City Council approves study of Columbia's speed limits

Sunday, August 24, 2008 | 7:47 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Over City Council members' concerns about straining the city budget and duplicating research, an investigation into reducing Columbia's residential speed limits will go forward.

The council voted Monday to pay researchers at MU $10,000 to study reducing residential speed limits from 30 mph to 25 mph. The decision comes in the midst of a tight city budget.

Councilwoman Laura Nauser, the only council member to vote against the resolution, questioned the necessity of the study when other cities have already done similar research.

"With the city's current financial restraints, I didn't feel it necessary to spend the money when other studies are sufficient," Nauser said Tuesday.

Mayor Darwin Hindman, one of the six council members who supported the resolution, said it was difficult to argue with gathering local data to support the changes. Previous research on the question has been statewide or national, not specific to Columbia.

"I don't think the study was entirely necessary, but I think we should go ahead with the project," Hindman said in an interview.

Hindman, who supports reducing residential speed limits, also thought other council members would have approved a 25 mph limit without the study.

Hindman cited numerous advantages for the speed limit reduction, including reduced pollution from traveling at a lower speed and increased safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, children and pets. He also said speeding in neighborhoods is a common complaint from Columbia residents.

A common question

Last September, City Council requested a study from the city traffic engineer about reducing the city's residential speed limits to 25 mph. City Traffic Engineer Richard Stone presented the results last November. Because the lowered speed limit would not actually slow down drivers, the cost of placing new signs - $255,000 - and maintaining them - $25,000 per year - would not be justified, Stone's report concluded.

Stone wouldn't answer questions about his 2007 study and referred all questions about the new research to Scott Bitterman, the city's supervising traffic engineer.

Bitterman said that while Stone's report was based on national studies, the new research proposal will provide data from Columbia streets and neighborhoods.

The Missouri Department of Transportation mirrors Stone's conclusion. According to the MoDOT Web site, the idea that lowering the speed limit improves safety is a common misconception because the posted speed limit is ignored by many drivers.

But a speed limit project under way in Springfield has produced different results. In February, the Springfield City Council passed a resolution lowering neighborhood speed limits to 25 mph. Springfield's Public Works and Traffic Engineering Department's Dan Jessen said the project began after a pilot program on a few selected streets demonstrated an average of 3 to 5 mph reduction in speed. Springfield's transition to 25 mph speed limits will include a before-and-after study of 20 different streets. Thirty percent of the new signs have been posted, with the rest to follow by December.

Jessen said Springfield's transition did not rely on increased police enforcement. Instead, the city hopes drivers will slow down voluntarily. About 60 Springfield residents have pledged to be neighborhood "pace cars" that obey the new speed limit and set an example for other area drivers. About half of the 1,800 new speed limit signs will be framed with neon yellow borders and contain phrases such as "Kid Friendly."

New Study

Though Carlos Sun, principal investigator of the project and associate professor at MU's department of civil and environmental engineering, could not give specifics on a start time for the study, he said it would begin soon.

The neighborhoods of Rothwell Heights and Shepard Boulevard are proposed as potential field study sites. However, Sun said the specific neighborhoods and streets studied will be determined once he and the other researchers consult with the city. No meeting date has been set, but Sun said he plans to speak with city staff in the upcoming few weeks.

Sun said the researchers could have chosen to test in more than two neighborhoods, but doing so would exceed the $10,000 budget.

"The work plan will be catered to the budget," Sun said.

The proposal states streets with the highest safety concerns will be chosen. Sun said the criteria for choosing the test neighborhoods includes those with cooperative neighborhood associations and the chosen streets will be representative of the neighborhoods as a whole.

Sun said the researchers will monitor two streets from two neighborhoods using magnetic traffic detectors designed to measure the number of vehicles driving on the streets, as well as their speeds. Sun's research team will conduct two trials: one with the current 30 mph residential speed limit in effect and one after new 25 mph signs are posted.

According to the research proposal, the field study will primarily attempt to determine if posting the lowered speed limit signs actually slows drivers.

Sun said he estimates the total research will take about six months, but the time frame may change as the project progresses.


Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Charles Dudley Jr August 25, 2008 | 4:51 a.m.

So in a year of a tight city budget with other cities of similar size who have already done this kind of study we are ourselves going to do one of these and thus toss away much needed and squabbled after city funding.
If any of you have seen those speed posting trailers around town we already know citizens are not going to follow signs that are posting a lower speed limit due to everybody is in such a hurry these days to go nowhere instead of leaving that 10 to 15 minutes early instead.
Why could this not have been funded by the Federal Department of Transportation through M.U. instead of out of our city budget unless these types of studies have wore out their welcome with the Feds for obvious reasons?
As a non driver in this city I or any non driver could have explained this instead of this blatant waste of much needed city funding in this "squeaky budget year".
Not meaning to flame anybody but just another concerned citizen of Columbia asking questions.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock August 25, 2008 | 8:56 a.m.

"I don't think the study was entirely necessary, but I think we should go ahead with the project," Hindman. What kind of leader is this guy? If it isn't nescassry then don't waste tax payers dollars. That 10K could have bought some overtime for our police force. This council needs to get their act together and try to tackle some bigger issues such as the rise in crime. Don't worry about 5mph. This is a waste.

(Report Comment)
John M. Nowell, III August 25, 2008 | 10:24 a.m.

The 10K is a waste of tax payer's money, and if approved, the 255K shows total contempt. There is a big difference between theory and reality. If you want to see how drivers will react to lower speed limit signs, just observe the traffic in front of Grant Elementary School for 15 minutes. The posted speed limit is 20 m.p.h., and there is also a digital radar sign that shows your speed. I would guess that the average speed is 35-40 + m.p. h. on Broadway.

I was waiting to exit the Columbia Cemetary one day, and I did see Mayor Hindman actually driving the posted speed limit, and he was passed by at least 20 cars. Save the 10K!

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 25, 2008 | 1:25 p.m.

It's a good way to put money into the pockets of those who make money by doing studies. Councilwoman Nauser was right to vote no on this expenditure. Unless accidents are on an increase due to "speeding" at 35mph in 30mph zones; bikers, slow walkers and 20mph drivers better just get out of the way.

(Report Comment)
Pamela Thomas August 25, 2008 | 3:16 p.m.

This is just outrageous! Columbia seems to have a problem with speed limits and posted signs, period. It doesn't matter what the signs say. Drivers in this town don't pay any attention whatsoever and treat every road like an extension of the interstate system. The city council should be looking for ways to fund the police department for more traffic control. And we don't need to pay for yet another study to decide this question, just do it. Ray Shapiro is right, this study just lines the pockets of those who are conducting the study. I would love to know what possessed the council (except for the intelligent Ms. Nauser) to vote for this action.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 25, 2008 | 3:51 p.m.

Well Pamela you can always email,write or ask them here:

City of Columbia
701 E. Broadway
P.O. Box 6015
Columbia, Missouri 65205

(573) 874-7111

City Manager's Line
(573) 874-6338

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.