Two things that are “just a number”: age and the speed limit on High Drive.
The hope in lowering High Drive’s speed limit to 20 mph was to slow drivers down but more than a year later the vast majority of drivers are still cruising well above the posted maximum.
Now, Spokane city officials asked the City Council to consider raising the speed limit to 35 mph, which is actually 5 mph higher than it used to be, to better align with the speed at which most motorists are traveling anyway.
The city of Spokane’s streets department conducted a traffic study in September and found that 99% of motorists drove through that stretch above the speed limit after it was lowered from 30 mph to 20 mph last year.
Depending on the exact location, the average driver speed dropped only between one and three mph – to around 32 mph – under the new speed limit.
The speed limit on High Drive was lowered along with those on streets around numerous city parks, which had previously only seen their speed limits lowered to 20 mph on a seasonal basis to account for more children being out of school and recreating in city parks during the summer.
City officials plan to revert to the old system of seasonal speed limit changes around parks. High Drive’s speed limit between 21st Avenue and Manito Boulevard will rise to 35 mph if the Spokane City Council approves the plan.
The changes were introduced at a meeting of the Spokane City Council’s Public Infrastructure, Environment and Sustainability Committee on Monday.
Some local access roads around parks will remain at a 20 mph speed limit, according to Streets Director Clint Harris.
The city compared traffic data at three points along High Drive with the new 20 mph limit to information collected prior to the change, when the limit was 30 mph. It found that speed limit compliance dropped by 14% and average speeds remained above 30 mph with the lower limit.
The city believes it’s safer to set speed limits closer to what people are actually driving.
“It creates behaviors that are not safe,” Harris said of the artificially lower limit.
Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who sponsored the pilot program to lower speed limits, acknowledged that it was a “failed experiment” on High Drive. Still, she questioned raising the speed limit to 35 mph, warning that it was “swinging the pendulum over the other way” and may be unsafe.
“You’ve got this straight shot down the hill and people really pick up speed,” Kinnear said.
As for city parks, Public Works Director Marlene Feist said the seasonal changes were beneficial. Every spring, Feist said, the city would remind drivers that kids were out of school and might be in the area.
With speed limits lowered year-round, Feist said “we don’t get the element of a change for the driver to notice.”
The original impetus for the change was the state’s stay-home order and school closures, which brought more people into city parks during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Editor’s note: This story was changed on Nov. 30, 2021 to correct statistics on driver speeds on High Drive. It previously stated, incorrectly, that 85% of drivers traveled at least 35 mph on High Drive.
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