Every day this summer has told us about climate change. The human impacts are growing dramatically. Tens of thousands of people ran from the Caldor fire near Lake Tahoe. Hundreds of thousands ran from Hurricane Ida. Many people died from Hurricane Ida. These are merely recent examples in the U.S. The urgency of reducing global warming could not be clearer.
The City of Bainbridge Island is trying to respond to climate change. There are two major barriers to progress. One is limitation in local government authority and responsibility. The other is timing. The city is devoting its efforts on climate change to long-range planning, especially in transportation.
There is a simple step the city can take now, totally within its authority and its responsibility. It would be easy and quick. The cost would be trivial. We can easily measure its success. If it works, we are contributing to a reduction in global warming.
This step is reducing speed limits to make roads safer for bikers and walkers. Increasing safety is a major goal itself, but the purpose here is to increase non-motorized travel and reduce gas emissions, which is a goal of the city’s Sustainable Transportation planning. This is a small step. Reducing global warming requires very many small steps. We can plan other steps while we take this one now.
Here are two simple rules. Reduce the speed limit to 25 mph on every street without five-foot shoulders. Expand school zones to include 20 mph limits on streets within a mile of any school. Follow these rules throughout the island so the network is complete.
We could measure the success in about three years, given seasonality and learning. If lower speeds give us more cycling commuters, more seniors riding e-bikes, more people walking to buses, more families riding together, more kids going to school on foot, and more tourists biking themselves and their cash around the island, the new speed limits are making things better. If not, we can return to 30 or 35 mph.
If the new speed limits work and we want to increase limits on some streets to 30 or 35, that too is simple. In the medium term, implement the comprehensive plan we already have and build road shoulders. In the long term, if the Sustainable Transportation Plain yields some feasible alternatives, follow those. This amounts to creating arterials that qualify for speed limits above 25 mph.
If reducing speed limits to 25 sounds radical, well, it isn’t. Five years ago, Seattle set the default speed limit to 25 on arterials and 20 on non-arterials. State law sets speed limits on city streets at 25 unless “local authorities . . . determine by an engineering and traffic investigation the proper maximum speed” (RCW 46.61.415). One wonders whether COBI has conducted such investigations for our streets.
Reducing speed limits is also a good test of us. The island community is fond of the natural environment. This if nothing else leads to awareness of climate change and the desire to address it. City Councilmembers declare climate change to be their top priority, individually as well as collectively. They find this popular and have organized endless talk about sustainable transportation.
Are we willing to try a step forward now? Are we willing to leave home five minutes sooner for a slower auto trip to the ferry? Can we tolerate strong enforcement of speed limits? Or will convenience outweigh our concern about climate change and its impact on humanity?
The November election will answer these questions. Council candidates could support speed limit reductions. The Council could even reduce them now. Voters can weigh in. Or there will be silence on speed limits and more promises for long-range planning.
Recent history makes me a cynic. I would bet on more greenwash inside and outside City Hall. But maybe I’m wrong, and the city and the community will act now. Roads will be safer and gas emissions here will decline. This would be a good beginning. What a joy!
Peter K. Harris is a former planning and policy analyst for the City of Seattle. He lives on Bainbridge Island.
Credit: Source link