Some inner-ring west metro suburbs are weighing lower speed limits to improve street safety for cyclists and pedestrians, following similar changes made by Minneapolis and St. Paul last spring.

Golden Valley, Edina and St. Louis Park are considering changing their speed limits to 20 or 25 mph. Minneapolis and St. Paul adopted speed limits of 20 mph in March on most local streets, while setting busier city-owned arterial streets at 25 mph and a few others at 30.

New York City, Seattle, Boston and Portland, Ore., have made similar changes in recent years.

"Overall, federal agency guidance … has been really consistent that speed is a major contributor to fatal crashes," said Nichole Morris, director of the HumanFIRST Laboratory in the University of Minnesota's mechanical engineering department.

Until recently, Minnesota cities couldn't set their own speed limits. Then in August 2019 the state began letting cities regulate speed on streets they control, excluding county or state roads that run within their borders. Now cities can set speed limits at 25 mph on residential streets, or below that if they complete a traffic study.

St. Louis Park staffers recommended reducing speed limits after study session discussions, said Deb Heiser, the city's engineering director.

"We believe our data support lower speed limits on city streets," she said. "Ultimately, slower is safer."

With approval from the St. Louis Park City Council, the new speed limits — 20 mph on lower-volume roads and 25 mph on medium-volume roads — could be in effect by year's end. The project has a $200,000 budget, including education, outreach, adjusting traffic signal timing and signage, Heiser said.

The Golden Valley City Council has suggested city officials reduce speeds to 20 mph on local streets. After completing a study, the city is now collecting resident input, said City Engineer Jeff Oliver, adding that speed limits could change in the fall with council approval.

"Our primary goal is making streets as safe as possible for all users, not just vehicles," he said. Since the pandemic has resulted in more people walking and playing outside, more concerns have been voiced about excessive speed on city streets, he said.

Morris said research offers two reasons that lower speeds are safer. There's a greater chance that a pedestrian or cyclist hit at a lower speed will survive, she said; for instance, they have a 73% chance of sustaining a fatal or severe injury if struck by a vehicle traveling at 40 mph vs. a 13% chance of that outcome if the vehicle is going 20 mph.

Stopping distance also changes dramatically depending on speed. Stopping at 40 mph takes 160 feet, but stopping at 20 mph requires only 60 feet.

"It will be too late [to stop] if you're going at that higher speed," Morris said.

Lowering speed limits typically doesn't result in cars driving much slower on average, Morris said. But cities often see reductions in "extreme speeds" by drivers going more than a few miles over the limit.

The Edina City Council has favored lowering speed limits since 2006, said Andrew Scipioni, the city's transportation planner. The current proposal to change most city streets to 25 mph was supported by about 65% of residents polled, he said. The council plans to review public comments and decide whether to authorize an implementation plan.

Other Hennepin County cities are watching what Golden Valley, Edina and St. Louis Park are doing, Scipioni said. Some residents have said lower speed limits make sense for big cities but not for cities like Edina, he said.

"I disagree," Scipioni said. "I think the same principle will serve smaller cities as well."

In 2019, Minnesota registered 364 fatal car crashes, including 50 pedestrian deaths. The cost — including the emergency response, hospitalization and lost wages — is estimated at $1.7 million per person, Morris said. Cutting speed limits costs far less, she said, and she believes it will become more common throughout the state and nation.

"This is always going to be one of the best tools in their toolbox," Morris said.

Erin Adler • 612-673-1781