2021 | Transportation

‘20 is Plenty’ speed limit initiative begins on five county roads

The program lowers speed limits to 20 miles per hour to encourage bicycle and pedestrian safety awareness

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County and transportation officials unveiled a "20 is Plenty" speed limit road sign on Woodglen Drive near Nicholson Lane on Friday, June 17, 2021.

Photo by Steve Bohnel

At first glance, it didn’t appear like much: county elected leaders and transportation officials unveiling a new road sign at the southwestern corner of Nicholson Lane and Woodglen Drive, a busy intersection in North Bethesda.

A closer look at the sign, however, reveals the message “20 is Plenty” — the pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular safety plan unveiled by those leaders Thursday Morning.

“20 is Plenty” is a program that lowers the speed limit on certain county roads to 20 miles per hour, in order to make motorists more aware of their surroundings in urban areas, where more bicycle and pedestrian activity is present.

The change comes after the state delegation got a bill through Annapolis this year, allowing county officials and its municipalities to lower speed limits to as low as 15 miles per hour.

There are five pilot projects included in the “20 is Plenty” campaign, where speed limits used to be 30 miles per hour, said Emily DeTitta, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Transportation. They are:

  • Pinnacle Drive – Germantown 
  • Century Boulevard – Germantown 
  • Woodglen Drive – North Bethesda
  • Executive Boulevard – North Bethesda
  • Greenwood Avenue – Long Branch

County Council President Tom Hucker said Thursday he’s heard multiple stories from constituents about near accidents and kids who have been hit by cars, and is excited about the overall initiative.

Hucker, a former delegate, said it’s hard to get state transportation bills passed.

“Transportation is one of those issues where everyone has an opinion, and everyone thinks they’re an expert, but they’re not,” Hucker told reporters.

The “20 is Plenty” campaign is one part of the county’s overall Vision Zero plan, which aims to reduce the number of fatal crashes involving bicycles, pedestrians and motorists to zero by the end of 2030.

Data compiled by the Montgomery County of Transportation shows fatal crashes increased from 32 in 2019 to 39 in 2020. Chris Conklin, director of the county’s department of transportation, said in an interview many of those incidents were late-night, high-speed collisions. It’s difficult to know how the pandemic’s effect on anxiety and mental health affected that, as the department doesn’t have that data, Conklin said.

Council Member Andrew Friedson talks about the “20 is Plenty” initiative. Officials described the initiative at a pilot road in his district in North Bethesda.

Along with the five pilot roads unveiled on Friday, the department is looking at around 70other roads n business districts and urban areas where the speed limit could be reduced to 20 miles per hour, Conklin added. 

Roads that have good bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, along with high overall vehicular traffic, are all factors when considering where to expand “20 is Plenty,” Conklin said. Officials chose 20 miles per hour as the limit because the chances of a fatal crash increase by eight times once that speed is exceeded, he told reporters.

“There’s no other number that’s rational and makes sense, we’re not only shooting to kill only 100 people on the road, it needs to be zero,” Conklin said. “Getting to zero is a different question. It may be challenging, it may not be possible because of the nature of human behavior … but there’s no other goal we can set.”

Kristy Daphnis, chair of the Pedestrian Bicycle and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee in Montgomery County, told reporters she’s seen a “culture shift” among state and local transportation officials during the six to seven years she’s been working on these issues countywide.

In an interview, Daphnis said more of those officials are willing to look at road safety for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists when considering infrastructure improvements and projects, not just easing road congestion and traffic.

She and Conklin said Maryland Department of Transportation officials have been more willing to consider initiatives such as  “20 is Plenty” under current Secretary of Transportation Greg Slater. 

Like Conklin, Daphnis said that while Vision Zero is a tough goal, it’s the only one worth setting.

“Vision Zero is about human behavior,” she said. “You should be designing streets for human behavior, and not just for cars. And so, while it does seem lofty, the underlying premise is no one should die walking down the street, or riding their bike or even driving their car.”

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com