According to state law, speed limits have to be reevaluated and justified every five years. There are currently several street sections in Davis where the speed limits are not up to date.
“Every five years we have to update our traffic surveys.… It affects some of our speed limits,” said Roxanne Namazi, senior civil engineer with the Davis Public Works Department. “Fifty-four of 120 [speed segments] are now impacted.”
In addition to the 54 street sections that are currently out of date, at least 12 more are coming up for reevaluation this April, Namazi said. The Public Works Department has to come up with a strategy for evaluating all of these areas.
“[In order to evaluate the speed limits] we come up with the critical speed, which is the speed that 85 percent of drivers drive at or below … that helps in determining the eventual speed limit,” Namazi said.
The problem facing the Public Works Department now is how to go about reevaluating each individual street section with speed limits that are out of date, she said.
“That’s the challenge that we have ahead of us.… We have to look at [each section] on a case by case basis,” Namazi said.
Due to changes in state law, speed limits must be rounded to the nearest multiple of five, rather than rounded down. For example, if the critical speed was 38 mph, the speed limit must be 40 mph. Under previous rules, the speed limit could be rounded down to 35 mph.
One issue hindering the process is residents who are not comfortable with raising the speed limits in the areas they live in, Namazi added.
“The community is against raising speed limits.… They’re concerned that speeds [of people driving] might go up if we raise the speed limits,” Namazi said. “The problem that it creates is the police will not be able to enforce speed limits with radar … [otherwise] it creates a speed trap.”
If the posted speed limit in any given area is not justified by the speed of the drivers by using the measured critical speed, it creates a speed trap and police cannot legally use radar to enforce that speed limit, Namazi said.
“Our position on this is that we would hate to see the loss of a valuable tool, that is radar,” said Steven Pierce, assistant police chief with the Davis Police Department.
Drivers breaking the speed limits are the primary cause of collisions in Davis, Pierce said. Radar is the main tool Davis police use to get people to lower their speed to the point that it is safe.
Regardless of their inability to use radar, if Davis does not modify its speed limits, the police department can still enforce them, said Pierce. Legally, Davis police officers are trained to do a visual speed estimation and they can write speeding tickets that way.
“Those tools [such as visual speed estimation] will still be available, but they are not as effective as working radar,” Pierce said.
Most people collaborating on this project agree that it will be a challenge and the solution will not come easily, particularly because of residential opposition, said Gary Francisco, senior engineering assistant with the city’s Safety and Parking Advisory Commission.
“Historically residents in the city of Davis … they get concerned when you talk about raising a posted speed … it becomes kind of a political issue,” Francisco said.
From here, the Davis Public Works Department will have to work with other organizations in order to figure out how to proceed, Francisco added.
“There’s going to be more discussion and we’re trying to figure out just how to proceed from here. Right now we’re talking to different agencies, different cities and seeing what they’re doing…. There’s a lot of discussion to be had yet,” Francisco said.
CAITLIN COBB can be reached at email@example.com.