Residents are doing just fine at a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour in the White Bear Lake shore city of Birchwood Village. Ditto in the tiny east-metro city of Landfall, where the legal limit is 10 mph.
The two Twin Cities metro-area communities opted for the slow lane years before public outcry greeted a cyclist-driven proposal to allow Minnesota cities to cut their limits on city streets to 25 mph. The proposal by the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, which will lobby for the change at the Legislature, has drawn howls of protest from motorists.
But Birchwood Village and Landfall have lower limits because they took advantage of little-known exceptions to the urban speed limit of 30 mph set by the state.
Landfall, with 741 people, is composed entirely of a mobile home park, where state law allows a 10- mph speed limit. That brings typical speeds down to the 10-15 mph range, said part-time City Administrator Ed Shukle.
Still, he added, “We have problems with people violating that all the time, whether they’re residents here or visitors.”
Birchwood Village, a city of 870, uses another wrinkle in the law that allows cities to impose a 25 mph limit on local streets if they’re less than half a mile long. The road that bisects the city is longer than that, but has two different names, so city officials say their designation follows the law.
“We’ve had no pushback. None,” Mayor Mary Wingfield said about the limit adopted two years ago.
But that doesn’t mean everyone follows the law. A city newsletter warned residents in 2014 that speeding tickets cost $125 and noted that half of the violators so far that year lived in the city. “We prefer that you mind your speed rather than donate to our coffers,” it said.
The city has an even stricter speed limit of 20 on its side streets. City officials couldn’t cite their statutory authority for that, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation was unable to provide a response Thursday. Wingfield said one guess is that the limit dates back to the 1960s. “It was probably what the city fathers wanted at the time,” she said.
The actual limit may be moot on side streets, Wingfield said, because they’re short, winding and often hilly. “You’d be hard-pressed to go more than 20,” she said.
The bike alliance said last week that it’s seeking the local option for cities to lower speeds on city streets. It said lower speeds would reduce the risk of severe injury when pedestrians or bikers are hit by motor vehicles, and also encourage more people to exercise without fear of being hit. Some drivers were unhappy.
“The entire subject is an example of taking away from the majority for the benefit of a tiny minority,” Edina resident Earl Faulkner Sr. said in an e-mail to a legislator. Others complained that too many cyclists flout traffic laws.
Nick Mason, the alliance’s deputy director, sees the issue differently: “Really, it’s about where people live. About 85 percent of the roads in Minnesota are local residential streets, and those are paid for by local property taxpayers. And if they want this, which we believe makes the streets safer for everyone, then they should have the freedom to do it.”
AAA Minneapolis said Thursday it has no position on the proposal. National research by a foundation affiliated with AAA found that 44 percent of drivers said they had exceeded a residential speed limit by 10 mph in the previous month. Ninety percent disapproved of residential speeding.
Minneapolis, St. Paul and other cities have urged the Legislature to grant a local option to lower speeds.
As a cyclist, Wingfield likes having that option.
“What business does the state have to tell us what our speed limit should be?” she said. “We know what’s best for our communities.”