Let’s do the right thing: Lower speed limits on Boston’s streets

From 2011 to 2015, the number of pedestrians killed in our city has tripled. This year alone, six people have been killed in a motor vehicle, bicycle, or pedestrian crash on Boston roads. As elected officials in the city of Boston, we feel the need to help eliminate traffic fatalities on the city’s streets. Lowering the street speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour is an important step in the right direction.

Working together, we put forth a home rule petition regarding speed limits on public ways subject to the control of the city of Boston. This petition would make the speed limit 20 miles per hour on public ways in thickly settled areas or business districts and 15 miles per hour within a school zone, unless the speed limit is otherwise posted pursuant to state law.

Currently, the speed limit is 30 miles per hour in thickly settled areas or business districts. The definition of thickly settled or business district is “the territory contiguous to any way which is built up with structures devoted to business, or the territory contiguous to any way where dwelling houses are situated at such distances as will average less than two hundred feet between them for a distance of a quarter of a mile or over.”

That is essentially the entire city of Boston. We believe that 30 miles per hour is way too fast when you take into account vehicles driving on both sides of the street, cars parked on both sides of the street, pedestrians walking, bicyclists, and bike lanes. Currently, the commissioner of the Boston Transportation Department is authorized to adjust the speed limits on streets within our control. However, each speed limit adjustment requires a comprehensive traffic study, which is burdensome and costly.

Over the years, the city has proposed and supported numerous pieces of state legislation to lower speed limits. However, these petitions have encompassed the entire commonwealth, not just Boston, and have proven difficult at gaining traction. One of our top constituent complaints is the need for lower speed limits and various traffic calming measures like raised crosswalks, speed humps, narrowing traffic lanes, bump-outs, planters, among others.

As elected officials, we must make a commitment to focus our resources on proven strategies to eliminate fatal and serious traffic crashes. We believe this act will complement the mayor’s adoption last year of Vision Zero (a strategy to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries from road crashes, while increasing safe, equitable mobility for all), and Complete Street policies as it will help reduce the overall speed of vehicles, increase public safety, and improve the quality of life for the residents of Boston.

Dan Hunt is a state representative from Dorchester. Frank Baker is a Boston City Councillor.