Fayette County

Speed limits on dozens of downtown Lexington streets could lower from 35 to 25

Speed limit sign for 35 mph on East Third St. near N. Martin Luther King Blvd. in Lexington, Ky., Friday, September 18, 2015. Lexington is considering a proposal to lower speed limit on downtown-area streets from 35 to 25 mph. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Speed limit sign for 35 mph on East Third St. near N. Martin Luther King Blvd. in Lexington, Ky., Friday, September 18, 2015. Lexington is considering a proposal to lower speed limit on downtown-area streets from 35 to 25 mph. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

A proposal to decrease speeds on some downtown Lexington streets cleared its first hurdle Tuesday.

The Urban County Council’s Environmental Quality and Public Works Committee voted unanimously to forward to the full council a recommendation to decrease speed limits on dozens of downtown streets from 35 to 25 miles per hour. The move is part of a broader effort to improve pedestrian safety and decrease the number of pedestrians struck by cars. The council will take a final vote in coming weeks.

Streets that could see lower speed limits include Jefferson, Second, Third, Fourth, Upper, Limestone, Waller Avenue, Cooper Drive, Virginia Avenue and portions of High Street and Loudon Avenue.

Streets that are also state highways —such as Main, Vine and Broadway —would not be included unless the state agrees. It has turned down the city’s previous request to lower speeds.

Lowering speed limits is just one part of a multi-pronged approach to increase pedestrian safety. Other parts of that plan include improving pedestrian crossings at key intersections, increasing education and public awareness and enforcing speed limits, said Dowell Hoskins Squier, the city’s traffic engineer.

“It’s not just about lowering speed limits, it’s also about enforcement,” Hoskins Squier told the committee.

Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard said Lexington police support the change. Barnard said he will help Hoskins Squier lobby the Kentucky State Transportation Cabinet to lower the speed limits on state-owned streets. Hoskins Squier said the state transportation cabinet only factors rates of speed of vehicles in determining if speed limits should be lowered. The cabinet does not count the number of pedestrians.

“For us, it’s a public safety issue,” Barnard said. “We have to help educate the state that we look at roadways much differently than just looking at moving traffic.”

There were 172 traffic accidents involving pedestrians between June 2014 and June 2015, Lexington police data show. Of those 172 accidents, 82 were not at intersections, 39 were in parking lots and 51 were at intersections. Of those pedestrians hit, 33 were walking in the roadway and 38 were not at an intersection, according to the data.

It will cost about $5,900 to change 158 downtown speed limit signs from 35 to 25 miles per hour. Hoskins Squier said after Tuesday’s meetings that if the full council approves the change, those speed limits likely won’t change until spring or summer. The University of Kentucky has already agreed to lower speeds from 35 to 25 miles per hour on streets it controls —University Drive and Hilltop Avenue.

“We also have to have police enforcement,” Hoskins Squier said.

Griffin Van Meter, who lives on North Limestone, urged the committee Tuesday to lower speed limits. Van Meter also gave the committee a petition of 100 signatures of people who support decreasing speed limits on downtown streets.

“From a basic public safety and equity standpoint, I think it’s imperative that this council adopt at least a 25 miles per hour speed limit,” Van Meter said.

Richard Young, executive director of North Limestone Community Development Corp., agreed with Van Meter. Van Meter is also on the North Limestone Community Development Corp. board.

Young said North Limestone is developing a cultural plan for the area and has talked to various people in the North Limestone area about their needs and concerns.

”The number one thing that we are hearing is people are scared to walk down the street,” Young said. “It’s too dangerous ... because of speed. I hear that from kids that are 5 years old. I hear it from people who are in their 60s and 70s.”

Council member James Brown, whose district includes North Limestone, said while he was campaigning for the Nov. 3 general election, nearly every person he spoke to named high speeds as a top concern in his district that includes parts of downtown and the city’s east and north sides.

Councilmember Jennifer Mossotti said she has some residential streets in her district that have tried to get their speed limits reduced from 35 to 25 miles per hour and have not been successful. Mossotti said she would like to see pedestrian safety in the suburbs addressed as well. Councilman Russ Hensley agreed. Hensley tried to amend the motion to include residential streets in the downtown proposal. Hensley later withdrew his motion after several council members said the two issues should be separate.

Hoskins Squier said she will return to the committee in January with a neighborhood traffic management plan. As part of that plan, Hoskins Squier said she would recommend the city also look at pedestrian volume when determining if speed limits on neighborhood collector streets should be decreased.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall