St. Paul plans to put the brakes on five busy streets in hopes of improving safety for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers.
On Wednesday, the City Council voted unanimously to drop speed limits from 35 to 30 miles an hour by designating these “Urban Districts,” which included sections of Wabasha Street, Cretin Avenue N. and other busy thoroughfares.
The city has notified the Minnesota Department of Transportation and, barring objections, will implement the slower speeds. The exact date is not immediately known, said Lisa Hiebert, a spokeswoman for the St. Paul Public Works Department.
Reducing speeds on heavily traveled routes through neighborhoods has been an objective of the St. Paul Bike Coalition, said its co-chair Andy Singer. Neighborhood groups such as the Union Park District Council also have been pushing for slower speed limits in hopes of reducing the number of injuries from motor vehicle crashes involving bicyclists and pedestrians.
From January through May 26, there have been 67 crashes involving vehicles and pedestrians, resulting in one death and 59 injuries in St. Paul. Crashes involving bicyclists accounted for one death and 12 injuries, city statistics show.
“We see this as a great benefit,” said Sean Ryan, a resident of the Union Park District and co-chairman of the district’s transportation committee. “The amount of time drivers will save driving 5 miles per hour faster for four blocks is minuscule.”
Bill Lindeke, chairman of the St. Paul Planning Commission Transportation Committee and a bicycling enthusiast, said efforts have been underway for years to change driver behavior and bring speeds down.
“Somebody is hit by a car every other day,” he said. “This is a good first step, but there is more to do. A speed limit is only good if people follow it.”
City Council Member Samantha Henningson, who represents the city’s Fourth Ward, championed the change. She cited statistics that showed that a pedestrian struck by a motor vehicle traveling at 40 mph has an 85 percent chance of suffering a serious injury. That chance drops to 45 percent at 30 mph.
“We have long-term work to do on our streets to build them to be safer for all users,” she said. “This is a short-term solution … that is not a multimillion-dollar prospect.”
Some like Lindeke wouldn’t mind if speeds were reduced to 25 mph as they are in some Wisconsin and Iowa towns, but Minnesota law does not permit that. In urban districts, defined as places where businesses, homes or other buildings are closer than 100 feet apart for a distance of a quarter mile or longer, state law mandates speeds be set at a minimum of 30 mph, except in certain conditions, such as when a bike lane is present.
Lower automobile speeds also can be good for drivers, added Hiebert. Speeds that don’t change segment to segment along a roadway are easier for drivers to follow and for police to enforce, she said.
City Council President Amy Brendmoen said she hopes the move inspires those overseeing county- and state-managed roads to follow suit.
At present, there are no plans to adjust speed limits on roads such as Rice Street, which runs through the heart of the city and is under the jurisdiction of Ramsey County, said Ted Schoenecker, the county’s Public Works Director. But it is something the county may look into, he said.
Lower speed limits are just one way to make roads safer. Lindeke pointed to traffic-calming efforts on Maryland Avenue, where the east-west road has been narrowed between Payne Avenue and Johnson Parkway. MnDOT is installing medians on the south end of Snelling Avenue to make it easier for pedestrians to cross the four-lane road. St. Paul has held “Stop For Me” campaigns to get drivers to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.
But the slower speeds are definitely welcome.
“I‘m psyched the city has done this,” Singer said. “It does make a difference. This is a good idea.”