Tammy Sedey was surprised to learn that the speed limit on many neighborhood roads near her northern Andover home is 55 miles per hour. Her 12-year-old daughter Paige, a sixth-grader at nearby Rum River Elementary, was not.
When the weather's warm, Paige often heads out on her bicycle to see friends. A bike path connects these newer developments, which offer young families a suburban-rural lifestyle on spacious lots. But once Paige is off the path and pedaling on the streets, the cars zoom by far too fast. The worst offenders are new drivers. "I've had to yell at the teenagers in their cars to slow down a couple of times,'' Paige said.
Because of a state law badly in need of an update, drivers can legally zip through many rural housing developments at a highway speed: 55 mph. Aside from voicing concerns, there's little that concerned parents or city officials can do. State statute governs Minnesota speed limits. While 30 mph is the maximum for most urban residential areas, neighborhoods such as Paige's in cities on the metro's fringe often fall through the cracks. Instead, these family-filled developments get lumped in with the truly rural stretches of highway where 55 mph is a reasonable limit.
"We get a lot of calls about speed limits and people driving fast through neighborhoods,'' said Dave Berkowitz, Andover's director of public works and city engineer. If callers live in one of the suburb's many rural neighborhoods, "we tell them the speed limit on the road is 55 and it's set by state statute. They can't believe it.''
So far, Berkowitz said, Andover has been relatively lucky given the community's rapid growth. He's not aware of any fatalities linked to the faulty law. But in July 2006, a driver going too fast through a development here careened through a front yard and hit a gas meter on a house; the ensuing blaze burnt the home to the ground.
Berkowitz, Andover City Administrator Jim Dickinson and other community officials have worked for about five years to change the law. It's gotten to the point where the speed limit change for rural neighborhoods has been dubbed "The Andover Issue'' in some transportation circles. In reality, this is an issue in which many fast-growing suburban communities have a stake. Ramsey, East Bethel, Otsego, Elk River and Ham Lake are among the cities that have understandably voiced support to Andover officials for lowering the speed limit.
This year, there's welcome momentum for making this much-needed change. A Minnesota Department of Transportation task force studied the issue for about a year. Its final report released earlier this year recommended adjusting the state statute to redefine rural residential areas and cutting the speed limit in these areas. Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, is a key champion of the bill that would reduce the limit for these areas to 35 mph. A committee hearing of the bill is expected in the next week or so.
The need for a lower speed limit is obvious to anyone living in these areas. Even on a cold March day, kids were trudging home from school or darting from one house to another to play with friends. The winding streets make it difficult to see any distance ahead. No one should be driving 55 mph through here. Minnesota legislators have a complicated agenda this year. Lowering the speed limit and protecting kids like Paige should be one easy call.