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Editorial: Let all New York towns set their own speed limits

Editorial: Let all New York towns set their own speed limits

Who knows local roads better than locals?
Editorial: Let all New York towns set their own speed limits
Photographer: Shutterstock

Have someone from a random town in the state name you a street in their community.

Now tell them what the speed limit on it should be.

If you’re answer is “I haven’t got a clue what the speed limit should be,” then you know why local governments in small towns should have the power to set their own speed limits.

Who knows better than local residents and their local government and local school officials on which roads the locals tend to drive fast, or what route the teenagers use going to and from school, or which local roads get rush-hour traffic, or which roads are particularly slippery during rainy or snowy days, or which roads have a notoriously dangerous curve that drivers take too quickly, or which roads have an unusual number of pedestrians and bicyclists, such as those near schools?

It’s certainly not some state official.

Why then, does the state insist on controlling the speed limits of local roads for any community with less than 50,000 population, forcing officials to secure state legislation before they can set the speed limits on their own local roads that they know best?

The town of Malta, with a little less than 15,000 people, recently got the authority to set its own speed limits without going through the state Department of Transportation for permission. DOT officials will review such requests, but will defer to the local officials’ judgment based on the results of a traffic study.

To get this authority, local governments have to get their representatives in the state Legislature to propose the law and get it passed, a process that can take months. And even now, Malta won’t be able to lower the speed limits on its roads for six months, which means not before this winter is over.

The situation is absurd. Local governments should be able to set local speed limits, with justification and review from DOT experts. They shouldn’t have to apply for special legislation on a town-by-town basis.

One bill pending in the state Legislature, A872/S2389, would lower the population restriction on setting speed limits from the current 50,000 down to 25,000. That would allow many more communities to set their own limits. But it still would exclude slightly smaller towns like Niskayuna, Halfmoon, Milton, Wilton and Moreau, which all would still have to get special permission. Why have a minimum population limit at all?

Another bill, A1843, would require the DOT to defer to local town board requests to set speed limits and install traffic signs and signals on state roads within their jurisdictions. Right now, that ability is limited to villages and cities. Why should towns be excluded?

If state officials are concerned about the ability of smaller towns to properly set their limits, then have a statewide law stipulate what the Malta legislation does and require a professional traffic study and DOT review.

Smaller or financially strapped communities that couldn’t afford their own study could still go to the DOT for guidance and approval.

Allowing small towns to set their own speed limits would give local communities the ability to determine for themselves where certain speed limits are appropriate.

And removing some of the oversight from the state would help reduce the workload and bureaucracy.

Local towns should make a statewide push for greater control their own speed limits, and state lawmakers should support it.

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