Why is LA raising speed limits on some of its most dangerous streets?

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Speed limits will be increased on more than 94 miles of streets across the city of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced today.

Some of the streets that will have higher speed limits are among the deadliest in the city. But city officials say they have no choice, because rules about setting speed limits are determined by the state.

They say the silver lining is that increasing the speed limits could make streets safer, because police can now hand out speeding tickets. California law also says speed citations can only be issued on streets where speed studies have been conducted in the last five to 10 years.

The city’s transportation department recently completed those required speed studies. Los Angeles had let most of its old speed studies expire in the wake of budget cuts following the last recession, according to Garcetti.

As the speed study data aged, Los Angeles Police Department’s ability to hand out speeding tickets was limited. It issued more than 99,000 speeding tickets in 2010—compared to 16,000 in 2015, according to Streetsblog Los Angeles.

Over the past year or so, the city’s transportation department, working under the Vision Zero goal to eliminate traffic fatalities, has updated speed surveys on more than 800 miles of city streets. The survey looked at all of the LA’s “high-injury network” streets—streets with the highest proportion of traffic collisions that result in serious injury or death.

Under current law, Los Angeles also doesn’t have the power to lower the speed limits on the vast majority of its streets, even if a road is particularly dangerous.State law requires speed limits on city streets in California to be set what’s called the 85th percentile speed—that is the speed at which 85 percent of the drivers are driving at or below.

Speed limits on most of the streets recently surveyedwill remain the same. There will be increases on 94.32 miles of road, and decreases on 52.63 miles.

This means that LAPD can now enforce speed limits on most of LA’s most dangerous streets, something police haven’t been able to do over the past couple years, officials say.

“The principal cause of people being killed and seriously injured is speeding,” says Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian. “Speeding and distracted driving are sorts of things that can be addressed through greater enforcement, which has to be a part of our strategy if we’re going to achieve the goal of zero killed on LA’s streets.”

One of the impacted streets is Oxnard Street in North Hollywood and Van Nuys—one of the high-injury network streets—where the speed limit was recently raised from 35 mph to 40 mph. State datashows that more than a dozen people have been killed along that stretch of Oxnard Street over the past 10 years.

Oxnard’s speed limit is higher now than it was before, but LAPD is at least able to start issuing speeding tickets.

State Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Burbank) wants to address that in a bill she has proposed that, if passed, would give cities more control over speed limits on their streets.

Friedman says setting speed limits this way does not make sense as cities attempt to move away from car-oriented planning and toward streets that are more friendly for walking and biking.

“Our city is changing, our population is growing, and we’re changing how we’re living. We’re becoming denser and we need to make sure that our streets reflect that change,” said Friedman to Curbed LA. “If you’ve got a street anywhere in the state that is demonstrably unsafe at the speed limits that are already set, it’s just unconscionable that we would raise them.”

Friedman’s bill would allow cities to take into account collision information when setting speed limits. Under her bill,if data indicated a certain street were particularly dangerous, a city could lower the speed limit.

“People in our community are sick of speeding, and sick of feeling unsafe, are sick of feeling that their children are unsafe,” she says. “And so when cities are doing their new street masterplans, they should have more flexibility to protect people, because they’re fundamentally changing the way that that road is being used.”

Friedman is not alone. At a press conference Wednesday morning to announce the city’s new speed limits, Mayor Garcetti emphasized that traffic deaths are a shared responsibility.

“All of us know that this is our responsibility, not just the city’s,” he said. “It’s on those of us using the streets, driving and walking on the streets. And I’ll say this to drivers in Los Angeles, you do not want to be responsible for someone’s death on the streets of LA.”

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