The War On Kids, the Elderly, and Other People Who Walk

Local control for speed limits should be a no-brainer.

Yesterday in Seattle, a 73-year-old woman was mowed down in a crosswalk. Yet today the resident crowd that’s fond of saying there’s a “war on cars” is screaming about a modest proposal before the Washington legislature: to allow cities to reduce speed limits to 20 mph on side streets without first conducting expensive engineering studies. 

Last year, the bill passed the state House unanimously. I repeat, it passed unanimously: Not a single member of either caucus voted “no.” (It then stalled in a Senate committee.) As the vote suggests, allowing local control of speed limits is common sense public policy with no partisan bias.

In simple terms, here’s why speed limits matter: high speeds kill.


Between 2000 and 2009, 683 people were killed by cars while walking in Washington. Local control over residential speed limits would not have saved all of those people, but it might have saved some.

Yet here’s local loudmouth Dori Monson today:

[Mayor] McGinn’s hatred of cars and drivers is bordering on pathological… I do know that he is doing everything possible to make Seattle one of the most car-unfriendly cities in the country.

Apparently, according to Monson, letting cities set their own speed limits on residential streets amounts to a “pathological” hatred of cars. That will come as interesting news, no doubt, to those notorious car-haters in Idaho, where cities are given much more latitude than Washington is considering. Meanwhile, British Columbia lets cities drop speed limits all the way to 12 mph. And last year, Oregon passed a law similar to Washington’s proposal with overwhelming bipartisan support.  

Ken Schram apparently groused about the measure this morning. And even the King 5 News report insists on framing up the bill as a bikes-versus-cars issue, which it most decidedly is not.

For the record, there’s nothing partisan—much less “pathological”—about reducing red tape for cities that want to reduce traffic speeds to protect their citizens, especially when it’s children and the elderly who are disproportionately killed by speeding cars.

So here’s my own modest proposal: instead of ranting like lunatics about an imaginary “war on cars,” maybe Washington’s commentator class could spend some time with this interactive map of pedestrian fatalities in the state. And then study the city and county statistics. And then read Alan’s thorough and judicious case for why local speed limit-setting is a good idea.

And then… take a deep breath. Allowing cities to set 20 mph speed limits on residential streets probably doesn’t mean there’s a war on cars.

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  1. Jake Jackson says:

    The Washington State Dept. of Transportation, and the National Public Works Depttment Association both oppose the idea. It would overturn decades of standard practice, which calls for engineering studies before reducing a speed limit below 30 mph.

    Seattle is already filled with caution signs advising 20 mph on side streets. This proposal is nothing more than one more attempt by the bicyclists to make Seattle intolerable for motorists. No one can be surprised that it’s supported by Mayor McGinn and his whopping 23% approval rating. He despises motorists, and we are returning the favor.

    Your latest trick will get nowhere. If I’m wrong about that, then you can stay turned for the next voter initiative to throw it out. In the meantime, good luck with your $60 car tab money grab. That one is going to be crushed by the voters, which ought to send you the message that we’re getting a little tired of your antics.

  2. keshmeshi says:

    Who or what will ensure that drivers actually follow the new speed limit? We don’t have the ability to enforce current speed limits, which is 25 on residential non-arterials and 20 near schools when children are present.

    I’m largely opposed to this unless the city backs it up with traffic calming. Putting a 20 mph limit on a wide, open street that’s built for 40 mph will only make drivers more frustrated and irrational than normal, and I don’t think that helps safety overall.

    • Jake Jackson says:

      “Traffic calming” is an Orwellian term for roads that are designed to infuriate drivers. Fortunately, the drivers of Seattle vote, and are increasingly aware of what’s being done to them.

  3. Catherine says:

    The meaningful statistics NOT shown, are what are the mortality AND the injury rates at 20, 25, and 30. Side streets already have 25MPH in Seattle, so this is NOT a move from 30 to 20, it’s a move from 25 to 20. To use the states for 30MPH as a comparison point to argue for this change, is a red herring.

    • Don says:

      But since drivers routinely exceed the speed limit on residential streets, what we’re really talking about is a reduction from 35 mph to 25 mph.

      And gee whiz, if the rates of both mortality and injury at any number of interim speeds were shown, would any level of injury or mortality be an acceptable level?

