Area speed limits to change

The Michigan Department of Transportation plans to change the speed limits on state trunk lines in the city of Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Pittsfield Township.

Ypsilanti City Council discussed the changes at their June 19 meeting. The roads include M-17 and US-12 Business Route. The most common change will be to increase the speed limit by 5 miles per hour.

First Lieutenant Thad Peterson of the Michigan State Police described the results of a MDOT speed study, which is the basis for the recommendation to raise the speed limits.

MDOT sets speed limits to match the speed of 85 percent of the drivers on a given stretch of road. The study determined this speed and recommended changing speed limits to meet that level. For example, on Washtenaw Avenue near Golfside Drive in February 2012, 85 percent of the traffic went 45 mph and the current speed limit is 40 mph. The study recommends raising the speed limit to 45 mph.

Recommended new speed limits that will affect those driving to and from EMU on M-17 include:

-45 mph on Washtenaw Avenue from U.S. 23 to Oakwood Street.
-40 mph on Washtenaw Avenue from Oakwood Street to North Summit Street.
-35 mph on Washtenaw Avenue and North Hamilton from North Summit Street to West Michigan Avenue.
-30 mph on North Huron Street from West Michigan Avenue to Pearl Street.
-35 mph on North Huron Street and West Cross Street from Pearl Street to Ballard Street.
-35 mph on North Huron Street and West Cross Street from Pearl Street to Ballard Street.

Peterson explained reasons for raising speed limits in situations where the actual rate of travel exceeds the existing speed limit.

“People don’t pay attention to the speed limit,” he said.

Peterson said people drive at the rate of the drivers around them. Accidents are not related to the general speed of traffic, but rather correlate to reckless driving, intoxication or bad driving other than simply exceeding the speed limit.

Peterson said setting the legal limit to match the rate of 85 percent of drivers minimizes a major cause of traffic accidents. When 85 percent of the cars are going 40 mph and the legal limit is 30 mph, the drivers who are obeying the limit are actually creating a hazard by creating a need to change lanes, tailgating and other discontinuities in traffic flow, which in turn can cause accidents.

Reducing speed differentials is what improves safety and gets crash rates to the bare minimum, Peterson said.

Council member Ricky Jefferson supported this concept.

“A couple of years ago when I took driver safety in high school, I remember a question from the instructor,” Jefferson said. “The question was: If the traffic is going at 70, and the speed limit is 60, what is the safe speed for you to drive? And the answer was 70.”

Mayor Pro Tem Lois Richardson did not agree. She said that if you increase the speed limit people will just drive faster and the crashes will be more severe.

Peterson said, “We’ve corrected speed limits in a number of cities similar to Ypsilanti, and in every case we’ve improved the flow of traffic by removing snags caused by people driving at the speed limit [when the speed limit is too low].”

Council member Mike Bodary asked Peterson what he thought about Ann Arbor’s ordinance that requires cars to stop as pedestrians approach a crosswalk.

“In our opinion, those cross walk rules violate the Michigan Vehicle Code because when pedestrians are able to impede traffic, there can be very dire consequences: either pedestrians get killed or there are serious car accidents,” Peterson said.

The information from Peterson was for Council’s information, as the state controls speed limits on trunk highways.

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