20 is Plenty on Neighborhood Streets (Daily Camera Op-Ed on September 8th)


On Wednesday morning, a 10 year old girl biking to school was hit by a driver as she crossed Lehigh St in south Boulder. Right now, we don’t know the details of the crash, but we do know that we have a safety problem on our streets. We need to do better. We need to make our streets safer.

The new Transportation Master Plan (TMP) will go before Council in mid-September. The TMP  provides a vision for a safer, more equitable system of transportation in Boulder. This vision includes a heightened emphasis on safety for all road users — people who walk, bike, drive automobiles, and take transit. 

If enacted, the 2019 TMP will help prevent the crashes that catastrophically impact the lives of the city’s residents. 

This is the most thorough and forward thinking TMP Boulder has ever produced. City transportation staff and the Transportation Advisory Board should be applauded for all the hard work that went into this project. Boulder’s TMP will be an example to many cities and will put Boulder back into a leadership role in transportation planning and innovation. We can’t say it strongly enough: great job!

But a great plan is one thing. Action is another. Boulder should adopt the TMP and move quickly to implement it. The city should accelerate improvements on streets like Lehigh and 30th. The City should also address speeding. We at Community Cycles feel that neighborhood streets are a good place to start. We ask the City to begin the public process to reduce the default speed limit on residential streets to 20 mph (from 25 mph).  “Twenty is plenty” is a worldwide movement with hundreds of cities adopting 20 mph residential speed limits — cities like Boston, Portland, and Seattle.  

Residential streets make up about 70 percent of Boulder’s street network and a large proportion of public space within neighborhoods. Few residential streets have marked crosswalks or bike lanes, requiring people that walk, bike or drive to share the road. Some are narrow with limited visibility. Some are key routes to schools, transit stops and places where people shop, work and recreate. Children play and pets roam on these neighborhood streets. 

Conventional wisdom has said that driver behavior is modified by the street environment, not by posted speed limits. But new research is showing that median speeds do drop slightly when posted speed limits are changed. Even a modest drop of 2 mph would be meaningful on neighborhood streets in terms of safety, comfort and noise. 

More importantly, new research has shown a measurable reduction in the speeds of the drivers who significantly exceed the posted speed limit. This is critical: fatalities begin to increase dramatically above 20 mph. The likelihood of death from impact at 30 mph is double that at 25 mph. Reducing the number of drivers excessively speeding in residential zones will reduce the severity of crashes. 

The idea of slower neighborhood streets is already hugely popular among Boulder residents. The city’s Neighborhood Speed Mitigation Program (NSMP) was created in response to community outcry over speeding, traffic noise and unsafe conditions on streets where people live. The NSMP program requires neighbors to organize and complete a lengthy application to request traffic calming on their street. Even with the heavy lift required to apply, the program is vastly over-subscribed — 58 neighborhoods have applied but only 16 projects will be completed by the end of year two of the program. By adopting a city wide speed limit of 20 mph on all residential streets, the city would bring equity to this program and help achieve more livable streets for every neighborhood.

You can help calm the traffic in front of your house. Community Cycles encourages every parent who worries about the safety of their kids and everyone else who is concerned about the danger of speeding traffic to attend the Transportation Advisory Board meeting on September 9 and the City Council meeting on September 17 or send an email to TAB@bouldercolorado.gov  and Council@bouldercolorado.gov. Ask that they adopt the TMP including a commitment to implementing it and working quickly to adopt a 20 mph speed limit on residential streets. 

There is much talk in Boulder about neighborhood character. When most people think about their neighborhoods they envision a calm, welcoming place, where children play, neighbors walk dogs, and people tend their yards.  

We hope Boulder will agree 20 is plenty for these places we call home.