    • Eric de Place says:


      I used the 20 to 30 comparison because I was limited to the research data at hand. The UK studies have not produced, so far as I’m aware, fatality states at 25 mph. Still, I think the comparison is useful.

  4. Free Public Transit (@FreePublicTrans) says:

    Attempts to calm traffic are hopeless and divisive. Why not just end the autosprawl subsidies? Call the bluff of conservatives. They should be marching in the streets against the highway lobby.
    The biggest autosprawl subsidy is the unnecessary tariff [fare] on public transit. It does not raise revenue, it just discourages use. Public transit is a public investment that benefits all, removing fares would increase the return on that investment.

    • Jake Jackson says:

      Hmm, let’s also guarantee a free condo and free steak dinners. They benefit all.

  5. pkm says:

    I support pulling the side street speed limit officially down to 20 mph. It would actually clarify how fast a driver’s supposed to go on residential streets. However, it wouldn’t change the fact that a lot of residential streets are either so clogged with parked cars, have traffic circles or speed bumps or other impediments, and/or such bad paving that a driver can’t realistically go more than 10-15 mph anyway. And–make it MUCH more driver acceptable to STOP for pedestrians at unmarked, LEGITIMATE crosswalks (I highlight the word “legitimate” because some drivers barely acknowledge stoplights or highly marked crosswalks ARE crosswalks, let alone the unmarked ones–particularly on arterials.)

  6. David Miller says:

    This has nothing to do with bicyclists except it was a bunch of bicycle advocates who first proposed it. In Seattle, most cycle lanes are on streets of a type this measure wouldn’t affect.

    What this DOES do is give long-suffering neighborhoods another tool in trying to keep their kids safe. Cut-through traffic roaring along neighborhood side streets is a constant menace. As an elected representative on a neighborhood council, I can tell you this is a critical concern to everyday voters who have nothing to do with bicycle special interest. Our community Council averages an email a week from concerned neighbors asking for strategies to reduce speeds. This is one more thing we can try to keep our neighbors safe.

    This is a common sense change to the law and our Legislature needs to pass it. I’ll be in Olympia in 2012 telling them exactly that.

    David Miller

    • Jake Jackson says:

      It’s the camel’s nose under the tent. McGinn, and his friends, want to establish the precedent that they can change speed limits without engineering studies. Today, it’ll be some side streets. Soon enough, it’ll be arterials.

      McGinn, the cyclistas, and the so-called “new urbanists” have long track records of duplicity, and outright lying. They cannot be trusted. Fortunately, people with traffic engineering experience will block this latest scheme.

      You’ll have to move to Plan ZZ. (I’d say “Plan B,” but that one was foiled a long time ago.) Oh, and make sure to pay close attention to the Nov. 8th elections, in particular what happens to the cyclistas’ top priority, Prop. 1. It’s going to go down in flames; the only question will be whether you people get the message or not.

      • Eric de Place says:

        Thanks for intelligent comments here. I think you’ve expressed the issue very well.

        I hope it’s clear that the policy is mostly an issue of local control. Neighborhoods like David’s will get somewhat better control of their environments, just as all cities throughout Idaho and BC have had for years.

        Conferring local control for the switch from 25 to 20 is hardly revolutionary. In fact, it seems to me that the burden of argument should be on opponents of the measure: I’d like to know what the appropriate speed limit should be on residential streets. 50 mph? 100 mph? Should cities have any local control? I guess I fail to see how this rather modest public safety fix could be so enraging.

      • Jake Jackson says:

        Eric, please stay tuned, because the voters of Seattle and Washington State are preparing their answer. Try not to be too enraged when you find your agenda kicked up on side of the block and back down the other.

  7. Ron Johnson says:

    Another battle in this war is the recent increase in the youth fare on Metro from .75 to 1.25 – that’s quite a jump! I think that may apply to seniors too but am not positive.

  8. Kamala Rao says:

    Let’s calculate how much time this will add to a motorist trip to save potentially save the life of a pedestrian or cyclist. Most trips involve the vast proportion of travel on ‘collector’ or ‘arterial’ roads vs. the ‘local’ roads (aka ‘side streets’) being considered for speed reduction. I’d estimate at most, on a per trip basis, motorists are probably travelling on a local road for maybe a mile of their trip, since most motorists will head as quickly as they can to higher speed road once their trip begins. Travelling one mile at 30mph will take you 2 minutes, and at 20mph will take you 3 minutes, so that’s one additional minute of travel time (at best) on average that motorists will have to add to their daily trips to potentially save countless lives. Sounds like a pretty solid cost-benefit analysis to me. So, if Ms. Monson and the rest of the commentator class (nice term, Eric!) is saying that adding one minute of travel time to her trip on a daily basis is not worth saving the life of a pedestrian, then I’d say she is the one waging a war.

