A bill being considered this month in the state legislature would allow the County Council to more easily set a 15 mph speed limit on residential streets in Montgomery County.
Del. David Moon, a Takoma Park Democrat who is the bill’s main sponsor, introduced a similar measure two years ago that was passed by the House of Delegates but did not get a vote in the Senate.
“The reality is, when you look at the studies, there is a huge difference in when a pedestrian crash turns into a pedestrian fatality depending on how fast the vehicle is traveling,” said Del. Vaughn Stewart, a Democrat who represents parts of Rockville and Aspen Hill, and a co-sponsor.
Moon said some roads near schools have a 15 mph limit during school hours, but other areas, such as roads that parallel unprotected bike lanes and narrow neighborhood streets with parked cars, need a lower speed limit to create safer conditions.
If the legislation passes, the County Council and Department of Transportation would gain the authority to drop the speed limit from the current minimum 25 mph in residential zones.
“It’s not just willy-nilly. They [the county] have to do a traffic and engineering study,” Moon said. “I don’t think you’ll see this occur on a large number of roads.”
The bill is set for a Valentine’s Day hearing in the House Environment and Transportation Committee.
At-large Council member Hans Riemer, who first approached Moon and Delegates Erick Luedtke (D-Burtonsville) and Marc Korman (D-Bethesda) with the idea two years ago, said the lower speed limit would “be applied judiciously.”
Riemer added that the council’s bike master plan, adopted in December, involves redesigning several neighborhood streets, necessitating lower speeds.
“There’s many aspects of this. It’s partly about matching the speed limit with the reality of a neighborhood street,” he said.
John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said his organization hasn’t taken a position on the bill.
Townsend said any speed limit change should be supported by data that shows why the street is dangerous.
“We don’t want to be in a situation where you have a hodgepodge of laws, and a locality can simply say, ‘this is what the safety limit should be,’” he said. “You can lower speed limits, but you can’t lower it in such a way where you can have problems.”
Townsend said he knows from experience that some drivers will grow impatient with others who observe speed limit in neighborhoods, and then aggressively drive around them, endangering pedestrians.
“Every time I hit my brakes, everybody blows past me. They ride my bumper, and then they go past you. When people say, ‘you’re going too … slow’ and go past you, and then the person [pedestrian] they hit is killed or severely maimed,” he said.
Riemer sees that as a non-issue when it comes to residential streets.
“If there are drivers who are gonna gun it to 40 on a neighborhood street, they’re clearly total jerks and are not gonna follow the law anyway,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org