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Seattle Moves to Lower Neighborhood Speed Limits to 20 MPH

5:03 PM CDT on September 14, 2016

Image: City of Seattle
Image: City of Seattle

Seattle is getting serious about reducing the threat of lethal motor vehicle speeds.

The city is moving to lower speed limits on neighborhood streets from 25 mph to 20 mph later this year. On big arterial streets, the city will determine speed limits on a case-by-case basis, but the default will be reduced from 35 mph to 30 mph, and on downtown arterial streets it will be 25 mph.

Seattle DOT Director Scott Kubly and council members Mike O'Brien and Tim Burgess announced the proposal yesterday. The new rules need to be approved by the City Council.

Mayor Ed Murray promised to lower speed limits last year as part of Seattle's Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. So far the city had been testing slow zones around schools. The blanket speed limit reduction would be much more comprehensive, affecting 2,400 miles of neighborhood streets.

The advocacy group Seattle Neighborhood Greenways led the campaign for lower speed limits, rounding up support from a variety of community groups. The city's proposal is "really good," Seattle Greenways policy director Gordon Padelford told Streetsblog.

"They’re looking to do 20 miles per hour blanket immediately," he said. The approach on arterial streets, he said, will be "more systematic" and "thoughtful."

Padelford said there's strong community support for the measure. Neighborhood-level chambers of commerce, in particular, have advocated for the change.

"When you have safer streets that’s better for businesses, that’s better for the atmosphere in the whole neighborhood," he said.

The goal isn't to just change the speed limit signs. Seattle Greenways is asking the city to "sign, design, and engineer" for 20 mph on all neighborhood streets. According to the Seattle Times, that may include road diets and other types of redesigns.

Every year, traffic violence claims the lives of about 20 people on Seattle streets, and 150 suffer serious injuries. About half the victims are killed while walking or biking. Speeding-related fatal collisions have increased 20 percent downtown in the last four years, according the city.

"We hope that people that currently don’t feel safe walking or biking around will feel more comfortable after the changes," said Padelford. "It's going to help create a more livable Seattle."

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