    • Jake Jackson says:

      Add a minute to each mile of travel, and pretty soon it adds up. We should be looking for ways to make commuting, regardless of the mode, faster. Unfortunately, the cyclistas despise cars and drivers, and are actively trying to obstruct free passage.

      There is good news, though. Michael McGinn’s abject failure and clumsiness — at 23%, his approval rating is the same as Nixon’s when he was impeached — has highlighted this agenda. The voters of Seattle, the vast majority of whom are drivers, are becoming aware.

      Stay tuned. You’ve awakened a sleeping giant.

  9. philippe says:

    The degree of rage emanating from Jake is frightening. What triggers it? The loss of a few minutes? what type of psychological disorder is that?

    • Jake Jackson says:

      No need to be so afraid of being disagreed with, philippe. It’s what we do in America. You know, free speech and all that. We vote, too. And on Nov. 8th, the voters of Seattle are going to crush Prop. 1, and thereby send a message to the smug bicyclistas. And the voters of WA State might approve I-1125, the Tim Eyeman initiative that will block light rail extension to the East Side.

      Now, if one or both of those things happen, I presume that you won’t feel any “rage.” I suspect you’ll whine a bit, and maybe even more than a bit, but no rage.

  10. Georgie Bright Kunkel says:

    My brother was struck in a crosswalk some years ago when he was walking with a white cane if you can believe. The speed limit is way too high in pedestrian crossing areas.

    • Jake Jackson says:

      What does your brother being struck in a crosswalk have to do with speed limits?

      • Alex says:

        Your sympathy is touching, Jake. I get the feeling you are here only to make sure everyone is as angry as you are. I’m going to assume you ignore speed limits altogether, so probably soon–when you run somebody over, maybe a pet or relative–you’ll understand why speed limits make a difference for the majority who at least respect them a little bit.

      • Looking Around says:

        I agree with Jake. Arguing that speed limits should be cut because a driver struck someone’s brother in an intersection is tasteless add manipulative as hell. The left-wing equivalent of Glenn Beck.

        And Jake’s right about it not having anything to do with speed limits. Someone who’d run over a blind pedestrian at 25 or 30 miles an hour is going to do it at 20 miles an hour.

  11. Winging It says:

    Me too about Jake. Some guy gets hit by a car, so we’re going to make every car go 20 miles an hour? Are we running a junior high school here, or maybe a concentration camp? What’s with the “liberals” and their lust for collective punishment?

  12. Compassionate says:

    Reducing the speed limits on residential streets will become increasingly important as more hybrid/electric cars take to the road. These (very quiet) cars can be deadly to all pedestrians, whether blind or sighted.

    • Winging It says:

      I disagree. What will become more important is to look both ways before crossing the street. Blind people will hear those cars. In their case, it’s up to them to use a white cane and it’s up to the motorist to see it.

      To force every driver on the road to go too slow because of this or that reckless driver who hits a blind pedestrian is just wrong. It is, like I wrote, the junior high school approach to traffic control.

      • Compassionate says:

        Did some research and apparently, according to this article, legislation is being passed so that hybrids and electric cars WILL make sounds that blind and sighted people will be able to hear. This is good news, especially since looking both ways before crossing the street at night can be potentially useless if a hybrid driver has forgotten to turn on his/her headlights.

  13. gearbuzz says:

    Make a war on cars, trucks, the whole internal combustion technommercial way of death for millions and the planet? Why would you want to establish a human community instead of the feeder slaves (a.k.a car owners) of the 19th Century industrial pollution complex? Why? because the car “culture” is as primitive now as leeches are to medicine, and all that it tends to support are people, frightened people at that, who will have to face their Lilliputian stature when they can’t ride around threatening the universe with their tyrannical power. Make war? Until this culture decides that being a good neighbor is part of the social contract and demands less-resource eating machinery to prop your little American egos, then yeah, I would say ‘make war.’ Or move to China as they learn this trained incapacity that goes with car worship. Just a thought…

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