone to get pulled over for going 35-mph in a 25 zone–as we can see above, with huge consequences.

America Walks continues in the report to describe the 4 Ways to slow us down, all of which require systematic approach building from other steps. Basically, the goal is to change Driver Behavior and this is best done by changing the design of the street. This was the primary focus of the Division Street steering committee in Traverse City and needs to be for almost every street where there are traffic complaints. If you change the context of any particular corridor with real traffic calming measures and street-scaping and you will reduce the wide gap in actual and desired speeds. After those measures, under the current system, a community may then have a better chance of reducing posted speeds, but even there, America Walks is recommending that the laws/systems governing speed need to be changed.

A twenty is plenty campaign (Walk-Sf) has had success in the state of California, where it is now possible to set speed limits next to schools at 15-mph. In Oregon, they have passed laws allowing for more local control in setting speed limits (B-Portland). This allows local communities to respond to each context and needs.

For many years we have valued high-speeds as the goal to designing our roadways. It is becoming apparent that this is costing us in real dollars, efficiency, and loss of community. High-speeds are only one aspect of mobility; being able to actually reach your destination without a fatal injury is quite another.

…More to come. 


  1. June 18, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Twenty IS Plenty! Downtown TC speed limit in the high pedestrian/shopping area should be 15, as well. Please keep pushing this issue! Change has to happen….slow food is appreciated….slow towns will be next. There is enough rush….calm, tranquil, quiet cities will be the most appreciated….Why do you think Mackinac Island is the #1 tourist attraction? Whether the visitors realize it or not….it’s the pace and the lack of traffic and noise (save for the cannon and the ferry horns) that are the main reasons people will pay the earth to get and stay there. There IS a lesson to be learned there! Thank you Gary!

  2. Nancy Griesinger
    June 18, 2012 at 10:34 am

    WHEW!! What a blessing that would be…20 miles per hour by all vehicles, except emergency vehicles. Drivers would be able to see and hear others better, and all of us would benefit by having lower blood pressure, especially pedestrians and bicyclists. And we could appreciate our surroundings even more so! What a concept!

  3. Greg
    June 18, 2012 at 11:41 am

    If the purpose is safety, why stop at 20 mph? Would it not be safer at 10 mph or even 8 mph, why not 6.5 mph?

  4. June 18, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Yes, Greg, why not? Perhaps because the interest in creating a better community that is not only more safe, but also more enjoyable for the residents that happen to live there, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The fact that we are somewhat car dependent means that we do need to share the streets for a multiple of purposes and modes. The idea that we could drastically reduce the risk of fatal injury by a mere reduction of 10mph and still be able to accommodate the practical use of automobiles in, out, and through our neighborhoods seems to be an intelligent approach to consider. In fact, it is beyond practical, as in many places speed reductions actually decrease travel times.

    The idea that those only interested in speed should be the default consideration in light of the added health risks, is something you are free to support, but not something I find much value in or feel does anything to address the number one issue facing the neighborhood groups in Traverse City.

  5. Don Pierseault
    June 19, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Stop with the yelping on “Cars” all the time. We all drive, even if you must run your ric-shaw at best, it’s called getting from here to there. And untill this no longer becomes the country of choice we will choose to arrive at our destinations in what ever form or fashion we deem. This constant crying about the “caaaarrrrrr” gets old, real old. Or whether someone in the Central Neighbor hood can build an attached garage or not. sheesh! Get over it. Get onto real subject matters about our fair city. Like why is the mayor along with a couple of city commissioners and soem well placed back room money changers in town bent on dismantling the fire department. What is this angst against the essential public service personnel in our city?

    Why would you want a county entity to take over the fire department, when the county group is run by a group of cronies, and the leader ran his family’s trucking busines into the ground while at the same ttime looted its pension fund for his own use? Of which he was the last “appointment” made by long time dictator er ah county administrator Ross Childs ( his fathers good friend), since sonny boy need a job). I would be more concerned about if a fire truck is going to show up in 4 minutes or less in the city when your house is on fire! Lots of real questions here instead of bitching about cars on certains streets all the time,

  6. Henry M.
    June 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    “instead of bitching about cars on certains streets all the time.” You don’t get it, do you? You think it is ”bitching about cars.” You think we are obsessed by that monster and we need to get over it. No way Jose. It is all about cars.

    If cars were not there, we could all ­be pedestrians, buses, trikes, bikes, go carts, trams, trolleys we could all co-exist peacefully. We could all get from here to there without fear. Sure one or two people would get killed by a tram, or a bike. But daily life, daily commute, daily walk, would be safe-safe-safe. The car is the killer. Not ”on certain streets,” but on all streets.

    Deep down I know the only answer is to ban cars in town ­ but at the very-very-very least 20 mph & slower. Get over it, you who want to speed to & through. The pace in our town is slower. You don’t like it, drive somewhere else.

  7. Greg
    June 22, 2012 at 9:26 am

    WOW, I thought bike riding was supposed to calm you down.

  8. R. Shimel
    June 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    Henry, Your pace may be slower but I don’t think the towns pace is slower than any where else. People still have jobs, kids, and, at times, parents to tend to. It is a luxury to be able to walk and use a bike for daily needs. Consider yourself lucky if your not riding because of underemployment or poverty.

    I’m glad you identified TC as “our” town. I’m not sure by what authority you are the “shot” caller, though. As for relocation, have you considered moving to Mackinaw Island?

    Biking and walking are good things. I’ve lost 20lbs doing both. Fortunately, I’m also in the luxury/leisure class.

