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."
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.