    I used to read this blog daily. Over the last year I’ve been tuning in less and less. It wasn’t a conscious decision and I wasn’t sure why I lost interest. Reading your, and others, comments today made it clear; “Cars bad, bikes and walking good.”

    Promoting walking and biking is a wonderful thing but if you can’t do it without a villain (cars) then you have nothing of substance to promote. This blog has lost it’s credibilty, for me.

    I have no issues with reducing speed to 20mph in the city. I have great issues living in the same town with tea partiers and the hipper-than-thou types like yourself. If it’s all about “getting over” things try getting over your egocentricity and let the rest of us live our lives the way we want to.

  9. June 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Thanks for your comments, everyone–always interesting. A reminder that this blog wasn’t set up as an avenue for people to simply retreat to stereotypical two sided bickering…let’s acknowledge we are all in this together, and focus on exploring ideas of how to improve conditions in our public spaces so that they can be more inclusive and serve more needs.

    As the creator and primary content driver of this blog, I do find it interesting when comments are made implying that this blog is all about bashing cars. A part from some attempts at light poking, I don’t believe that to be the message of this blog. As someone blessed with equal opportunity to choose my mode based on my needs at hand, I certainly have not, nor will I, cast judgement on people’s transportation choices. Do I think we’d have a better community if more trips were taken by foot or bicycle, yes. That is abundantly clear. Does that equate “cars bad”? No, it doesn’t. But I also don’t feel the need to get out the pom-poms and cheer for the car…there is plenty of that already in popular culture.

    MyWHaT posts often describe the monetary and social costs of our car dependency. Speeding through neighborhoods is one of those social costs and hence why I chose to highlight one aspect of how high speeds through neighborhoods is a cost on society as a whole. As I mentioned before, it is a small perceived cost to individuals to take it down a notch if it can save lives and encourage more activity in our neighborhoods, amongst other benefits.

  10. TC Mom
    June 22, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    I’ve noticed that speed limits in Michigan tend to be 10 MPH more than they would be in other states. Since people routinely travel about 10 MPH more than what is posted – we have people traveling 35 MPH down neighborhood streets, and 65 down rural residential roads.

  11. henrymorge
    June 22, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    There are many sides to a question. Here is a radio talk I delivered in 2008

    I am universally known as the anti-car man. The perception of me is that I am a man who never uses cars, does not own a car, won’t even ride in a car. The preceding are all wrong. Given the way this country is constituted, I rely heavily on cars.
    Let me give you one quick example of how much I use cars. This past weekend I wanted to go dancing in three different places. On Friday night there was a dance in Detroit. Saturday day & Saturday night there were dances in Ann Arbor, and Sunday there was a dance in Greenfield Village in Detroit.
    On Friday afternoon I drove downstate to a motel on I-94, about twelve miles from Ann arbor, twenty five miles from Detroit. By situating myself centrally, I could easily drive to each of my dances.
    How else could I have traveled all the way from Traverse city to downstate Michigan in four hours? What other means of transportation allows me to leave when I want to leave, arrive when I want to arrive? And once I am there, I have the use of my car to get me to three different places–places miles and miles and miles apart. And I can get to these places quickly, comfortably, privately, by car.
    I could go on and on and on about the convenience of cars. I do hate the fact that the drive is dangerous — death could be just ahead — but I’ve come to look forward to driving. Driving, for me, is a little like going to the movies. A long car drive means I will probably be attending a triple feature –Three maybe four, books will be read to me. I look forward to hearing a new detective novel by the great mystery writer Agatha Christy, but I will only get to hear it if I drive somewhere.
    I would be devastated if, tomorrow, cars were abolished. I rely heavily on cars. I don’t rely on my car to get me around the town I live in. I don’t rely on my car for daily needs — but I do rely heavily on it for my weekends, for my recreational needs.
    Between cities cars are wonderful. They go from here to way over there very quickly, very privately. They are, as America is currently constituted, wonderful — but why do I keep saying — as America is currently constituted?
    As I wrote more & more about how convenient cars are — getting me to all these dances, to all these places — a little voice at the back of my head said — but you hate cars. You’d rather be using your time otherwise than driving.
    And then I realized that if Public Transportation existed, at least I could get from Traverse City to Ann Arbor by quick public transit — and once there, rely on a car to zip me from distant place to distant place.
    Essentially, my point is that there is a place for cars. Cars should not be abolished, should not be outlawed; it is just that cars should be one of several available means of transportation.

  12. August 30, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Howdy: Good thing to repost. I think I would like to emphasize the design aspect of getting this done–as someone who, intellectually, knows very well that speeding in town is pointless & dangerous, I also know that once behind the wheel I don’t always drive the way I think I should drive. Why? Because of the way people are generally driving? because of the way the streets seem to suggest I drive? Because I learned to drive in New Jersey? I don’t know why.

    But one thing I do know is that if when the available space to drive is a little tight, I drive more slowly without any undue exertion of my super-ego. We ought to build streets that encourage even aggressive drivers to drive at about the posted limit. I don’t think just changing the limits represents anything like a solution. Unless the problem you are trying to solve is the municipal revenue problem. Compliance should be natural for most people–we should create another situation where compliance is won through the threat of penalty in the vast majority of cases. That is great for some things (drunk driving, say) but shouldn’t be the recourse here.

  13. tom dillon
    August 30, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Eric, this shall also apply to all bike riders, you and me included. No bending for anyone!

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